Prosperity Theology, Creflo, and the People Called Methodist

US Dollar Detail

Most of the Methodist world gasped in horror at the news last week that a prominent TV evangelist, the surreally-named Creflo Dollar, had gone public with his desire to raise $65 million from his faithful flock for a new private jet. (That’s a lot of dough — you can build a substandard high school football stadium with that! Rim shot, please …)

People in the liberal Protestant tradition can’t really relate to the financial attitudes of a large segment of Pentecostals and evangelicals. I can, because I grew up in this subculture.

My high school years, in particular, were spent at a growing, suburban megachurch in Plano, Texas, which came out of the Word of Faith movement, based in the ministry of Kenneth Hagin and Rhema Bible College. Churches throughout the world have imbibed their ethos from Hagin’s influence, as well as his spiritual descendants, including Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, and others.

Since these are non-denominational churches, there is no direct link between them, except in the loose affiliation of friendly preachers and funders, as well as overarching themes and teachings, the primary one being something called “Prosperity Theology.”

The first, and fundamental, tenet of Prosperity Theology (PT) is that God desires that all Christians be, if not wealthy, then extraordinarily well-to-do, and completely healthy. According to this thinking, believing Christians should have no unmet material needs, nor should they be sick. Proponents of PT point to Abraham as the paradigm of the faithful believer; he was obviously a rich man by any ancient Middle Eastern standard. Much of the Old Testament supports the concept that the faithful will be blessed, while the wicked will be punished with poverty — even in this world, never mind that a whole lot of the Old Testament is also spent pushing back on this concept, including the books of Job and Ecclesiastes.

Financial blessing is a spiritual birthright, then, of the believer. There are a number of ways to tap into this windfall. The Word of Faith folks emphasize the words and speech of our mouth; what we say out loud determines what actually happens. You must constantly “confess with your mouth” that you are prosperous and blessed. You must not allow yourself to voice negative thoughts, worries, or concerns, because then those things just might come true.

Furthermore, you must constantly “believe” or “have faith” that what you want will happen. To “believe for something,” is PT code for “saying that something is going to happen, even though you don’t have any proof that it will.” It’s essentially positive thinking on steroids.

Another way to receive the financial blessings you deserve is to give out of your poverty. The best way to show your faith is to give money away that you can’t afford to give away. Like the widow who gave away her last two pennies, believers are encouraged to give sacrificially. These gifts are then, not simply offerings, they are “seeds” that are sown into fertile ground, and which will reap a substantial reward.

The best proof that this sowing and reaping dynamic works is to look at the preachers who practice it — the people who buy TV stations and broadcast their images throughout the world, while dressing like fashion stars, driving expensive cars, and, yes, buying private jets.

And this theology “works.” All you have to do is count the number of people in Dollar’s churches, or the numbers of people throughout the world who buy it. I was surprised to discover in Cameroon, that one of the handful of public TV stations that were available on every set, was a Christian station out of South Africa. Every program and preacher on the station promoted PT thinking. The Methodist pastors in our fledgling mission ate it up. They thought that’s what American Methodists believed, too.

And so, when I heard Creflo Dollar’s appeal, it didn’t shock or surprise me. It made a lot of sense:

    “The mission of Project G650 is to acquire a Gulfstream G650 airplane so that Pastors Creflo and Taffi (his wife) and World Changers Church International can continue to blanket the globe with the Gospel of grace. We are believing for 200,000 people to give contributions of 300 US dollars or more to turn this dream into a reality—and allow us to retire the aircraft that served us well for many years.”

In my last year or two at this megachurch in Plano, I began to be troubled by the disconnect between what I heard from the pulpit and what I read in the Gospels. I notice that our pastor never preached on Jesus’ words, “If you want to be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me.” He never preached about Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler, nor did he address Jesus’ words about not having a place to lay his head.

Even worse was the disconnect between the message preached and the reality around me. I heard people in my church literally tell a man that if he had enough faith, his wife would not die of cancer. Three weeks later, when she died, I couldn’t help wonder if his faith had been damaged for good.

I understand the appeal of PT; it does seem to speak a word of hope and expectation to poor people. But it’s not the right word. It seriously distorts, not only Scripture, but also human experience.

