As the fiery televangelist proclaims, the battle never ends. Divine Fury. Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

AS CAREFULLY AS the campaigns of Andrew Harper and his potential Republican opponents in the November general election analyzed the ever-changing political currents in the Golden State, none of them parsed the endless data any more thoroughly than Brent Daggart.

Daggart, the executive vice president of Soldiers of Christ Ministry based in Los Angeles, was the architect behind the second largest televangelist operation in the country.  Its main weekly program reached over 10 million viewers in places as close as Santa Barbara and as distant as South Korea and Zimbabwe.  SOCM reported $85 million in annual revenue to its accountants and kept another $22 million – donations from the ministry’s biggest donors – strictly off the books.

Daggart had watched with growing anger and disgust as the obstacles to a Harper run crumbled before the San Francisco Democrat.  He knew the election calculus in California and nationwide as well as anyone.  Running against an ultraconservative opponent, Harper had the clear edge even fighting the anti-gay vote.

He sat two rows behind the video camera at the Long Beach Convention Center that was focused on Rev. James “Jimmy” Burgess, the star of the SOCM religious juggernaut and the engine of its success.

As Burgess performed his magic, Daggart’s mind ground through the logistics of the upcoming unofficial campaign, the shadow operation he was preparing to unleash.  He was confident he had both the money and the white-hot determination to stop Harper dead in his tracks.

Jimmy Burgess was nearing the end of his hour-long program and Daggart shifted his attention to the always-dramatic conclusion.

The preacher was on a stage bathed in a bright spotlight with florescent blue panels in the back.  Giant monitors on either side carried his hugely enlarged image picked up by the camera stationed dead center in the packed auditorium.  Burgess stared directly at the camera as it zoomed on his face and lost the dark blue suit, yellow tie and ivory shirt with the collar button he had unfastened midway through the sermon.  He held his gaze steady.

Burgess wanted the 12,000 in the hall and millions who would watch him later to squirm as they felt the heat of his stare looking into their souls.  He wanted their hearts to race and their palms to sweat in this uncomfortably long silence.

“God is NOT MEEK,” he yelled suddenly in a penetrating voice with the slightest country twang that shattered the stillness of the auditorium and echoed off the walls.  “He is not timid.  He is a lion.  He is a warrior.  And, he wants you…each and every one of you…to be a fighter, too.

“Six hundred million Christians.  Think of it. Six hundred million.  That’s how many Christians live in North and South America today.  Eighty-five percent of the population.  Eighty-five percent. Did that just happen?  Is that an accident?

“It’s because God fought for them.  And Christians fought for them.  From Spain and Portugal, and France and England they came.  They threw down the pagan gods.  They fought Satan in all his forms.  Whether the black evil of human sacrifice or the gray evil of nature worship.

“They came here.  They fought for God.  And they died doing it.  They died of arrows, of starvation, of disease…of sheer loneliness.  But they fought.  They fought with their last breaths.

“And, He expects no less from you.  He doesn’t need an audience.  He doesn’t need a billion witnesses.  God is not a rock star.  He is a general.  And a general needs an army.  He needs you!  And you! And you! And you!”

Burgess whirled across the stage as he stabbed his accusing finger repeatedly toward different sections of the audience.

“He needs you!  To fight next to Him! To fight for God!  Fight for Him! To fight!  Fight! Fight!  Fight!  And keep fighting.  Because the work is never done.  The battle is never finished.  Oh, maybe eventually…when Judgment Day arrives.  But not today.  Not in our lifetime.”

Burgess then froze in his walk back across the stage.  He focused on the camera again and lowered his voice into a loud, dramatic whisper as he concluded his sermon: “The battle goes on.  And on.  And on.  It never ends.”

He spun around and walked quickly to the back of the stage and through the illuminated panels behind him.  He went down a set of stairs and continued walking through the back of the hall and past a set of doors.

Daggart left his seat and raced down the aisle before the stunned audience could get to its feet.  He walked around the stage and followed Burgess’ route.  Past the doors and a short way down a hallway, Daggart came to an inner room.

Inside, one table held mirrors and Burgess’ makeup.  On another were fruit baskets and bottles of water and juice in tubs filled with ice.  A half dozen people – senior church officials and organizers of the event – surrounded Burgess who wiped sweat from his face and neck with a small white towel and drank from a small bottle of water.

“Jim.  You were great,” said Daggart as the group parted for him.  He patted the tall preacher on the upper arm.  “Best ever.  You had them in the palm of your hand.”

“It’s not hard,” said Burgess.  “Not when you’ve got a great script.  Thanks partner.”

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