While some churches preach that money is the root of all evil, there has been a movement in the past 60 years – led by people like Creflo A. Dollar, Kenneth Hagin, Oral Roberts and Joel Osteen – that embraces money and prosperity, even proclaiming that money tithed will be returned many times over to parishioners by God.
God wants us to prosper, they say, not only because it makes us happy, but because prosperous people are comfortable enough to be in a position to help others.
Called prosperity theology or prosperity Gospel, the movement stresses personal achievement and development as a way to achieve the Christian God’s dominion over society. The movement gained steam in the 1950s and 1960s as Americans began to achieve postwar prosperity and grow their families.
Creflo Dollar: Religious Baller
According to Wikipedia, “The Neo-Pentecostal movement has been characterized in part by an emphasis on prosperity theology, which gained greater acceptance within charismatic Christianity during the late 1990s. By 2006, three of the four largest congregations in the United States were teaching prosperity theology, and Joel Osteen has been credited with spreading it outside of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement through his books, which have sold over 4 million copies.”
Because most prosperity churches are non-denominational and eschew traditional Presbyterian polity and church hierarchies, where the pastor or preacher is accountable to a council of elders or an otherwise higher church authority, this allows prosperity churches to make their charismatic pastors the sole authority and the one person between parishioners and God.
This attribute of most prosperity churches has led to controversy, as some prominent ministers like Creflo Dollar openly flaunt their religiously-acquired wealth. Dollar, founder and head of the World Changers Church International, reportedly owns a few Rolls Royces, private jets, a million dollar home in Atlanta and a $2.5 million home in New York City. This seems only to affirm the power of the teachings, resulting in a flood of donations. From the New York Times: “According to church officials, the New York church collects an average of $345,000 a month, which works out to more than $4 million annually; the Atlanta church’s operating budget is $80 million a year.”
Why Is the Prosperity Gospel Popular?
It is fairly easy to see why the prosperity gospel has grown so popular: take charismatic and optimistic leaders like Creflo Dollar, combined with a message that God will make you rich if you support them and give money to the church, and you have a recipe for success.
These messages of affirmation clash strongly with most traditional religious teachings around money, which fail to embrace it as a positive thing, instead making it the “root of all evil.” Further, many preachers like Joel Osteen openly admit to avoiding talking much about sin and reminding believers that they are sinners in a constant quest for forgiveness.
Because prosperity gospel preachers cite the Bible, specifically the Book of Malachi, there is a sense of credibility conferred. In Malachi 3:10 (KJV), it is stated: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it”
Another factor explaining its increased popularity is televangelism. These ministers pioneered the shift from church pew to couch, allowing their message to spread far and wide, bringing in new adherents and more importantly, more donations and tithes.
Criticism Despite Popularity
Despite the fact that the most popular ministers and churches in America preach some type of prosperity gospel, critics abound.
At the National Baptist Convention in 2006, Friendship West Baptist Church pastor Frederick Haynes said, “Black communities are suffering, while this prosperity-pimping gospel is emotionally charging people who are watching their communities just literally dissolve.”
For a higher profile critic, we only need to look to Rick Warren, the only pastor of the “top four” who does not preach prosperity theology. He said, “”This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn’t everyone in the church a millionaire?”
In 2009, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley began an investigation into six prosperity gospel churches: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Creflo Dollar Ministries, Benny Hinn Ministries, Bishop Eddie Long Ministries, Joyce Meyer Ministries, and Paula White Ministries. His interest is focused on how these churches use their donations and whether they should maintain their IRS tax exempt status.
When I was younger and in college, there is no question that I would have had strong negative things to say about the blatant mixing of money and religion.
Now, I just don’t care.
This is not a movement that is duping its adherents. On the contrary, it is pretty straightforward and open. Those who choose to believe have the right to do whatever they want with their money, and in the debate over whether religion should focus on others or ourselves, they have a right to choose themselves. They choose to view the Bible as a guidebook for personal success and achievement.
Despite the loud calls for accountability, these organizations should only be as accountable as their adherents demand. If Creflo Dollar (his real name) wants you to hold up an envelope of cash above your head so it can be blessed, and then used to help pad his lavish lifestyle, so be it.
Creflo Dollar and the prosperity gospel are a very American form of religion, mixing the two things Americans hold most dear. Further, it is a way to explain capitalism in a time when it seems abused and maligned.
While most denominations preach that Jesus said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” there are millions finding comfort knowing that their prosperity is something of which to be proud.