I’ve tried to put that kind of theology far behind me. However, this morning, as I watch the furor around Dollar’s request, I wonder how much PT has seeped into our very own Methodist subculture.

I’ve been vocal in the last few years about how much I distrust numbers as a sign of fruitfulness. I’ve written here and there about the meaningless of statistics, particularly church membership and attendance. I recognize that this is partly due to my own experience in a PT church growing up.

But take a look at some of the largest churches in the world — Nigeria’s Living Faith World Outreach Ministry has a sanctuary that can seat 50,000. They have three services every Sunday. Pastor David Oyedepo is Nigeria’s wealthiest preacher, worth $150 million by some estimates. And he preaches the same prosperity BS that Dollar preaches. Is the size of his church a sign of God’s blessing on him?

I would argue, “Of course not.” It IS possible to build a megachurch which is built on a faulty theology.

This leads to the question, “Is the size of any church a sign of God’s blessing or curse AT ALL? Is it even a sign of doctrinal orthodoxy?”

The answer is, “No.” It’s simply not a direct correlation. Yet, we United Methodists continue to moan about our membership decline. We are worried that the numerical loss indicates something about our performance. This might be true, but it is not always true. Then we rush around trying to fix the numerical loss, assuming that it is performance-related. This causes us to create fundamentally-flawed, performance-based metrics. “Marks of fruitfulness” can never be expressed on a spreadsheet.

Let me say it clearly: the size and budgets of our churches do not matter, especially in terms of faithfulness, fidelity to the Gospel, and quality of ministry.

Let’s take that question a step further: “Is the size of one’s wallet, or salary, or savings, a sign of God’s blessing or curse AT ALL?”

Again, the answer is, “No, not at all.” Yet I fear that, subconsciously, there are a whole bunch of us Methodists who actually subscribe to the logic of Prosperity Theology, even if we would never articulate it in those terms, and are actually offended when we see it baldly expressed by the Creflo Dollars of the world.

John Wesley was absolutely right when, toward the end of his life, he lamented how wealthy the Methodists of England had become. He recognized that they never did really subscribe to the third of his famous trinity of financial maxims: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” In his sermon, “The Danger of Riches,” he preached:

    O ye Methodists, hear the word of the Lord! I have a message from God to all men; but to you above all. For above forty years I have been a servant to you and to your fathers. And I have not been as a reed shaken with the wind: I have not varied in my testimony. I have testified to you the very same thing from the first day even until now. But “who hath believed our report?” I fear, not many rich: I fear there is need to apply to some of you those terrible words of the Apostle: “Go to now, ye rich men! Weep and howl for the miseries which shall come upon you. Your gold and silver is cankered, and the rust of them shall witness against you and shall eat your flesh, as it were fire.” Certainly it will, unless ye both save all you can and give all you can. But who of you hath considered this since you first heard the will of the Lord concerning it? Who is now determined to consider and practice it? By the grace of God begin today!

How many of us actually preach it, or practice it?

I confess that I don’t, yet all the while, it convicts me, and gnaws away at my spirit, hoping that someday I might attain the practical holiness of Wesley.

I can sit here on my computer and take potshots at Creflo Dollar’s silly jet idea all I like, but perhaps I am just as silly, greedy, and deluded. I have succumbed to the same dream, the anti-Christian American Dream, the anti-Gospel Prosperity Theology, because I, too, simply want to be wealthy, healthy, and successful.

Lord, have mercy on me.

Important Bridge Work in 2013: An End-of-Year Review of Daraja

The following is a year-end review of the work done in Daraja, the non-profit refugee ministry I founded with friends in 2012:

We made it! We survived our first full year as a refugee empowerment agency!

Words can’t express my ap-preciation for your support of Daraja’s first full year of operation in 2013, though maybe a few pictures will help … Your prayers, gifts, and service played a crucial role in getting Daraja off the ground and running. In this brief year-end letter, I wish to not only fully thank you all, but give you a broad overview of what we accomplished, as well as present a quick look at what 2014 might hold for us.



