Tony Vagneur: There’s a smoking gun behind this guy’s religious ways |

Tony Vagneur: There’s a smoking gun behind this guy’s religious ways

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Winter is the cocoon of safety to guys like me. We like it when darkness falls early and the sun delays its arrival until way late in the morning. Darkness is like being ensconced in a nest, so to speak, a seeming insular safety net surrounding us. It’s all psychological, I know, but it works for me.

But in the early morning winter darkness, there isn’t much to do. My tendency is to turn on the television around 5 or 6 a.m. and in so doing this fall, made a startling, channel-surfing discovery.

“Gunsmoke” with James Arness comes on at 6 a.m. on the INSP television network. I’d forgotten about it, but “Gunsmoke” was my dad’s favorite program. He followed it religiously when it was in production and on one of our forays as junior-high students to the “room at the top of the stairs” in the Hotel Jerome, where the celebrities were put up each week, we cornered Arness and got his autograph.

If you like westerns, horses, beautiful women and straight-talking men in light-colored hats, “Gunsmoke” is one to watch. At my age, knowing how my father thought about many things, he could have been Sheriff Matt Dillon. He had the same knack for cutting through extraneous or untruthful bulls—, and generally saw things for the way they were, as Dillon did. If you wanted my dad’s ire (just like Dillon’s), fudge the truth or don’t own up to your own indiscretions.

However, there’s a problem with “Gunsmoke” reruns on the INSP network — INSP also runs religious programs, paid for by the church or preacher, whichever, in the early morning hours. If I wake up at 5 a.m., the “Gunsmoke” channel is filled with an odious faux religion-cloaked program, which doesn’t (or didn’t) interest me. It’s something run by a man named Mike Murdock, whose black-bearded visage is enough to instill immediate distrust. His church is called The Wisdom Center ministry and he preaches “prosperity theology.”

This religious program is in stark contrast to “Gunsmoke,” a western about taking the high road, whereas Murdock is one of the finest examples of a religious extortionist anywhere on the planet. Incredulity crossed my mind when I first actually listened to him.

Do you want a mortgage-free house, need a new car, or how about some new clothes? These things can be yours if you plant a $1,000 “seed” with Murdock’s church. The seed then, according to Murdock, proselytizer of such a magnificent plan, will enable God to release the “harvest” he holds in his hand and you will be the beneficiary of this harvest. Just ask Mike — it has all happened to him. God talks directly to Murdock.

This plan can be tough for those who struggle paycheck-to-paycheck, but hey, remember $1,000 won’t buy you much of a car, or house, but if you plant the seed, God’s harvest will buy you a brand-new one, house or car, or both. But still, if it’s a choice between getting the furnace fixed this winter or the $1,000 seed, you can pledge the thousand dollars on your credit card, $58/month. You won’t get much of a harvest that way, not in the beginning, but at least you get some buy-in until you’ve reached the threshold of $1,000 or more. And don’t worry, with all this comes the promise of a stress-free life.

Mike Murdock doesn’t read from the Bible, and his references to the same are so brief, slurred and infrequent, it is hard to discern to what chapter he is referring. It’s just all about money — how sowing the seed will bring a harvest 100 times more valuable than what you invest.

Murdock, whose facial visage looks like the incarnation of the Devil himself, proclaims to be some kind of religious doctor, but according to the best research available, he made it through three semesters of divinity school. Later on, he did receive an honorary PhD from an online college. Hell, I have an honorary PhD from Aspen State Teacher’s College but I don’t insist on being called “Doctor.” However, that does give me the insight to smell robbery wrapped in the cloak of religion.

Murdock’s treasured lines, “If you have little, give a lot,” or “Your $1,000 seed will break the back of poverty,” no doubt causes many who cannot afford it to fork over the cash. Hungry families, bare Christmas trees, lack of insurance, no vacation this year and delinquent car payments — these are what many of those who give “their $1,000 seed” to Murdock’s organization will get.

Being a church, his finances remain opaque, and the true tragedy belongs to those who come up $1,000 short. This has been going on for years, world-wide, and he’s still in business. Keep your eyes (and ears) open.

Do you think they’ll block “Gunsmoke” from my television set after this?

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at


See more

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.