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Column: TV leeches prey on elderly

Posted: October 9, 2018 1:48 p.m.
Updated: October 9, 2018 1:46 p.m.

Miss Opal Puckett is 90 years old. She lives with her daughter, on a limited income.

Miss Opal has something in common with a lot of other elderly people. She is the constant target of television preachers, so-called faith healers and other such leeches who want her money.

“Regular as clockwork,” says Miss Opal’s daughter, “she receives correspondence from Oral Roberts, LeRoy Jenkins and all of them. It burns me up.”

It burns me up, too. Over the years, readers have sent me hundreds of pieces of solicitation from these self-appointed prophets and the message is always the same -- send me money or God will get you.

Miss Opal’s daughter passed along a letter her mother received in may. It was from somebody named Peter Popoff of the Peter Popoff Evangelical association in Upland, Calif. Peter Popoff is too perfect a name for a money-hungry evangelist to be an alias.

Brother Popoff’s message to Miss Opal was a beauty: Brother Popoff, you see, was praying and God spoke to him. God said he needed to contact Miss Opal and tell her that whatever she happened to be facing -- spiritual, physical, financial or “other” -- he was going to grant them. Brother Popoff also included in the letter a small packet of mustard seeds, which looked a great deal like they came from a kitchen pepper shaker.

Miss Opal was supposed to drop the mustard seeds into a bottle of anointing oil. Anointing oil is probably a bit tough to come up with these days, so Brother Popoff explained, “Any kind of oil will do.”

Miss Opal was to drop seven mustard seeds into the oil and say, “God can!” seven times and all her needs would be miraculously filled.

And then the pitch:

God told Brother Popoff something else, too. He told him to see if he could bleed a few bucks out of Miss Opal. She was instructed to take what was left of her anointing oil and anoint her “biggest bill or best check” and send that along as soon as possible. The sum of $100 was mentioned several times in the letter.

There was a warning for Miss Opal, too: “Beware that thou forget not the Lord thine God.”

Beware. That is shameless.

I don’t suppose there is anything we can really do about these creeps. Any sort of suppression in the area of religion has no place in a free country.

On second thought, maybe there is something that can be done. We can warn elderly people whom we love not to fall into these traps and send their money off to these people.

We can tell them the promises of miracles are a bunch of baloney, no matter how many mustard seeds they anoint with oil.

We can tell them that if they want to donate money, then donate it to a worthwhile charity, or to a church, or to some poor soul with a house full of kids to feed and no job.

And we can tell them what to do with those shameless requests for donations they get. We can tell them to do what Miss Opal does.

“She puts her letter in File 9,” said her daughter.

“File 9,” she explained, is the garbage can.

Smart lady, Miss Opal.

(Lewis Grizzard was an award winning and much beloved Southern writer and syndicated columnist. He passed away in 1994.)

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