Would Jesus drive a Rolls-Royce?
That was the catchy headline on one blog about a United States Senate investigation into the ostensibly lavish lifestyles of televangelists whose congregations have pulled in big bucks and who have rewarded the ministers with generous perks, including a Rolls-Royce and a Bentley convertible.
But, why not?
One of the evangelist ministers heads a congregation of 30,000 that pulled in $69 million last year. That’s $2300, per person – almost $200 per month from each and every member of the congregation. Of course, we may assume that there were revenues from other sources, television broadcasting rights, etc. But, still, pulling in $69 million is doing pretty well.
Jesus would likely have thought so, too. $69 million can do a lot of God’s work.
For that, the lease payments on a Bentley seem pretty reasonable compensation – especially if they can keep the payment down with a promise of low accumulated mileage.
But, it is so petty.
No. Not the Senators.
The televangelists. No style. No real sense of extravagance. No conveying of the manifold material gifts of the Lord.
They just don’t measure up.
They are following in the footsteps of Father Divine, but in such small scale that they barely deserve mention with this titan of religious automotive excess.
It was called “The Throne Car.”
Officially, it was a 1937 Model J Duesenberg landaulet bodied by Bohman and Schwartz of Pasadena, California. One of the last Duesenbergs, it was also the biggest. At a 178½” wheelbase, it was three feet longer than the longest standard Duesenberg wheelbase of 142½”.
It was built for Father Divine.
It was nicknamed “The Throne Car” because the rear seat was wide enough for four, and could be elevated, so that Father Divine could be more easily see and, most important, be seen. Though the car had a solid roof over the chauffeur’s compartment and the rear door, the roof over the rear seat itself could be fully removed, so that the car could be open for others to see the elevated pastor.
At the time, it was reported to have cost $25,000 or more, though exactly who paid for it remains something of a mystery.
Father Divine worked his magic in the 1930’s, so entrancing many followers that they signed over all they owned to his “church.” He got his start in Harlem, but eventually became a nation-wide phenomenon. He was investigated several times, but the efforts to expose him as a fraud only added to his appeal and success, which eventually transcended the black community.
The feds went after him, too – but the jury acquitted. Eventually, Father Divine promoted himself to the status of “God,” before eventually dying, largely unnoticed, in 1965.
Father Divine used the car to transit between his various “heavens,” and was seen in it often. He seems to have used it as a way of validating to his followers that he was worthy of being believed in. The Throne Car is still in existence, though in private hands, reportedly in unrestored – respectable, but far from new - condition.
Would Jesus drive a Rolls-Royce?
Well, he’d be better off getting hold of The Throne Car – it’s in private hands in Texas, unrestored but presentable – and getting it back in shape. After all, it was built for the Father, so it belongs in the family.