Of them all, Bishop Gibson is probably the most cartoonish, given “Mr Glock”, his fleet of vintage cars and his fondness for catchphrases like “I’m not new to it, I’m true to it! The once-divorced Bishop Clarence Mc Clendon travels everywhere with an entourage of assistants to carry his designer suits.
Bishop Noel Jones, the 62-year-old brother of the singer Grace, managed to get an X Factor contestant pregnant while preaching “no sex before marriage”.
“But that’s up from 2 per cent 15 years ago,” he says, “and that’s because legitimate ministries just won’t stand up and call names.” Leonard is a lonely voice of opposition, and the winds are not blowing his way.
In 2011, Senator Chuck Grassley, an evangelist himself, concluded a three-year investigation into the financial propriety of six prominent prosperity preachers.
She quickly noticed the pressures of the preacher lifestyle and was determined to do something about it.In Gonzales Park in Compton, Los Angeles, a former Crip gangster gets out of a gleaming black Mercedes.He’s wearing a black leather trench coat, dark glasses and a black wide-brimmed hat. Thieves hit you when you’re not looking but I’d jack you to your face.Rusty Leonard at Ministry Watch – a watchdog for the charitable arms of American churches – describes prosperity preachers as “stupid, embarrassing and not a reflection of the big picture at all”.By his estimates, it accounts for 5 per cent of American Christians, no more.But only an outsider would see this as a zero-sum game, with the parishioners enriching the bishop at the expense of themselves – within prosperity circles, the perspective is quite different.“For Bishop Gibson, the heavens are always open,” says Bowler.(None is featured in the show, but they included the brilliantly-named Creflo Dollar from Georgia, probably the biggest prosperity preacher of all.) It failed miserably.Four of the six refused to cooperate, countering with legal arguments about the separation of church and state, behind which their finances remain secret.As we sit on a bench on a chilly morning, he tells me his come-to-Jesus story – how he grew up poor, joined a gang and would go to the Hollywood hills to mug people. And it all started here, in Gonzales Park, where he used to deal weed and angel dust.That’s why we’re meeting here, and not at his church, some 50 miles away in Riverside. “I’m getting my Ferrari detailed nearby, so after we’ve finished, I’m going to pick it up, drive to Rodeo Drive and buy my wife something nice.