Observer Magazine, 1992-05-31. Richard Askwith. Extracts from an excellent article reprodu
Observer Magazine, 1992-05-31. Richard Askwith. Extracts from an
excellent article reproduced without permission.
Dr Morris Cerullo, evangelist, is a little man with big plans. Like
Napoleon; except that Morris Cerullo's plans are much bigger.
You may have heard of him. In America he is mentioned in the same
breath as Billy Graham and Oral Roberts (though woe betide the
journalist who mentions him in the same breath as Jimmy Swaggart or
Jim Bakker). His San Diego-based organisation, Morris Cerullo World
Evangelism, has an annual budget of $12 million. He has his own
television station (the Inspirational Network, bought from Jimmy
Swaggart), his own television studios, offices in 30 countries, more
than 500,000 specially trained 'partners' preaching on his behalf in
more than 100 countries, and followers - millions of them - all over
In three weeks' time his 'Mission to London' begins at Earl's Court.
Nearly 100,000 people are expected to see him there. About six weeks
after that, his new satellite television channel, European Family
Network, is due to begin broadcasting 39 hours a week of religious
programming - including is own flagship program, Victory With Morris
Cerullo - to more than two million British homes (and about 30
million elsewhere in Europe), making him Britain's first
televangelist. By 1993, if all goes well, EFN may be broadcasting 24
hours a day. And that, as Cerullo sees it, is only the beginning.
You may have seen his advertising. A typical poster shows a
photograph of an abandoned wheelchair and announces that, at Earl's
Court from 21 to 28 June, 'some will be moved by the power of God
for the first time'. In other words, Morris Cerullo will perform
If this rings a bell, it may be because it reminds you of his
altercations last year with the Independent Television Commission.
The ITC complained to SuperChannel, the European satellite stations
then showing the programme to a handful of British homes, about
scenes of purported miraculous healing in Victory With Morris
Cerullo. SuperChannel, wary of infringing the terms of its British
license, suspended the programme. Following negotiations, however,
it was restored, and you can still watch it on SuperChannel today,
preceded by a disclaimer which recommends 'all persons experiencing
illness ot seek medical attention' and admits that 'Morris Cerullo
World Evangelism cannot substantiate the claims made by those
participants featured in this programme'. The scenes of healing - of
which more later - remain.
His services (in common with those of many charismatic preachers)
are almost invariably marked by 'miraculous' scenes of people
speaking in tongues and being 'slain by the Spirit'. For the last 40
years they have also been marked by miracles of physical healing.
God still speaks to him regularly, and occasionally dictates books
to him. I have met him (Cerullo, that is), and I am convinced he
believes all this.
Many respectable people take him seriously. The Archbishop of
Canterbury, for example, is said to be an admirer. More than 150
London churches will be co-operating with the Mission to London. And
the ITC, whose rules make it all but impossible for 'a body whose
objects are wholly or mainly of a religious nature' to hold a
broadcasting license, has recently seen fit to grant a license to
the European Family Network.
Whether the 'miracles' were real or not is not for me to say. In two
nights I saw nearly 100 people testify that Jesus had healed them
through Cerullo; many of them subsequently did so in writing as
well. It seemed inconceivable that they could all be 'plants'. Most
seemed ordinary, not very educated people whose lives had left them
well acquainted with grief and who believed - wanted to believe -
that they were healed. All seemed passionate in their faith in God,
Christ and Cerullo - and to have had their faith redoubled by
Cerullo's hypnotic chanting and the infectious enthusiasm of the
On the second night, Cerullo seemed to overreach himself. First
there was a woman who was practically dragged out of her wheelchair
by the ushers before he abandoned the idea that she was being
healed; then there were a couple of people who didn't fall over when
they were supposed to when Cerullo slew them with the spirit and
had, it seemed, to be pushed; then there was a car accident victim
who fell over after Cerullo threw away his crutches and leg brace;
and then there were the cancer victims. Seized with a conviction
that 'there's an anointing here for the healing of growths', Cerullo
summoned everyone with a tumour to stand in a group in front of the
stage. About 100 people hobbled up, some looking horribly ill. For
10 minutes they listened to his intoxicating, impassioned chants,
holding hands. Then he walked among them, slaying them with the
Spirit, and pronounced them healed.
The response was disappointing. About a dozen people eventually went
up on stage, none of whom struck me as making a particularly good
case for a miracle having occurred. In some cases the cancer that was
supposed to have disappeared turned out to have been suspected
rather than diagnosed; in others, while the pain might have gone
(which was understandable in that atmosphere), it was difficult to
see how the person could possibly know whether the tumour had
vanished or not. Cerullo changed the subject to deafness.
Back in the audience, the unhealed cancer sufferers trudged sadly
back to their seats. Two faces stick in my mind: a grey-faced man
in a grey suit, his eyes staring blindly ahead of him in newly
confirmed despair; and a teenage girl who leapt and twisted about,
weeping, apparently trying to dislodge a growth in her abdomen that
had refused to disappear, bravely muttering 'Hallelujah' to show
that her faith was not wavering.
'Surely you must believe after that?' a member of the audience said
to me afterwards. Which just goes to show that what you see is what
you expect to see. I thought the second night was a flop, even if
you assumed the 'miracles' were real. Everyone else who was there -
most of them born-again charismatic Christians - seemed to think
that it had been an awesome display of God's power.
Which of us was wrong? My scepticism is based on two beliefs. The
first is that miracles are impossible by definition and that an
inexplicable event no more implies supernatural intervention by God
than a mundane one. The second is that the version of the world
proposed by Morris Cerullo and his followers is inherently
improbable, and that a God who went to all the trouble and
controversy of creating a world in which people were afflicted by
incurable diseases through no fault of their own but then arranged
to cure isolated instances of those diseases through the exclusive
agency of a vulgar little American who looked like Bob Monkhouse
would, as Nietzsche once said in a similar context, 'be so absurd
that, even if he existed, he would have to be abolished.'
I accept that he is honest, sincere, disinterested and hard working.
I accept that he cares about his flock and that he helps many of
them to endure or enjoy life better than they would otherwise have
done. I even accept that some people may have been healed at his
Yet the gospel he preahes remains pernicious because it is based on
His sense of infallibility is as awesome as it is misplaced. His
attempts at humour are woefully heavy handed. His world leaves no
place for spontaneity, irony or dissent - any more than his meetings
have room for those who refuse to be born again.
If that is the flavour of salvation, he can keep it.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank