Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"The Gospel of Getting Rich"

A few days ago over in Fort Worth, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland hosted a conference for "prosperity gospel" devotees.

The New York Times reported on the event and the mindset back of it. Here's a taste of the article (photo from same source):

Believers Invest in the Gospel of Getting Rich
Published: August 15, 2009

FORT WORTH — Onstage before thousands of believers weighed down by debt and economic insecurity, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and their all-star lineup of “prosperity gospel” preachers delighted the crowd with anecdotes about the luxurious lives they had attained by following the Word of God.

Private airplanes and boats. A motorcycle sent by an anonymous supporter. Vacations in Hawaii and cruises in Alaska. Designer handbags. A ring of emeralds and diamonds.

“God knows where the money is, and he knows how to get the money to you,” preached Mrs. Copeland, dressed in a crisp pants ensemble like those worn by C.E.O.’s.

Even in an economic downturn, preachers in the “prosperity gospel” movement are drawing sizable, adoring audiences. Their message — that if you have sufficient faith in God and
the Bible and donate generously, God will multiply your offerings a hundredfold — is reassuring to many in hard times.

The preachers barely acknowledged the
recession, though they did say it was no excuse to curtail giving. “Fear will make you stingy,” Mr. Copeland said.

But the offering buckets came up emptier than in some previous years, said those who have attended before.

Many in this flock do not trust banks, the news media or Washington, where the Senate Finance Committee is investigating whether the Copelands and other prosperity evangelists used donations to enrich themselves and abused their tax-exempt status. But they trust the Copelands, the movement’s current patriarch and matriarch, who seem to embody prosperity with their robust health and abundance of children and grandchildren who have followed them into the ministry.

“If God did it for them, he will do it for us,” said Edwige Ndoudi, who traveled with her husband and three children from Canada for the Southwest Believers’ Convention this month, where the Copelands and three of their friends took turns preaching for five days, 10 hours a day at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

You can read the entire report here, if you like.

Frankly, it was a hard read for me.

So, Jesus once told his followers that he had no where to lay his head.

He owned nothing.

He lived as a very, very poor man.

He counseled his followers and would-be followers to sell all that they owned and give the income to the poor.

He invited people to follow him in a radical life of self-denial for the sake of the marginalized, the hungry, the rejected and the untouchable.

He spoke often of "laying up treasure in heaven," one of his favorite phrases. Whenever he used that intriguing phrase, he always connected the earthly "deposit branch" to some clear benefit for the poor in the here and now.

He blasted greedy preachers and self-serving religious leaders as oppressors, not a category to which one should seek inclusion by God's standards!

No wonder we have problems today with poverty.

Is anyone listening to this weird guy named Jesus?

Religious expression like that which the Copelands hawk serves only to turn completely upside down all of the values by which people of faith should be formed and challenged.



Anonymous said...

I read a similar article two weeks ago in the Atlanta newspaper. Creflo Dollar was one of those interviewed, and he tried to claim Jesus was wealthy because he had an entourage of 12 disciples including a personal treasurer.

That just about tops the cake of absurd Biblical interpretation.

Anonymous said...

The constant "reconciliation" of the story of Jesus and all that went before it with the spirit of unfettered capitalism is the chief disgrace of the modern church at every level and in almost every expression.

Anonymous said...

I hate to say this, but this is no different from most churches, most preachers, most Christians, who read the Bible finding support for their own views. This is certainly an egregious example, but it is the same practice.

For decades, the Bible was read to justify slavery, or at least discrimination and segregation. (Remember W. A. Criswell stating that the "mixing of the races" was against the will of God).

People read the Bible and make their case from their own viewpoint. Is the wealth gospel simply capitalism at its logical outcome? I think maybe so, and it should not surprise us that people raised under the shadow of Wall Street and the worship of corporate America would find God's blessing in the accumulation of wealth, and even define God's blessing as the bestowing of wealth. Who do we label a success in this society? However success is defined, it usually starts with dollar signs.

Is it wrong? Of course it is. But reading Jesus honestly is difficult for everyone -- including me. I fully disagree with, and am appalled by, the wealth gospel. But I wonder where my blind spots are?

Randy Mayeux

Larry James said...

Very well said, Randy.