(Photo: St Matthews Churches includes inexpensive items such as this tablecloth in mailouts to create a sense of obligation for the letter recipient to donate.)
How a Man You’ve Never Heard of Created the Unholy Grail of Televangelist Fund-Raising Letters and Keeps the Cash Rolling In Over 60 Years Later.
By Mike Renfro and Pete Evans
You’d certainly be forgiven if the name Gene Ewing doesn’t ring a bell. What this name does ring is the cash register. Gene Ewing is the behind-the-scenes J.R. Ewing of TV Preachers and their cash gushers. It’s a show that’s been going on for over six decades—mostly at the expense of the poor, elderly, sick and hurting.
His stock-in-trade for most of his career has been scripture-draped fund-raising appeals, replete with highly personalized pitches and promises for renewed health and prosperity. Predictably, it’s Ewing and his partners that have been the ones prospering. And if IRS records before they “went dark” and re-branded as a church are any indication at all, they’ve been prospering to the tune of millions of dollars annually—all pouring into a lawyer’s P.O. box, overflowing with cash, checks and cynically-abused dreams.
You can google him but you’ll struggle to find a photo of him from this side of the 1960s. Perhaps the only thing more mysterious and elusive than the man is the church from which his appeals emanate. And unlike many of his cohorts in televangelism such as Jim Baker and W.V. Grant, who both spent time in prison, Ewing’s always managed to avoid both the law and the limelight.
James Eugene “Gene” Ewing, Milton Ray McElrath (Ray), and until recently, their now-deceased lawyer J.C. Joyce have been the three main individuals consistently running what is now Saint Matthews Churches under many different names. How did this organization evolve into the money machine it is today?