I'm reading Selling Satan by Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott. It's an extension of the Cornerstone article debunking the claims of one Mike Warnke, a preacher/comedian currently skulking about Kentucky whose "hook" is that he's a reformed Satanist. Hertenstein and Trott took issue with some of Warnke's more bizarre claims, such as that he participated in rituals of child murder and cannibalism, and ultimately uncovered witnesses, records, and other evidence that indicate very strongly that most of the claims made his autobiography The Satan Seller were utter fictions. (Especially damning, and hilarious, is a picture of Warnke from 1966 that shows him to be a scrawny, button-downed, bespectacled everyman when his book claims he spent the 60s as a long-haired, wild-eyed, drug addicted Satanic priest with 6-inch fingernails "filed for fighting".*)
The debunking in and of itself is kind of interesting, but it's also old hat: Trott and Hertenstein published their original article in 1992. It got me wondering, however, what ol' Mike was doing these days. See, I have a theory that prominent preachers don't go away. Ever. No matter what kind of earth-shaking scandal or criminal convictions they may be faced with, famous evangelists virtually always retain enough of a following to make a living off of their preaching. Seriously, that sounds silly, but think about it: Peter Popoff was outed as a fraud by James Randi in 1983, but he's still on TV and people still send him money for "miracle spring water". Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker were both caught in sex scandals (Plus Bakker was indicted for mail fraud), yet they still have active ministries with large followings. Fred Phelps is a slobbering lunatic and he still draws crowds.
Mike Warnke? All he did was lie about his entire past to create a preaching industry that allowed him to pay himself and two confidants a total of over $800,000 a year while simultaneously using his ill-gotten reputation as a Satanism expert to stoke the fires of the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare. Small potatoes! Surely he's still around, right?
Yep, he is. He runs the Celebrations of Hope Ministry out of Harrodsburg, KY. He also has a website with the phone number for his Product Sales Department on every single page. Despite his 17 year-old debunking Warnke still markets himself as an ex-Satanist, his current answer to the 1992 scandal being a 2006 report by a tribunal of "elders" in his own church saying that he's awesome. Apparently that's good enough for somebody, since he appears to have speaking engagements all over the country throughout the rest of 2009.
I can't say I'm surprised, but I'm a little let down.
*Warnke claims to have converted to Christianity after joining the Navy in 1966, but the photograph was taken in April of 1966 and Warnke didn't join the Navy until June of that year. (Source)