Not Guilty By Reason of Religiosity

Sunday, April 23, 2006 at 08:52 PM

Deathbed conversions to Christ are commonplace.  You can view them either as attempts to hedge against a lifelong motto of "if it feels good, do it," or as a continuation of that motto.

Increasingly common in the US are "pre-trial conversions" and "pre-sentencing conversions."  The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports that Richard Scrushy, of HealthSouth infamy, is the latest practitioner of this dubious faith.

Ordained as a minister and acquitted in a $2.7 billion fraud, fired HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy is done with the corporate boardroom. Now, he said, it's all about God.

Scrushy has helped found a ministry he says is feeding starving children in Africa and is planning even more missions work. It will also build a Bible-based university and offer mortgages, insurance and health care, he said.

Working with a small group of Birmingham-area ministers who have relatively little business experience, Scrushy co-founded Kingdom Builders International Ministries, which was unveiled recently with the launch of a Web site.

The site appeared just ahead of Scrushy's May 1 trial on felony charges unrelated to the HealthSouth accounting scandal, but he said Kingdom Builders has been in the works for months.

"This is about building God's kingdom and helping his children," Scrushy said. "My wife and I have been called to this."

A federal prosecutor said it was "more than a coincidence" that Scrushy's ministry was expanding amid the run-up to his trial in Montgomery, where a religious TV program featuring Scrushy and his wife also has started airing.

"He tries to reach out to people and manipulate them into thinking he's spreading the gospel," Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin said.

Money generated by the business side of the ministry will go toward missions work and the "kingdom of God," not any person, Scrushy said.

Scrushy said Kingdom Builders isn't affiliated with Scrushy Ministries, which the former CEO began with his wife Leslie, a former HealthSouth employee. She is the daughter of a Methodist minister; he, too, was raised Methodist and began practicing his faith in a very public way as the fraud case loomed.

Scrushy and his wife began hosting a Christian-themed TV show as prosecutors built their case in the HealthSouth fraud, and he was ordained as a minister in December 2004 - the month before his fraud trial began.

Working with his wife, Scrushy now pastors a church of his own. Scrushy wouldn't discuss numbers but said the group's funds come from personal donations and memberships.

Scrushy is set for trial May 1 on charges of giving $500,000 to former Gov. Don Siegelman's state lottery campaign in exchange for a seat on a powerful state board that regulates hospitals.

And the saddest part of a story with so many sad parts it's painful is that.....lots of people still buy this crap.  Just ask Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame, who now runs a prison ministry.  And not just any ministry, but one which Slate reported is viewed favorably by both John McCain and George Bush.  The latter, in fact, "has given Colson a Texas prison wing to run on Christian principles."

Maybe his new-found faith is why mainstream media types asked Colson with a straight face whether he thought that Mark Felt had acted ethically in his role as "Deep Throat," giving Woodward & Bernstein help in cracking Watergate.  Why not ask "sinner, how do you feel about the man who helped expose your sin?"