The Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, the flamboyant minister better known as the Reverend Ike, who preached the blessings of material prosperity to a large congregation in New York and to television and radio audiences nationwide, died Tuesday in Los Angeles, where he had lived since 2007. He was 74.
“Close your eyes and see green,” Reverend Ike would tell his 5,000 parishioners from a red-carpeted stage at the former Loew’s film palace on 175th Street in Washington Heights, the headquarters of his United Church Science of Living Institute. “Money up to your armpits, a roomful of money and there you are, just tossing around in it like a swimming pool.”
His exhortation, as quoted by The New York Times in 1972, was a vivid sampling of Reverend Ike’s philosophy, which he variously called “Prosperity Now,” “positive self-image psychology” or just plain “Thinkonomics.”
The philosophy held that St. Paul was wrong; that the root of all evil is not the love of money, but rather the lack of it. It was a message that challenged traditional Christian messages about finding salvation through love and the intercession of the divine. The way to prosper and be well, Reverend Ike preached, was to forget about pie in the sky by and by and to look instead within oneself for divine power.
“This is the do-it-yourself church,” he proclaimed. “The only savior in this philosophy is God in you.”
One person who benefited from this philosophy of self-empowerment was Reverend Ike himself. Along with Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and Pat Robertson, he was one of the first evangelists to grasp the power of television. At the height of his success, in the 1970s, he reached an audience estimated at 2.5 million.
In return for spiritual inspiration, he requested cash donations from his parishioners, from his television and radio audiences, and from the recipients of his extensive mailings — preferably in paper currency, not coins. (“Change makes your minister nervous in the service,” he would tell his congregation.)
He would also, in return, mail his contributors a prayer cloth.
His critics saw the donations as the entire point of his ministry, calling him a con man misleading his flock. His defenders, while acknowledging his love of luxury, argued that his church had roots both in the traditions of African-American evangelism and in the philosophies of mind over matter.
Comment: Prototypical Prosperty Preacher dies. Much more info here.