Pint-Sized Preacher: Divinely Inspired or Carefully Coached?

Child preacher Kanon Tipton has been receiving a lot of attention for his spirited sermons at his father’s Pentecostal church in Mississippi.  His parents claim “the hand of God is on him in a special way,” but I am skeptical as to just how divinely-inspired this 4-year-old is.

I had a lemonade stand as a 4-year-old.  I kept a tally of all the money I brought in, counted up the change, and said things like, “Thank you for your business.”  But, alas, the National Geographic Channel never featured me and my precocious entrepreneurship on a special, and the Today Show never sat me on their couch to ask about my inspiration.  Everyone understood I was imitating a business.  Though it was very real to me, I was a child enacting a routine I had seen adults perform thousands of times.

Instead of saying, “Thank you for your business,” little Kanon is shouting, "The Lord is here tonight and his name is Jesus!" Instead of counting change and smiling, Kanon is jumping up and down and dabbing sweat off his brow with a handkerchief.  Both of us were acting like the adults we saw and studied in our daily lives.

It would be surprising if Kanon, growing up with a father and grandfather who are preachers,  wasn’t familiar with the cadence of a sermon, the gestures of a minister, and the common phrases used to engage a congregation.  Still, people are apt to believe Kanon is more than a bright, confident kid.

A congregant who has seen Kanon preach says,

I see nothing but Jesus in a little boy that would make anybody happy. I can't compose myself when he (sic) up there.

Comments found at the bottom of articles featuring Kanon have a different take on the matter.  Words like “indoctrinated,” “brainwashed,” and “exploitation,” are tossed around. 

While I’d hope that his parents are giving him the care a 4-year-old deserves, that is hard to believe considering all the attention he has been getting.  His father says,

I think everybody has their own opinion.  The Bible does say, ‘Train up a child the way it should go, and when they get old they will not depart from it.’ All that we have done is involved him in church and he himself has taken upon this passion, and so we’re not pushing him. (We) don’t have an agenda. We don’t travel with him.

This nice sentiment would have us believe the parents are careful to not exploit their child’s preaching prowess.  However, claiming, “We don’t travel with him,” seems disingenuous when saying it on the Today Show in New York, more than 1,000 miles away from Mississippi.

As we have seen in the past, the reality of child preachers can be quite different than it appears.  The Oscar-winning film Marjoe tells the story of an acclaimed child evangelist who was abused, verbally and physically, and relentlessly coached by his parents.  After leaving the ministry in his teens, he returned to the evangelical speaking circuit to document the tricks of a preacher and expose the behind-the-scenes corruption.

When Marjoe was a child preacher, admirers never thought that his parents were exploiting him for their own gain.  The claim that God was the only motivation for Marjoe’s sermons was simply not true.  The reason Marjoe and his parents were able to deceive the masses is because there is a market for miracles.  If people understood that these are merely talented children, the “demand” for them and the subsequent “supply” of them will go away.

Watching the rehearsed moves of Kanon it hard not to see their eerie likeness to Marjoe’s.  Perhaps this proves that a child preacher is not so miraculous after all.

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