Daraja began with one simple goal — to help recently-resettled refugees make a successful transition into their new communities and neighborhoods, particularly after assistance from traditional refugee services and agencies has ended.

In the fall of 2012,the Daraja Lead Team organized and started coaching the members of one Congolese family of fourteen. Throughout 2013, we continued to work with this family, particularly the teenage daughters, providing them with extra English-language learning opportunities, field trips to various locations, and friendships.

The experience was so successful that we recruited new volunteers in two different training sessions, and began working with another family of 8. A third family is about to be introduced to their new coaches.

We also began a tradition of monthly Family Outings, in which we invite all the families with which we work. We have been to the Dallas Zoo, watched a 3D movie with refugee children, and celebrated Christmas with the people of Cornerstone UMC.

This basic coaching relationship is at the heart of what we do. We believe that the most important thing that we can do for refugees is to become their friends, and walk alongside them in their new life situation.

But that is certainly not all we do!

Besides these primary relationships, we have found ourselves with the opportunity to expand our services. In the spring, we discovered the need for continued children’s education during the summer. With the help of dedicated volunteers, led by Beverly Lenoir, and the assistance of the DISD Refugee Relations staffperson, Zeljka Ravlija, we sponsored a four-week summer school at the Indigo Apartments, where we averaged over 30 children in attendance per day!

Over the summer, Daraja was honored by being named the official local ministry of the North Texas Conference Council on Youth Ministries, meaning that we will be a recipient of Youth Service Funds, and that the youth of the Conference want to be involved with our work. Led by Brooke Foster, the youth of the North Central District held a district  Mission Day to benefit Daraja. They constructed and painted four Little Free Libraries, and donated books and other reading materials. Those libraries now are situated at three different apart-ment complexes around Dallas which house refugee com-munities!

In the fall, Daraja was invited to become a Service Learning site by Richland College. After sponsoring a table at the college fair, a number of Richland students expressed interest in working with Daraja. Over the course of the fall semester, they helped Daraja hold a series of five weekend Youth Club events at the Indigo Apartments for refugee teens.

And that’s not all we did! Now that Daraja is housed at #611 in the Indigo Apartments, we have found needs popping up around us all the time. We’ve helped a family relocate after an apartment fire, distributed diapers and baby clothes, and spent lots of time sipping coffee with the elderly Iraqi couple next door.

Daraja volunteers attend the monthly Dallas Area Refugee Forum, speak to people about their experiences at conferences and exhibits, and provide transportation for refugees in need.

All of this has happened because of you, and we are grateful.



Refugees continue to arrive in Dallas at a steady pace, particularly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Daraja believes that we have an advantage in working with this population in particular, thanks to the work of Jacob and Ceciliah, our Kenyan pastor friends.

We are constantly looking for ways to fulfill our goal of helping these newcomers thrive, and in 2014, we anticipate sponsoring our second summer school, improving our English language learning program, and focusing more attention on refugee teenagers. We plan to apply for a number of grants to fund these initiatives.

But we also have a very exciting announcement to make:

Starting January 1, 2014, Daraja will be officially linked to the ministry of Greenland Hills United Methodist Church in Dallas! Pastor Kerry Smith and the church Leadership Team have agreed to handle the accounting and bookkeeping of Daraja funds, as well as provide a number of people to serve on our new Board of Directors, to meet for the first time in February 2014. This announcement comes on the heels of the news that the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church has officially recognized Daraja as a ministry of the Conference.

All of this is incredibly good news for our ministry. Greenland Hills UMC will provide the accountability and stability that Daraja needs to build and grow in the future.

I am also extremely grateful for the service that the Missional Wisdom Foundation has provided us over the past year in managing our funds. Thank you, Larry Duggins and Elaine Heath!



To put it bluntly, the best way that you can be a part of Daraja’s success in 2014 is to be a financial partner. We have only a very few financial obligations, but they are large.

Rent for the office costs $475/month, plus approximately $35 for water and garbage, $40 for electricity, and $30 for wireless internet service.

In the past year, my own salary support has come from a variety of sources, including the Missional Wisdom Foundation, FUMC Rowlett, Daraja fundraising, and other contract work. But I face no certain salary as I enter the new year.

