Guyton's timing was good; he slipped through the doors of Great Redeemer at two minutes to eleven, looking like he usually did. Nobody caught him at the door, and he slipped into a seat in the back row. Score one for the higher-ups, he thought.
As Guyton was checking out the copious literature in a pocket hanging from the seat in front of him, a leather-clad dude stepped onto the raised platform. "Put your hands together for The Lord!" he barked into a microphone. Guyton pegged the guy by his trimmed beard: an accountant playing an outlaw biker. He had run across many of those in his time.
The congregation applauded; as with the motivational speaker, Guyton joined the applause to avoid standing out. Outlaw Accountant segued into a few hymns, backed by a band playing basic rock'n'roll. The lyrics rolled up several big displays, cantilevered from the walls or hung from the ceiling. Some of the congregation joined the singing; others clapped or waved their hands. Enough of them stood and maybe nodded to the beat, that Guyton felt safe in doing the same.
Next was a series of videos, explaining different ministries the church was doing. They were all vying for "extra mile giving," whatever that meant. Guyton figured they did precious little to actually help, beyond helping to line Della Verne's pockets. As the videos rolled, he noticed other people slipping in late. His pocket of empty seats filled up, but nobody tried to talk to him or even say hello.
After the videos, Outlaw Accountant struck up the band while a team of dudes passed plates back and forth through the seats. By the time the plate reached the back, it was heaped with checks, envelopes, and cash. They should give those guys credit card readers, Guyton thought. Then again, Della Verne probably insisted his members set up direct withdrawals.
Finally, it was time for the main event. The band cleared out, leaving the platform empty for a few crucial seconds. Then, Outlaw Accountant stepped out one last time. "Hear the word of The Lord," he began, opening a tattered paperback, then launched into something that might have been from the Bible—or some self-help book. "The word of God, for the people of God!" he concluded, and many applauded as he left.
The applause rose, as Guyton's target took his place behind the plexiglas lectern. Della Verne basked in the adulation for a long moment, then waved his suckers to silence. The stench of soulburn rolled off him, but only Guyton could smell it. As with the motivational speaker (what was his name again? Guyton thought, Joel something?), Guyton tried to look past Della Verne's disguise. But the short, stocky preacher might not be using a disguise, other than an expensive tailored suit and a veneer of respectability.
"Verily, our nation is under a curse," he began. To Guyton's surprise, there was a smattering of agreement, some saying "amen" and one "tell it."
"It was on my mind to preach to you an easier scripture," Della Verne continued. "But the Master laid it upon me instead to bring you this word from the book of Malachi: 'You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, this entire nation has robbed me. Bring your tithes to the storehouse, that there may be meat in My house, and prove Me now, says the Lord of Hosts. And then I will open the windows of Heaven, and pour out such a blessing that you will not have enough room for it! And the nations shall call you blessed!'
"What is it that is cursing you today, brethren? What are the things of the world that encourage you to rob the Lord of Hosts of that which is due Him? Why do some of us look at the wicked, and say 'Almighty God delights in them'? Why do others of us ask, as did the Hebrews of Malachi's time, 'where is the God of judgement'? In his time, the prophet Malachi said that the people wearied Almighty God with such words. The Lord, who created heaven and earth, and performed mighty works before His creation, grew weary of such questions nearly three thousand years ago—how much more do we wear Him out in these modern times with the same gripes!" Many laughed.
"And the answer lies before us, as it has since the prophet first brought these words to the brethren: bring the tithe to the storehouse! For the Almighty cannot open the windows of heaven without meat in His house!"
"Can not?" Guyton muttered. How can an almighty God be constrained? he thought. But Della Verne was not finished.
"But we already tithe, you say. And then you say, so where are the promised blessings? But do you truly tithe? You might give your tithe, then the government that God has set over you gives back a portion of that, calling it your deductible. So instead of ten percent, perhaps you give only eight percent? Others among you give ten percent of what you call your 'take home pay,' and then receive your deductible, so truly you might give only six percent of your true earnings. And so we remain under the curse, my friends!"
Della Verne continued on in this vein, and Guyton tuned out. This materialistic version of the gospel was—as the dossier said—broadcast over satellite, live to English-speaking audiences and translated into two dozen other languages. Not to mention several hundred radio stations and even a podcast. He usually made his sermons about something other than money, although even those had a generous helping of give generously. A thought struck Guyton: Della Verne is ramping up for something bigger.
Looking around, Guyton estimated the "High Priest" had lost nearly a fourth of his audience at this point. Some thumbed through literature or looked at their phones, others nodded off, and a few—like him—checked out the crowd. One of the latter noticed Guyton, and gave him a resigned shrug before pretending to listen to the sermon. The others were rapt, expecting the Holy Moneydrop to happen at any moment.
But what about the special levels? he wondered. Surely, they would not be sitting out here with the hoi polloi, would they? Looking around the spacious sanctuary, Guyton finally noticed the windows directly above him. Skyboxes, he thought. Suites for the sweetest money. But how did they get up there?
As Della Verne raved on about the need to give more, more, Guyton tried to visualize the layout of the building. There were no obvious staircases to the skyboxes in the foyer where he entered, so there had to be an elevator from the basement (or "ground floor" or whatever they called it here). A trip downstairs would be the thing—
Oh. Della Verne had segued into an allegory about meat vs. milk, but Guyton remembered seeing something... he quietly sorted through the literature, trying not to call attention to himself. He found what he wanted: a schedule of events. Each Sunday, there was a Visitors' lunch downstairs. He had an excuse to go downstairs and check things out.
YOU ARE READING
There's a special place in Hell for those who abuse their authority, and Ronald Guyton abused his with gusto. But on his way to his final reward, he finds himself diverted. Damned souls return to the world of the living, looking to pull a few more o...