Thursday, January 24, 2008

The "Get Rich Quick" Approach to Religion

My views on prosperity theology are no secret. It is nothing more than a "get rich quick" approach to religion that relies on prooftexting and cannot withstand the scrutiny of serious biblical exegesis. Worse yet, it often preys upon the poorest and most vulnerable members of society by convincing them that if they simply put what they have in the offering plate and trust in God, then all their financial problems will be solved. But what happens when a person does give what they have in faith and it doesn't bring the desired results?

Britt Towery, a columnist at reports:
Sad story after sad story is the heritage of most of these televangelists. One single mom said she was fleeced for over 12 years by a TV preacher. "When I think of the times my electricity got turned off because I tithed and gave instead of paying my bills, I could scream. I was told to NOT pay my bills, but to tithe first and believe God for the money for my bills . . . when my electricity was turned off I was told I had no faith."

Another wrote they were told: "Just send $65, and within 90 days God will turn my life around."
Ignoring the social, political, and economic factors that keep people impoverished and--too often--prevent them from pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, prosperity theology simply provides a disingenuous theological rationale for blaming the poor for their own poverty. Telling someone that they are poor and have financial problems because they don't have enough faith in God is really just the religious equivalent of telling a single mother with three kids and a full-time minimum wage job that she is poor because she's lazy and doesn't work hard enough.

While some prosperity preachers might really genuinely believe in this distorted view of scripture, a growing number are nothing more than slick religious con-artists, abusing their positions of trust in the church to get rich at the expense of their congregants and evade the long arm of the law.

But many of these preachers might not be able to stay ahead of the law for much longer. Recently, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) completed a two year investigation of some of American's leading (and not so leading) prosperity preachers.

John Bloom of the Wittenburg Door reports:
The headliners were Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland and his lovely wife Gloria, and Creflo Dollar and his exquisitely named wife Taffi.

Less well known, unless you happen to subscribe to “Widow-Fleecing Monthly,” were Randy and Paula White, the couple whose Without Walls International Church in Tampa outlasted their marriage; Joyce Meyer and her loving husband David, of Joyce Meyer Ministries in Fenton, Missouri, who may have had to use their $23,000 marble-topped commode when they heard the news; and Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church of Lithonia, Georgia, who apparently made the list because of his healthy appetite for faith-based-initiative money.
So what exactly prompted Senator Grassley to launch an investigation into the activities of these preachers anyway?

Again, John Bloom explains:
There’s been a trend over the past 20 years for non-profit corporations, which are required to file reports with the Internal Revenue Service, to convert themselves into churches, which are not required to file anything.

Some of these churches have an appetite for Gulfstream jets, beachfront mansions, Bentleys and cosmetic-surgery funds. This is, of course, in conscious imitation of the Yuppie from Galilee.
And lest we have any doubts about the criminality of all this, Bloom elaborates further:
Unfortunately, it cuts a little deeper than that. The amount of information considered by the Finance Committee before starting down this road amounted to at least the suspicion of a vast criminal conspiracy. (And, lest you think I’m exaggerating, just check the interlocking directorates, shared board members, and shared jet leases of the top 50 or so players that the committee is looking at.) Some of these guys are little more than carnies. Others aren’t as self-consciously criminal but believe their own publicity—but they also know that they’re taking money intended for disaster relief, aid to the poor, and aid to orphans, and converting it into personal luxury items. If that’s legal, then the law should be changed. If that’s illegal, then there should be at least as much jail time for them as Martha Stewart got for lying to the SEC.
Unfortunately, the phenomenon of prosperity theology is not unique to the United States but has been exported to the far corners of the earth. Here in the Bahamas, Adrian Rogers over at WeblogBahamas echoes many of the concerns I have cited above. And, just a few years back, Cedric Moss, a local pastor, ran a series of columns in the Nassau Guardian exposing the tactics employed by many unscrupulous pastors (whom Moss refers to as "highly paid celebrity motivational speakers) to "fleece their flocks" (see here, here, and here).

While some bloggers, citing concerns about separation of church and state, have rightfully questioned the propriety of Congressman Grassley conducting an investigation into the finances of prosperity preachers, I hope that his efforts will help to educate the churchgoing public about the need to check out the credentials of the ministries they wish to support.

But as important as that is, I hope that the publicity generated by Grassley's investigation will force all of us to pause and reflect on our theological views. Because the real issue here is much more than just bringing religious con-artists to justice or learning how to protect ourselves from getting scammed by them. The real issue is who we believe Jesus Christ really is and what the life of discipleship actually entails.

Regarding that issue, Towery's closing words point us in the right direction.
The Christ I read about in the New Testament preached self-sacrifice and humility. He ministered to society's outcasts, the lepers and prostitutes. He overturned the crooked money-changers table in the Temple.

I don't think Jesus would wear a Rolex or drive a Bentley. He was up front in his dealings with the masses as he was with the disciples. He was not putting on a show or trying to impress anyone. Kings, high priests or paupers were the same to him. He loved them all. And a majority never understood what it was all about.



At Friday, January 25, 2008 at 7:31:00 PM EST , Blogger Douglas said...

It's very distressing that this exists. None of the preachers you mention are members of ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability), as far as I know.

At Friday, January 25, 2008 at 10:06:00 PM EST , Blogger haitianministries said...

You're absolutely right, Douglas. None of these preachers under investigation are members of the ECFA. There are, of course, many good Christian ministries (such as American Baptist International Ministries, my own employer) who do not belong to the ECFA. But if a ministry is reputable, they will, at the very least, provide copies of their annual audited financial reports upon request. A good rule of thumb for prospective donors is, "no reports, no donations."

At Friday, August 28, 2009 at 11:54:00 AM EST , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I practice the teaching of Buddhism and I having been leaving fruit bowls as my offerings to Buddha and as a result I have been unable to pay my electrical bill. All the fruit that I set out for offerings has spoiled in my refrigerator and I don't know what to do at this point. I am looking forward to attending the upcoming seminar and would like to see what other religions have to offer.


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