I am uncertain about my immediate future, but I have absolute confidence that the work of Daraja will go forward, from strength to strength, from grace to grace.

You are invited to become a partner with the work, by making a one-time gift, or a monthly pledge. You may contribute financially by going to the Greenland Hills UMC website,, and creating a simple account to give securely.

Again, thank you for making 2013 a resounding success, and paving the way for a bright future for the men, women, and children who have been displaced and are rebuilding their lives in our midst.

Ramadan Redux: Why I’m Doing It Again

I am blogging through Ramadan again, but at a new site:

I hope you will follow me through these 30 days of fasting again. Here is the first post from that site:


I’m not a sadomasochist. Really.

I don’t have a martyr’s complex either. I do not enjoy suffering.

With that off my chest, here’s my big news: I’m observing Ramadan again this year.

The experience last year was transcendent; I have never done anything so liberating, both socially or spiritually. (Feel free to peruse last year’s Ramadan posts, at

But there were some, shall we say, “side-effects.” Not everyone in my religious tribe was thrilled about my choice. There was backlash and resistance. That was painful. I have no desire to repeat any of that.

Things have changed since last year. I am in a different phase of ministry now, and am looking forward to observing Ramadan again. Put another way, I am free to pursue justice and make shalom with anyone who wishes to do the same.

I made it known last year that I wanted to fast for two reasons: one, to develop the spiritual discipline of fasting; and two, to stand in solidarity with American Muslims who struggle for acceptance and community. I wouldn’t say I “mastered” the Ramadan fast, but I did survive it. And I would like to go even further — I want to try again to live in the constant presence of God. I want to continue to push myself, to more wholeheartedly embrace the discipline of letting go, giving up, abstaining from.

Even more important, however, I need to continue to stand side by side with Muslims in my community. My experience last year revealed to me that a great number of Americans continue to hold misguided, uninformed, and dangerous opinions about Islam and its practitioners. I learned that too many Americans allow Fox News to tell them who their neighbor is.

If anything, Muslims need our support more than ever. As a person of faith, I have so much more in common with them than practically any other kind of person in our culture. My faith is enriched when I make real and vital connections with other people of faith, no matter what their particular faith looks or feels like.

I’m sad that Yaseen Sheikh no longer lives in my community; he moved to Baltimore earlier this year to take a new position at an Islamic school. But last year’s experience helped me make many new friends, like Nadim Bashir, the imam of East Plano Islamic Center, Amanda Quraishi of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, and countless others.

I will blog about Ramadan, of course, on a daily basis. I hope you will decide to follow along. This year, I plan to focus on the theme of justice and shalom, as they interrelate in Christian and Islamic tradition.

I fast, finally, For the Common Great.

The End of the New MethoFesto — and a New Beginning

FTCG logo.001

This is the end of the New MethoFesto blog. I have decided not to post anymore on this site, and instead, direct all traffic to a new site, For the Common Great, at

When I originally began blogging at this site, I intended to comment on the direction and shape of the United Methodist Church. My byline was, “a UM pastor’s personal call to action,” which was a direct reference to an initiative to restructure the UMC at last year’s General Conference in Tampa. The Conference was an abysmal disaster by all accounts, and I wanted to contribute to the conversation.

But I’m done with all that. As I look back on my previous posts about the church and its workings, it all sounds like inside baseball. I can’t imagine too many people actually being that concerned about the future of a mainline denomination. I fear that even God is slightly bored by the conversation.

I still love my tradition, and consider myself United Methodist, but to the extent that most of North American Christianity is firmly stuck in Christendom models of church and discipleship, I am simply not interested. Most people are not interested. That’s why they’re “spiritual but not religious.” That’s why they check the “None” box when it comes to religious preference.

It’s plainly obvious that the church in North America is in terminal decline, no matter one’s theology, worship style, or politics. I have yet to see a denomination take the bull by the horns, and ride the chaos into a new future.

I don’t want to spend one more hour trying to prop up the status quo. I don’t want to waste any more time thinking about how to patch up a leaky rowboat.

Instead, I am extremely excited about what God is doing in the whole wide world, among people of different faiths, and in the fields of justice and peace. That’s where I want to be.

