The Prosperity Gospel owes me 700 billion dollars

Time Magazine has a feature article asking “Maybe We Should Blame God for the Subprime Mess?” 

Blame God for not making dollars fall from the sky? 

Well, not exactly…but they do ask if the Prosperity Gospel had something to do with it.

While researching a book on black televangelism, says Jonathan Walton, a religion professor at the University of California Riverside, he realized that Prosperity’s central promise — that God would “make a way” for poor people to enjoy the better things in life — had developed an additional, toxic expression during sub-prime boom. Walton says that this encouraged congregants who got dicey mortgages to believe “God caused the bank to ignore my credit score and blessed me with my first house.” The results, he says, “were disastrous, because they pretty much turned parishioners into prey for greedy brokers.”

Others think he may be right. Says Anthea Butler, an expert in pentecostalism at the University of Rochester in New York state, “The pastor’s not gonna say ‘go down to Wachovia and get a loan’ but I have heard, ‘even if you have a poor credit rating God can still bless you — if you put some faith out there [that is, make a big donation to the church], you’ll get that house, or that car or that apartment.’”

But the best line is next.  This line really drives home the danger of the Prosperity Gospel when tied to greedy unregulated banking practices.

Adds J. Lee Grady, editor of the magazine Charisma, “It definitely goes on, that a preacher might say, ‘if you give this offering, God will give you a house. And if they did get the house, people did think that it was an answer to prayer, when in fact it was really bad banking policy.” If so, the situation offers a look at how an native-born faith built partially on American economic optimism entered into a toxic symbiosis with a pathological market.

I’m with Andrew Sullivan and Rod Dreher on this one. The Prosperity Gospel is neither.  Read on for more…

The Time piece quoted above is a followup to a previous in-depth article they did “Does God Want You to Be Rich?”  They outline the current manifestation of Prosperity Gospel here:

For several decades, a philosophy has been percolating in the 10 million–strong Pentecostal wing of Christianity that seems to turn the Gospels’ passage on its head: certainly, it allows, Christians should keep one eye on heaven. But the new good news is that God doesn’t want us to wait. Known (or vilified) under a variety of names–Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, Prosperity Theology–its emphasis is on God’s promised generosity in this life and the ability of believers to claim it for themselves

In a nutshell, it suggests that a God who loves you does not want you to be broke. Its signature verse could be John 10: 10: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” In a TIME poll, 17% of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61% believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31%–a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America–agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money.

There’s an element of “risk” that pervades the Prosperity Gospel, making God’s blessings like a casino or a high-stakes poker game.  If you aren’t willing to play big, you’ll never win big.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not play that way.  And apparently there are hundreds, if not thousands of Americans, who trusted in this belief system, who interpreted an accepted loan application as a sign from God, and then were unable to sustain it and may lose their home or car or job. 

Is that really Good News we can tell people?

Thoughts on the Prosperity Gospel?  Or on the article?

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Comments

  1. Mitch says

    I’ve seen this article posted several places. While I’m not a fan of what its opponents call the “prosperity gospel,” I’ve yet to see any evidence – you know, like actual statistics – to back it up. As presented, I don’t see anything more than pure speculation here – raw prejudice masquerading as fact.

  2. Rev. Jeremy Smith says

    I don’t think there are any statistics; and I agree the finger-pointing is not helpful.

    However, the intersection between a preacher saying to try for that loan and shady banking practices facilitating that loan makes for a self-fulfilling prophecy that I have no doubt has ensnared many and let nothing but a taste of ash in their mouth.

    A pastor is responsible to shape a life-giving theology in people. Any theology that is not life-giving, but takes advantage (consciously or not) of circumstances is to be exposed as unhelpful. In my opinion.

  3. Rev. J says

    I too have seen this article out there in a couple of places and it begs this question…

    In our current economic crisis…what did Joel Osteen preach on Sunday?

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