Someone found a strange book at Goodwill the other day and showed it to me. It seems we had the pleasure of coming across a copy of Divine Help, a book sent out by mail from the infamous St. Matthew's Churches. This particular St. Matthews, led by "Reverend" James Ewing, is known as a far-reaching mail-correspondence religious (alleged) scam that preys especially on low-income folks, and people especially susceptible to begging pleas for prayer and help.
The book certainly does its best to portray itself as a selfless act of religious charity: it does not have any publication credits or copyright notice, which theoretically means I could photocopy or scan as much of this book as possible.
The book's layout is actually quite appealing – in fact, it reminds me of the format of the Book of the SubGenius itself. It's 224 pages of phrases, paragraphs, photos (a few), and clip art, arranged in such a way that you can open up any part of the book and read that page. The fonts used throughout the book vary wildly from page to page, so that each page looks like an ad from your local newspaper. It has an introduction from The Elders of St. Matthews Ministry, proclaiming to the reader that the entire ministry is absolutely free and all of the stuff it sends in the mail is done so at no charge to the reader. It then goes on to offer prayer as a solution to money problems, love problems, job problems, and what have you. Right from the title of the book ("Divine Help"), this is evidently tailored to appeal especially to someone in an emotional crisis, who is especially open and vulnerable when a nice-sounding note comes from someone, anyone – even from a publishing outfit that sends out a million letters a month to people all over the country.
The majority of the book consists of "testimonies" from people (all anonymous, of course) who proclaim they've received miraculous gifts of thousands of dollars, quit smoking, overcame drug addictions, and turned their life around. Never does it actually say that "your book solved my problems," but the implication is there on every page. Scattered throughout the book are Bible quotes, brief instructions on how to pray for help, and encouragements for people to respond to the book (ISN'T IT TIME YOU MADE YOUR MOVE?) In short, if you pray for help, then help will arrive. (This sounds suspiciously like the "think good thoughts, and good things will happen to you" philosophy espoused by New Age self-help books like The Secret.) But even more than praying for help, this book contains a pitch for the real scheme used by the good folks at St. Matthews.
In several parts of the book are blatant ads for the "Seeds of Success Gold Book Harvest Bible Plan." This is the real purpose of the book: to entice the reader into signing up for the "Gold Book" plan. And since this book is meant to appeal to people who are desperate for money, it's certainly a sleazy way to advertise one's services. I can sum it up best with this quote from page 217 of the book:
So if you're homeless, destitute, alone, or in dire straits, then St. Matthews' ministry has the solution for you. Pray for salvation…and be sure to sign up for the Gold Book Harvest Plan. Of course, by sending in the postcard expressing your interest in the "Seed Plan," you're letting them know that you're taking the bait, and you can proceed to the next level. Isn't it great that these people are doing so much to help those who need help?
Best of all, you get this book for yourself - for free. By doing so, you're certain to get on Reverend Ewing's famous mailing list and be plagued by letters from now until Armageddon. (You may also get onto the mailing list of other religious hucksters and televangelists, too.) If you're in an adventurous mood, then send a note or postcard to:
If you want a copy of this Divine Help book, be sure to specifically ask for it. You'll probably get better results if you say you're ordering the book for someone else, by saying something like: "My neighbor J.R. Dobbs has had chemotherapy and he is in desperate times. I want to help him with your seed plan. Please send your Divine Help book to his address, at…"
The postcard at the back of the book says: "Please Rush me a Biblical Gold Book Seed Harvest Prosperity Plan so that I can take God as my financial partner."