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In a previous post, I spoke of a new website called in which users traded prayers for reward money. Basically, I thought the whole idea was reprehensible. I’m not alone; other bloggers who were directly contacted by the site’s founder have pretty much agreed with that sentiment:

The first two are Catholic websites and both used a term that’s new to me, but the concept it describes isn’t. The word is simony: the act of exchanging money for spiritual goods. The origin of the story is Simon the Sorcerer, which is described in Acts 8:9-25. The crux of the sin is found in verses 18-19:

Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Offering money to obtain the gifts of God, rightfully obtained solely by God’s grace is not a sign of a penitent heart. The apostle Peter told Simon that his heart wasn’t right before God, and commanded the sorcerer to repent (verse 21-22).

Someone suggested Steve Colbert do a story on it. Not a bad suggestion; there is much to be mocked.

John Wilson, founder of the site, has agreed to an interview with me. I will reprint the interview below in Q&A format, with some further comments from me.

Q: I see how users earn tokens, which can be redeemed for cash prizes. Where does that money come from? I don’t see how you’re making the money to give away.

A: I think that you may be misunderstanding the purpose of the site – users are not paying us for prayers, and we are not paying users to pray. We are providing a market place in which users can earn prayer tokens by praying for others or use prayer tokens to commission their own prayers. It is possible for a user to buy prayer tokens, if they would like, but it isn’t meant to be the only or even primary way of attaining them. We want to encourage the exchange of prayer!

I think John is drawing an arbitrary distinction that doesn’t exist. He says he’s not paying people to pray, but you earn money for praying which you can then spend to put more prayers on the wall. Someone is still paying someone else a material item for a prayer.

And he seems to overlook the cash out option here, though he does touch on that option later.

Q: What would you say to a Christians who thinks that this is sick, twisted, and disgusting?

A: I would say that they should not cast the first stone, and that they should try to understand the idea and our goals before reacting in such strong terms.

Fair enough.

Q: Do you feel that praying for the sake of connecting with God isn’t enough–is that why you are offering material rewards for doing so?

A: Although we do provide a cash-out option, we encourage the reuse of prayer credits to further strengthen people’s connection to God.  The end goal is to encourage people to pray not for material rewards. As long as users are contributing more prayer readings to the prayer network than they ask of other people, they don’t need to worry about the tokens.

That seems like dodging the question. There’s still a reward for praying at the end of the day, and that is a material reward. I really think the Bible is clear that praying is a spiritual practice.

Q: On that subject, do you feel that the Bible (and Jesus in particular) condemns the very concept of material rewards for a spiritual activity?

A: I think that Jesus would recognize that the goal of the site is to connect Christians with God and one another and would applaud and support that goal.

I’m still hung up on the token trading. I agree with the goal of trying to get people to pray more, but offering incentives is what’s really bugging me about this site. John really hasn’t answered that charge. He skirted the issue when I first put it to him.

So let’s ask him for some Bible verses that support his practice.

Q: You can dress it up with any fancy term you like, but at the end of the day it seems that you are buying and selling prayers. Can you justify that practice biblically?

A: Please refer to my first point – we are neither buying nor selling prayers ourselves. We have provided a framework that in which fellow Christians can exchange virtual “prayer credits” to facilitate and encourage prayer.

Nope, even when directly asked, he can’t provide justification for what he’s doing from the Bible. Notice that he answered a question I already asked, not the question I just asked.

Q: If Jesus found your website online, do you think he would obliterate it and run you off the same way he did the merchants in the Temple (Mt 21:12-17)? Why or why not? If you don’t think that he would, please explain why you think that this is different from what the merchants in the temple did.

A: See my answer to question 4. (“I think that Jesus would recognize that the goal of the site is to connect Christians with God and one another and would applaud and support that goal.”)

On 12/23/10, I sent a follow-up e-mail to John asking him if he agreed with the Catholic bloggers who accuse him of simony. I haven’t received a reply as of this writing.

So, it looks like John is into spinning this thing and trying to justify the unjustifiable. I’d say that Christians ought to stay far, far, away from this site.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on January 12, 2011, in Apologetics, Heresy, Sin and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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