“If you want to get rich, you start a religion,” Ross Stovepson repeated for the fifth time as he laid the book about L. Ron Hubbard down on the mug-circle-stained coffee table. It was Thursday, August 16, 2012 – unemployment day number fourteen. The thirty-one-year-old, slim, short-black-haired Caucasian American had been fired two Fridays ago from his job at a branch bank in Buford, Georgia. The reason: continually opening bogus checking and savings accounts in order to get bonuses after being warned several times to cease and desist.

It was 3:59 PM. Ross began channel-surfing as he fell back on the red sofa with his left hand behind his head. He thought: What am I going to do? I can’t work for any bank in the Atlanta metro now. I’m blacklisted. I’d better come up with something soon, or we’re going down the proverbial toilet.
Ross heard a car horn blaring on nearby US 23 (Buford Highway Northeast) as his program-scanning stopped on a televangelist’s sermon from a mega-church in Texas. He studied the exceptionally well-dressed, gelled-wavy-dark-haired, very-thin-wrap-around-microphone-outfitted, hyper-facially-expressive, peripatetic-on-a-large-stage orator. This must be one of those ‘prosperity preachers’. Yeah, I’ve seen this con artist before. He certainly has the charade down pat. So well-honed. ‘Pray for money. God wants you to be wealthy. He really does. Pay me a small amount and I’ll turbo-boost your prayer request. I’ll triple it if you issue that check within the next five minutes.’ I bet this guy has a huge-ass house.
He quickly researched him on his cell phone. Yep, I knew it. What a racket! Could I do that? Do I have the right kind of personality?
Ross then took a quick online test. Wow! It says that I have all of the requisite traits for something like this. Would need a new set of teeth, though. Must be easy on the camera lens. Though, this cat looks really weird. But, his choppers are perfect. I could charge a set of dentures to the other credit card – the one with some room on it. Yeah, let’s give this a whirl. Why not? If not now, when? Time to do some research on how to establish a church. Hope Cindy is game. If not, I’ll persuade her. She’ll be my first test subject. Must convince her by days end.
His live-in girlfriend, a twenty-seven-year-old brunette from Commerce (GA), was unlocking the front door at 5:35 PM, her usual weekday arrival time.
“Hello, sweetie,” Ross said with a beaming smile. “How was your day at the office?”
“It was pretty good. I initiated eight new mortgage applications.” She then sneezed. “Damn! The pollen is back.” She wiped her nose with a table napkin. “So, any luck on the job front today, honey?” she asked in a serious tone as she put her purple purse down on the kitchen bar.
“No, and a big yes,” gray-gym-shorts-and-white-T-shirt-clad Ross replied. And?
“What do you mean?” Cindy looked confused.
“I mean that I didn’t see any somewhere-worthwhile-in-ten-years openings for my level of expertise. However, I stumbled upon a major revelation that could have us in our very own house in three years. Or, less.” Oh, no. What money-losing venture now? Did he just watch business-opportunity videos all day?
“Is it some get-rich-quick pyramid scheme, dear? I thought that we swore off all of those MLM [multilevel marketing] scams. We can’t afford to go backwards again. You need a stable, regular income. Our finances are already getting tight.”
“I know, honey. That’s why I am certain that I have found the ultimate – and permanent – solution: a new way of life with tax-free income – not a mere job with an ungrateful, annoying, could-care-less-about-you boss.” Yikes.
“Ok, tell me; what is it, darling?” Please be something legitimate. Please.
“We are going to start a church.” Oh, no.
“What?!” Cindy exclaimed.
“A church. Hear me out, love. Jim [Ross’s older brother] will give us a cut-rate lease – the first two months will be free – on a hard-to-rent space in his strip mall in Doraville. [the neighboring town] It will be small at first, but trust me; I know how to quickly grow it. I’ve done all the research. I have the required [sociopathic] charisma. All you have to do is dye your hair blonde and lose twenty pounds.” [9 kg] What the fuck did he just say?!
It was an evening of high-volume screaming and yelling – almost all by Cindy. But by the ten o’clock news, Ross had won her over to his audacious Christian-house-of-prayer-with-fiscal-benefits plan.
As they lay in bed that night, Cindy whispered to Ross: “But, how will we entice complete strangers to come to a second-rate storefront, reverend?”
