The preacher wants a new airplane.
Not just any airplane. A private jet that can seat 16 and fly 6,000 miles without stopping. The cost of this airplane, new, is $54 million. But that’s not a problem for the preacher.
He just asks his followers.
“(God) said, ‘Jesse, you wanna come up where I’m at?’ ” the preacher, a televangelist named Jesse Duplantis, told his flock in a video published on his website. “And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I want you to believe in me for a Falcon 7X. So I said, ‘OK.’ ”
Now, I’m always suspicious when people say God spoke to them, especially by name. For one thing, in the entire Old Testament, God only calls a handful of men by name. People like Abraham. Jacob. Moses. I’m pretty sure, if the Almighty were to rev up that practice, it wouldn’t be to tell 68-year-old Jesse Duplantis, who reportedly lives in a 35,000-square-foot mansion outside of New Orleans, to “believe in him” for a luxury jet.
It might be to tell Jesse to stop talking.
But good luck with that. Duplantis has already cajoled his followers into three previous airplanes. This new one, which he delightfully refers to as “the Star Trek Enterprise” in a video of him pointing to photos of planes on his wall (whatever happened to stained glass?) is the motherlode of modern evangelical transportation.
“I don’t want to learn how to fly it,” he said. “I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in preaching in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
He also added, confidently, that “If Jesus was physically on the Earth today, he wouldn’t be riding a donkey.”
He wouldn’t be asking for money, either.
This isn’t what faith looks like
But that’s how Duplantis realizes what he and other preachers refer to as “prosperity” from God — prosperity that promises to be two-way, but generally sends the dollars one way. You can go to Duplantis’ website right now and see him preaching the need for new high-end TV cameras, ones that will provide “true 4K, end-to-end production capability.” As if God needs that.
“Now the cost of the upgrade,” he says, “is about $2 million. But we cut a deal — we’re negotiators here! — and we can get it for $1.5 million. We believe in God for 1,500 people to give $1,000 towards this project.”
Is it faith, or the Home Shopping Network?
But that’s the math of TV-based evangelism. Duplantis is hardly the first preacher to insist God wants him in the Friendly (and luxurious) Skies. Atlanta-based Creflo Dollar (his real name) insisted a few years ago that he needed a $65 million Gulfstream jet. When criticized, he told his followers, “If I want to believe God for a $65 million plane, you cannot stop me.”
A question. Since when did the phrase “believe in God” add the word “for” to the end? I’ve studied a thing or two about religion, and “believe in God” doesn’t historically have an add-on.
By connecting belief with “for,” aren’t you actually erasing the very notion of belief itself? If it has to come with a delivery, it’s not faith. It’s mail order.
This isn’t a scandal. It’s worse.
Amazingly, Duplantis justifies his latest request so that he doesn’t have to “stop” when travelling from continent to continent. And regular folks, who make two stops just to fly a few states, squeeze into middle seats, and get charged for food, bags and overhead luggage, are actually sending him money.
Duplantis took heat for this recent request. So much so that he made another videoexplaining himself. In it, he also boasted how proud he was that he’d been featured on Fox News, Good Morning America and CNN, although the same could be said for Harvey Weinstein or Roseanne Barr.
“I don’t dupe nobody,” he insisted. “Forty years I’ve been preaching this gospel, and I’ve never had a scandal. And this is not a scandal.”
No. Scandals end. This is worse. This is an ongoing con job. If Duplantis really wanted to cite his Bible, he could quote read the psalm about God travelling on the wings of cherubs (not jets) or Jesus’ line: “It is easier to fit a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
As for the claim that Jesus wouldn’t be riding a donkey today? Well, I’m not sure how he’d get around. But I’m reminded of the time Muhammed Ali bragged to a flight attendant, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” She replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane, either.”
Neither does Jesse Duplantis. He just wants one.
Contact Mitch Albom: email@example.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.