So go read about my plans for the new website at, where I hope to encourage a new spirit of faith-based activism. I’ll be expanding it greatly over the coming months, including subscriber-only content such as videocasts, Google hangouts, and ebooks.

And yes, I’ll be observing Ramadan again this year. Follow the fun at

I will also continue to blog about the missional church in my role as a Missional Monk along with co-conspirator Bret Wells, at We will continue to have lively discussions around the emerging church of the future, but in an ecumenical and open style.

Thanks for being a faithful reader. Here’s to the Common Great!


What #AltHolyWeek Teaches Us


Holy Week is supposed to be a painful time for followers of Jesus.

However, I worry that it is painful for the wrong reasons.

For many Christians, the suffering and death of Jesus is simply understood as a sacrificial act on our behalf. Jesus, though without sin himself, had to die on a cross so that humanity’s sins could be forgiven. This requirement of a sacrificial victim, so this logic goes, stems from the idea that God requires perfection, or sinlessness, and cannot, in any way, accept the stain and corruption of a sinful humanity. The sin must be atoned for, and thus, Jesus steps in and takes our place as a substitute.

This idea is called “substitutionary atonement,” and is the standard evangelical Christian  view of what happened during Holy Week. This idea gives rise to an extremely sentimental and individualistic view of Jesus’ passion. I’ve heard preachers say things like, “You were on his mind, when he was on the cross.” I’ve sung songs that assert, “I owed a debt I could not pay/He paid a debt he did not owe.”

In the end, Jesus came to die. That’s it. Nothing else. Even the resurrection is not necessary — all that had to happen is that Jesus die as a substitute for our sins.

I will say it plainly here: this view of Jesus, salvation, the kingdom of God, history, heaven and hell is plainly incoherent, incorrect, and destructive.

That is why I wrote the Alternative Holy Week (#AltHolyWeek) stories on this blog. I wanted to engage with the original purpose, motive, and strategy of Jesus, and contrast it with our usual way of thinking about the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection.

First of all, it should be clear that Jesus’ mission was to proclaim and inaugurate the kingdom of God. This is what he himself said on numerous occasions. His first sermon was, “Repent, for the kingdom has come near” (Matt. 4:17, Mark 1:15). Everything he said and did flowed from that self-understanding. His parables illustrated what life in the kingdom is like. His miracles were pointers in the direction of kingdom-life.

Everyone who followed Jesus seemed to understand this mission fully only after his resurrection. To some extent, they thought that Jesus was going to set up the kingdom on earth. They thought that this kingdom of which he spoke, was going to look like the Roman kingdom, only better. Thus, when Jesus was crucified, they truly thought everything was over. They believed they had been likely mistaken about Jesus’ identity, because the powers of evil had defeated him.

The resurrection overturned their resignation, however, and they came to see that Jesus  was himself the kingdom, meaning that he had truly inaugurated a new order of things, that new life was possible, that God’s shalom could be found on earth. This is what the original Christian creed meant: “Jesus is Lord.”

The second point flows from the first: the kingdom of God is a radically different kind of thing than any of the earth’s kingdoms. For one, it cannot be ushered in by the world’s standards of power and authority. God’s kingdom purposes cannot be accomplished by violence and force. This is the simplest explanation of my story last week. We should take note of the simple fact that Jesus was nonviolent. Though his mission was to establish a kingdom, he did not gather an army, nor did he amass weapons.

This is why the story is so jarring. Jesus came to announce that there is a new king and a new order of things. Yet, he didn’t try to oust the people in power by force. He didn’t even seem interested in that. He simply lived in the reality of the kingdom of God at all times, and refused to acknowledge the idolatrous claims of the various kingdoms around him.

Not only is the kingdom of God nonviolent, but it inverts the values of the world. In God’s kingdom, the poor are lifted up, the sick are made well, the humble are exalted, the last are first. There is no selfish competition, no self-aggrandizement, no jockeying for position and power. Relationships are open, transparent, trusting.

But in the story I wrote last week, Jesus’ kingdom-building was not only physically violent, but also suspicious and cynical. This kind of kingdom rewards the powerful, centralizes authority in a single figure, and creates idols.