“The localized-to-north-Georgia online ads will state that each worshipper will receive a [$1] scratch-off ticket. At least one attendee will win a few dollars, maybe much more. That person, or persons, will be praised and paraded as the one/ones who prayed properly after receiving my special blessing. He, she, or they will then tell their family and friends. It will spread like wildfire. ‘The only way you can control people is to lie to them.’ The famous L. Ron Hubbard said that.” He’s going to lie to people in God’s name to make money? If there’s really a hell, he’ll be going there.
“Who is this L. Ron Hubbard?” Cindy asked, now feeling too exhausted to contest her boyfriend’s artifice.
“The founder of the Church of Scientology. Lots of big-name actors are in it, like John Travolta.” Oh, Lord.
Cindy emitted an audible groan.
“Don’t fret, dear; it’s all going to work out fine.”
Cindy’s last remark before losing consciousness: “I just hope that we don’t end up in jail.” Why would she think that?
As Cindy slept, Ross’s mind kept racing ahead. The future suddenly looked very rosy. He already saw themselves a year out with a traditional freestanding church. He would wait another year for that Alpharetta (GA) abode.
And it all happened. By Christmas the congregation was already up to 150. The 10:00 AM Sunday service was now airing on a public access channel. The ball was rolling. Even faster than expected. Their own cupola-and-steeple church was on the immediate horizon.
Cindy was now onboard wholeheartedly. She married Ross on Valentine’s Day (a Thursday) 2013 – at the justice of the peace. A small, private wedding reception was held the following Saturday. She became the local media contact. Whenever there would be an upcoming giveaway of donated items, Cindy made sure that all six networks knew about it. The free advertising got incredible results: more moneyed bodies in the makeshift pews.
As Ross commenced the opening of a stack of check-filled envelopes on Thursday afternoon, August 15, 2013, he reflected on the first year of his life-changing undertaking. Unknown people sending me their hard-earned money. Almost feel guilty. Almost. No one is putting a gun to their heads. They are doing this voluntarily. This is just like netting fish in an aquarium. Or, more like corralling aimless sheep. ‘People want to believe in something more than their finite life on Earth, but while they’re on this planet, they want the good life.’ Who said that? Which book was that in? Oh, it doesn’t matter. Still kind of hard to imagine how well this has gone. Far beyond expectations. Perhaps a semi-sacred syzygy. Knock on wood. Cindy has been amazing. The checks have won her over. Maybe have a kid next year. No, best wait a few more. Ah, the insatiable desire for more and more money makes hypocrites out of everyone. Just maintain the feel-good.
However, one of the envelopes contained an angry missive. The irate man wanted to know why Ross rarely mentioned Jesus being a champion for – and a person of – the poor. Jesus was anti-materialist! was scrawled in bold letters. He just wadded it up and threw it in the trashcan. Ross never responded to such letters. Only one in 79 envelopes (the rate to date) had such a critique. He could live with it. Just the cost of doing business. Next.
2014 was better than 2013 by a factor of five. In 2015 they had their stand-alone church. They acquired an older, now defunct due to shifting demographics and old-age-parishioner deaths, Methodist church in south Atlanta. They spruced it up. Soon they even had millennials streaming in. The psalms of success are what Ross called his homilies.
And then 2016 arrived. Airwave-wise, they went from public access to leased access to Sunday mornings (7:30) on the Atlanta ZW affiliate in mid-August.
The rocket-like growth trajectory continued, along with increasing deposits. They moved into a 4,488-sqaure-foot (417 square meters) McMansion in northern Fulton County on Thursday, October 27, 2016.
Life wasn’t good; it was grand. Ross now truly believed that this was his divine calling, and that there was something very special about himself, something very unique. He now saw himself as a modern-day prophet of financial fulfillment. “Friends, let us continue to spread our propitious tidings with proportional tithings,” he now often said during services. Without a hint of ignominy.
Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, November 24) 2016 saw his two brothers and their wives over for a four-course feast. Just after they were seated at the ornate Mahogany dining table, Ross stood up to speak.
“Dearest wife Cindy, brothers Jim and Steve, sisters-in-law Jane and Stephanie, I have a heartfelt proclamation: Good things come to those who believe. Better things come to those who trust. The best things come to those who have faith in my gospel.”


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