You’ve heard of “play for pay”? Now, it’s “pray for pay.” And it’s involved in the latest scam that’s come to the attention of West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office.

Callers say they represent “St. Mary’s Prayer Center Ministry” and ask for a donation in exchange for prayer.

Morrisey said this outfit has no known connection to any legitimate entity in West Virginia or anywhere else.

When a demand exists, someone will always be happy to provide it – often for a fee.

That also applies to those who want divine relief from some affliction or think they can buy their way into heaven.

Pray-for-pay is nothing new and has been executed by robocalls, unsolicited emails, websites and actual human beings.

TV preachers have been doing it for decades, radio preachers for even longer and soap box or stump preachers since time immemorial.

Jim and Tammy Faye Baker of the PTL (Praise the Lord) Club did it to great success and excess, to the point where Jim served five years in prison after being convicted of fraudulently collecting $158 million from his viewers during the 1980s.

Part of that haul went to an elaborate doghouse – which urban legend holds was air-conditioned (some sources say it was not) and heated.

One TV preacher we won’t name used to tell his viewers, “You don’t have enough money to do you any good. Send it to me and I’ll do something with it.”

You can bet your last dollar (sorry, but we couldn’t resist wording it that way) that he darn well did do something with it.

Martin Luther was inspired, at least in part, to launch what became the Protestant Reformation by the selling of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church. (Luther had no desire to create a separate religion, but rejected certain of the church’s teachings and wanted to reform what he saw as abuses in the institution he served as a priest.)

Indulgences are considered to be a way of reducing the amount of punishment one must suffer for one’s sins. The church says the concept for this exists in the Scriptures, although some outside the church disagree (as is usually the case with theologians, some of whom may still be arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin).

Catholic Bible 101 says indulgences are credits for “sufferings, mortifications, alms and good works as capital in the Church’s spiritual warehouse.”

What Luther protested was the fact that the church was selling them for money, in large part to help pay for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Johann Tetzel, the chief seller of indulgences, was said to have coined the phrase “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” There’s no evidence he ever said it, but other people did, and that makes it one of history’s first commercial jingles.

Morrisey said consumers should be cautious about any unsolicited call.

“No matter the service or product, consumers should never provide payment or personal information to a stranger without verifying the legitimacy of the represented entity,” he said.

Plenty of people are available to pray for you, they’ll do it for free, and they don’t even have to know you.

They do it all the time, and they’re easy to find.

Just look around. 

— Cumberland (Maryland) Times-News

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