There is one more important point to be made, but it is one that is often skipped over, or ignored. Because the kingdom of God is fundamentally different from that of the earth’s kingdoms, many Christians jump over its implications for life on earth, and relegate it to a description of heaven. Then Jesus’ death becomes a substitutionary atonement performed on our behalf, so that we can go to heaven and live in the kingdom of God when we die.

But that is not what Jesus said!

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is here amongst you!”

Jesus said, “Let anyone who hears, listen!”

If we are going to participate in Jesus’ mission, if we are truly Jesus’ followers, then we must live in the kingdom of God now, just as Jesus did. We must be nonviolent. We must be merciful and gracious. We must reject the values of the world. We must live as if we truly believe the poor are being lifted up, the sick being made well, the humble are being exalted, and the last are becoming first.

If we don’t, then maybe we don’t really believe that Jesus is Lord after all.

Jesus. Alone.


Today, I conclude my alternative Holy Week story. This creative writing exercise has profoundly impacted me. As I reflected on the Biblical story of Jesus, the radical, nonviolent nature of the Son of Man hit me in a powerful way. Tomorrow, I plan to blog about my conclusions as to what it means that Jesus didn’t storm Jerusalem with soldiers and swords. 

Chapter 7

Early on the first day of the week, as dawn was just beginning to lighten the eastern sky, Jesus stood alone at a window in his bedroom at the royal palace.

He hadn’t slept a wink.

The view of three men hanging on crosses had haunted him all night. From his window, he could just make out the crosses on the distant hill.

He didn’t know why he didn’t feel victorious. He had accomplished exactly what he’d set out to do. He had re-taken Jerusalem, restored the Davidic monarchy by proclaiming himself king, and begun a process of making the Torah the law of the land again. He had broken the yoke of the Romans, and had dismantled their oppressive tax system. All of this fulfilled the Scriptural prophecies of the Messiah.

But it was a hollow victory.

In the meantime, he had executed one of his closest friends, alienated himself from the rest of the disciples, and found himself racked with constant anxiety and worry.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, he thought. It had seemed clearer before. He’d felt so much closer to his Father then.

Another voice told him that this was simply the way things had to be in the real world. Nothing happens without struggle. A military force only understands military force. You can’t really trust anyone in this world. Every human heart is corrupt, deep down. History is written by the victors.

He knew all these things. But it didn’t keep him from fundamentally doubting whether he’d done the right thing.

For one thing, it would be a long time before he knew that his revolution had truly been successful. The Roman army had retreated, for now. His spies told him that these were merely restocking on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

Pilate had gotten away free, too, and Jesus knew that he had significant resources at his disposal. Once Caesar got wind of what was happening, it was likely that Jerusalem would be attacked again. Only this time, the force would be larger.

Jesus wondered how long they would be able to hold out in a siege. He was also exploring the possibility of a preemptive strike against the resting forces. But this would require recruiting a large number of Israelis, training them, and deploying them in a timely manner.

And speaking of the army, how long would he be able to keep them happy? Could he prevent a coup d’etat? If Judas was willing to sell him out for some money, what about the other disciples and leaders? What about that flimsy Peter? Would Peter disappoint him, too?

Besides the military threats, there were plenty of domestic problems.

A new constitution was hastily being written, but already significant sides had formed around various interpretations of Torah. Most of the city’s social services were in disarray, since they had been used to receiving direct orders from their Roman supervisors. And everyday, a line formed outside his throne room from people who wanted to complain about the potholes in their streets, or wanted to have their picture taken with him, or wanted to ask theological questions about their pets.

He was overwhelmed, exhausted, and even a little afraid.

From his window, he saw the distant hills of Galilee. He dreamed of going up into the forest by himself, alone, to spend time with his Father again. Just like it had been before.

But it would never be like that again. Never.

Jesus was the Savior now. For better or worse.


A Cross for the Charlatan Formerly Known as the King of the Jews

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The following is the sixth of a series of posts which offer an alternative view of Holy Week. A warning: this is just a wacky exercise of creative writing that asks the question, “What if it had all happened like this?”

