Academic journal article Journal of American & Comparative Cultures

An American "Faith Healer" in Britian Another Moral Panic?

Academic journal article Journal of American & Comparative Cultures

An American "Faith Healer" in Britian Another Moral Panic?

Article excerpt

In 1992, the American healing revivalist Morris Cerullo rented a London stadium and advertised his upcoming summer revival. The ads provoked protest from campaigners for the disabled, who complained to a government regulatory agency. Media coverage further publicized and magnified the debate, while providing a forum for claims-makers. Cerullo (who is white) and his UK followers (many of whom are black),1 were adversely stereotyped; much reporting contained racialist and anti-American undercurrents. Some distinguished British evangelicals added their voices to the chorus of criticism, and privately set about to eject him from an important movement organization. Moreover, the furor proved only the first round of debate; between 1992-when the public spotlight shone most intensely-until 1995, the controversy waxed and waned, but by the end of 1996, Cerullo had again faded from public view.

Here I will consider the commotion generated over Cerullo in the UK, and attempt to demonstrate that the dynamics generally followed the pattern of "moral panics" (Jenkins; Goode and Ben-Yehuda; Thompson). Admittedly, the outbreak was localized and limited to certain groups, coinciding with Cerullo's summer London crusades, but nevertheless in this context a genuine moral panic was at issue, as will become clear. It seems that several factors converged at that time in post-Thatcher Britain, which, when taken together, help to account for the heightened publicity and hostility directed towards Cerullo, who became stigmatized as a "folk devil."

Background2

Born 2 October 1931, the fifth (and last) child of his Italian immigrant father and Jewish mother, Cerullo grew up at an Orthodox Jewish orphanage in New Jersey after his mother died. Converting to Christianity as a teenager, Cerullo claims to hear God's voice, to receive holy visions, and to have been bodily transported to heaven (Cerullo 64). These assertions, along with the "signs and wonders" accompanying his ministry, lend him authority and legitimacy within Pentecostal circles.

Ordained by the Assemblies of God in 1952, Cerullo briefly pastored churches before becoming an itinerant healing evangelist. Promoted as a "Converted Jew" by Gordon Lindsay's The Voice of Healing in the 1950s, he went on to create Morris Cerullo World Evangelism (MCWE)3 at San Diego, California, in 1961. There he began publication of a devotional magazine and hosted annual meetings from 1966 onwards. A relative latecomer to television evangelism (see Schaefer, "Televangelism"), Cerullo did not regularly produce a program until 1988.

Conducting crusades in Asia, Africa, Latin and North America, and Europe during the 1980s and 1990s, MCWE continued to develop and expand. In 1990 Cerullo acquired Jim Bakker's defunct television ministry (New York Times 1990). With the backing of two corporate investors, Cerullo also bought Heritage USA, Bakker's bankrupt retreat center, but soon fell out with his business partners and is no longer affiliated with the venture (see Tidwell 26386).

By the mid-1990s, Cerullo had held revivals in more than seventy countries and established permanent offices in over twenty-five, including Britain (Cutting Edge 19). MCWE was worth an estimated 27 million (about $40 million), with an annual operating budget of nearly 6.5 million ($10 million) (The Times 1992; Gledhill "Cerullo Fails"). Promoted as a "Spirit-led" missionizing agency with a God-given mandate to "build an army" of believers, its system is to train native pastors and laity "to reach their nations for Christ. . ." (Cerullo 3). In addition to appearances at revival meetings, Cerullo's resource mobilization efforts consist of direct contact methods to recruit and communicate with followers, including regular mail shots to contributors, and television broadcasts (where possible).

Narrative of Cerullo Controversy in Britain

Despite the fact that Cerullo has had an office in Britain since 1961 and conducted London revivals there from the mid-1960s onwards (The Times Aug. …

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