All revved over evangelist Leroy Jenkins' pyramid schemes

He denounces the hypocrites among his peers: "How in the world can people read the Bible, explain it to other people, then go out and do worse than the people that they are talking to?"

The Rev fumes against media, machines and supermarket employees who cheat us with too many beeps in check-out lines. "Machines can't pray," he says.

In his genteel way, the Rev is a master at subliminal solicitation. "Ladies and gentlemen, let me say this to ya," he coos. "All that we have belongs to God. All that we will ever have belongs to God."

The Reverend Leroy Jenkins exhorts the congregation, then moves to the laying on of hands.
Paolo Vescia
The Reverend Leroy Jenkins exhorts the congregation, then moves to the laying on of hands.
Paolo Vescia

The Rev's donation envelope -- handed to each person upon entering -- includes a line for a credit-card number and expiration date.

His book, As the Wind Blows Over the Life of Leroy Jenkins, published in '91, is a low-rent pastiche of gloating homilies and fawning news clippings dated from the Seventies. It goes for $15. In it, the Rev boasts of his ranking among America's elite evangelists, his multimillionaire status, his erstwhile bid for the Ohio governorship, his mansions and his immense fan base. It serves up pics of the Rev with such life-affirming C-listers as Bo Derek, George Raft, Rock Hudson, Telly Savalas, Mike Mazurski and Liberace. It says that the Rev even went to Graceland and got to hang with The King.

Hey, the Rev met The King!

But nowhere in this book's 212 pages can a critical word be found. Of course not:

"Countless millions would hear and see the miracles that God would work, after Leroy Jenkins prayed for the sick and afflicted, and the television cameras would record the results. Thousands and thousands of people would be healed, delivered from drugs through the ministry of this charismatic young preacher. Thousands of news stories would appear in papers all across the country, as everyone followed the eventful career of the greatest evangelist of the age."

The Rev tells us he is only concerned with our health and welfare as far as Christ is concerned. He explains that he is grateful that we have come out tonight. Stepping into the audience, he chooses a woman from near the front and takes her mental inventory. The woman, he says, has cancer. He asks if they know each other, if they have ever spoken. She answers no.

"Where do you go to church?" he asks.

"I don't," she answers, crying.

The Rev places his hand on her forehead and announces he has the power of God, and that God is a cancer killer. The Rev then rids the woman of cancer and she falls back into the arms of a couple of goons. They place her flat on the floor where she remains. The crowd applauds heartily.

Moments later, he helps a woman with an ailing career. She weeps. He blesses her and tells her she will have a better job and an education to understand computers.

He helps others, placing his hand on their foreheads, then pushing them back into the arms of his goons. The crowd approves. The crowd always approves.

The faith here is a costly one. Before the night is through, after much healing and blessing, the Rev hits up many for sizable chunks of their incomes. He reminds us of upcoming TV appearances. All this and he swears he's not commercializing God.

And the people surrounding me tote babies or families, or lovers, while othershave arrived alone and will leavealone. They have willing faces, headlong faithand a communal sense of attachment andbelonging; they are the innocent ones.

And for many, the Rev has completely altered the course of their way of thinking and, subsequently, their lives. But their inspiration is real, falling just short of religious ecstasy.

And in the end, it is the Rev fading away to a nonspecific blur; somewhere just south of Graceland, no doubt. photos by Paolo Vescia

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