Chapter 6

Chuck spent most of the next morning busily chopping wood, measuring planks and assembling nails and ties. He worked tirelessly, without stopping, as if he was avoiding having to think too hard about what he was doing.

Yes, this new project bothered him. This didn’t seem consistent with the Jesus he knew. This wasn’t exactly what he’d signed up for.

He knew how to plan and execute successful military campaigns. He knew how to inspire and motivate men and women. He knew about weapons, armaments, security paraphernalia.

But he didn’t do torture.

And this Roman method of execution known as crucifixion was nothing but torture, according to Chuck. A cruel and unusual punishment.

The orders from the top had been to prepare three crosses, and to find a place just outside the city walls to hang three men. The command had a chilling effect among the citizenry.

They didn’t know exactly who the three condemned figures were, but there were plenty of wild guesses and rumors.

Chuck had briefly argued with the ranking officer who brought him the news. “I thought Jesus said something about overturning the ‘eye for an eye’ law,” he shot out. “Has he changed his mind already?”

The officer was surprised to hear Chuck’s resistance. “This bothers you? But Guantanomo Bay didn’t? Firebombing Dresden was acceptable?”

“I thought we were going to do things differently in this operation,” Chuck countered.

“Things change,” the officer said. “But don’t worry. This is an anomaly. Jesus wants to make a public statement here. Things will return to normal eventually.”

Chuck didn’t believe that.

He obeyed the orders anyway.

And that Friday afternoon, on a small hill called the Mount of the Skulls, the rebels led three men to their custom-made crosses.

The first was a two-bit common criminal named Barabbas. He was in Roman custody when Jesus invaded Jerusalem, but he had such a long rap sheet that Jesus didn’t dare set him free. The dungeon was getting a little cramped, so the decision was made to free up some room. And Barabbas’ fate was set.

When the crowd saw Barabbas, they roared with delight.

“It’s about time you got what you deserve!” shouted a merchant who’d been terrorized by Barabbas.

“Glad to see the new administration is getting tough on crime,” a voice was heard to say in the crowd.

The second man led to the hill was a weaselly fellow whom the crowd immediately recognized as one of Jesus’ original disciples. Judas looked worse than he ever had, eyes ringed with terror, hands nervously twisting.

“Where’s Jesus?” he shouted as he was being stretched on the cross. “I want him to forgive me! Tell him that I beg his forgiveness …. tell him, somebody tell him!”

Judas’ cries of agony were lost in a roar of cheers, as the crowd caught a glimpse of the third and final victim. It was none other than King Herod himself.

He was being forced to carry his own cross, an impossible task given the physical shape he was in. A mocking crown of thorns sat askew on his head, sending a constant stream of blood down the side of his face. A rebel soldier cracked a whip behind him, forcing him forward.

Herod stumbled up the hill slowly, which gave the crowd plenty of time to heckle and harass him. He had never been a greatly-loved king, but neither was he despised either. As Chuck watched on, he grimly wondered how much of the abuse was purely show for the new king.

At the top of the hill, Herod was stripped of his clothes, which were then flung to the eager watching crowd and torn to shreds. The soldiers laid him down on the cross, and nailed his arms and feet to the wood. A sign was affixed to the cross above Herod’s head, which read, “The Charlatan Formerly Known as the King of the Jews.”

Then they hoisted the cross up.

It was a bloody scene, worse than what Chuck had expected.

The men died slowly. So slowly that most of the crowd had thinned out before they finally succumbed. Chuck noticed, with some irony, that none of the other disciples showed up for this public event. Neither did Jesus.

Judas was the first to expire. At his moment of death, a look of satisfaction froze on his face.

Barabbas died not long after, choking and roaring expletives.

But Herod was calm, even peaceful. He seemed to take his death in stride. It was something every king had to be prepared to do eventually. It was one of the hazards of the job. At one point, he looked down at some jeering men and said in a pleading tone of voice, “I’m one of you, don’t forget that. I’m a Jew. I’m proud of you all. But this won’t last. Caesar will crush you.”

When Herod was no more, Chuck looked up at him and muttered under his breath, “Truly that man may have sold his soul to the Romans, but nobody deserves to die that way.”