Earlier this week, the influential evangelical magazine Christianity Today published a 5,700-word exposé of the Gathering, a cult-like Christian ministry in Tennessee. Wayne “Pops” Jolley is a prosperity gospel preacher who exerts a powerful grip over his followers, pressuring them for extravagant donations and demanding total loyalty. Bob Smietana, a reporter, dug up appalling accusations of sexual abuse, and talked to ex-members who say Jolley pits family members against each other, even encouraging one follower’s separation from his more skeptical wife. Jolley says his critics are controlled by demons.
The story had it all: a demon named Jezebel, a phantom radio show, men named “Pops” and “Steady,” and a leader who preaches to his devotees from a recliner in the basement of his million-dollar home, to name just a few wild details. (Read the whole thing!) But for many of the magazine’s readers, the story was not just shocking. It was personal, if only tangentially.
As it turned out, one of Jolley’s devoted followers is Ed Cash, a successful songwriter who co-wrote one of the biggest worship songs of the last decade. Cash is a co-writer of “How Great Is Our God,” an anthem instantly recognizable to any member of the kind of church that relies on “worship leaders” rather than organists for Sunday-morning music. More than 10 years after its release, the song is still #8 on the list of top worship songs, according to Christian Copyright Licensing International.
Cash won a Dove Award—the Christian music industry’s version of a Grammy— in 2004 as producer of the year for “How Great Is Our God,” and has gone on to win the award six more times. And his success has trickled down to Jolley. Ex-members of Jolley’s group told Smietana that Cash has said he gives Jolley 10 percent of his personal income and 10 percent of his business income. In 2010, the Cash Family Foundation gave Jolley more than $200,000. And recently, Smietana reports, Cash has been sharing his songwriting credits—and therefore profits—with Jolley. (Chris Tomlin, the well-known worship leader who performs “How Great Is Our God” and works frequently with Cash, says he has never met Jolley.)