Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Prosperity Gospel Grabs Hold of Pious Purses

Pastor Creflo Dollar knows what God wants.  God wants Dollar to be rich. Head of a Georgia-based megachurch, Dollar preaches that God wants everyone to be rich, which can be achieved by giving him cash.

Dollar is actually selling old money.  In a recent story, the Associated Press called his approach Prosperity Gospel and said it was a post-World War II phenomenon.  Actually, the idea dates back at least 400 years.  The Puritans who settled in this country in 1620 had the same concept.  They believed that personal success was evidence of one’s salvation.  That concept is ingrained in the Protestant Ethic, the driving force behind American materialism.  
Fr. Divine

Over the years, a variety of Protestant ministers have picked up on the theme.  For example, George Baker, better known as Father Divine, created a financial empire that survived the Depression, on the concept that the richer he was, the better off a believer was.

Jim Bakker, the one-time television evangelist, ended up in jail by following the same philosophy and achieving it by selling shares in a nonexistent real estate development to unsuspecting followers.  Now released, he’s still out there pitching.

Oral Roberts
Oklahoma-based televangelist Oral Roberts, who died in 2009, carried the concept to new heights.   At one point, he said God was going to call him “home” if followers didn’t donate enough to keep his namesake university and church financial sound, and reaped a treasure.

For support, Roberts cited the Third Epistle of John, verse 2: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health. Even as thy soul prospereth.”   That led to his argument that followers needed to provide money to his ministry, what he called a “seed” offering to God.  The seeds definitely helped his personal fortunate flourish.

His approach involved taking a line from the Bible and building an entire mansion based on it.  This, too, is an old idea: look for something in the Scripture that supports your claims and quote it.  All you have to do is ignore lines that contradict you.

For example, in Matthew 16:26, Jesus is quoted as saying, For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”  He also makes a pointed comment about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven.

Timothy noted: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (6: 9-11)

Or, as Matthew said more distinctly: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (6: 24-25)

T.D. Yates
Fortunately for the pastors like T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen and Dollar, who are all promoting wealth through alms, the public doesn’t read that much anymore.

In one recent study, 73 percent of all religious Latinos in the United States support the statement: “God will grant financial success to all believers who have enough faith.” 

That view also held true in a Time magazine study: “17 percent of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61 percent believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31 percent … agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money.”

Actually, this concept is very Christian.  The religion is based on the belief that, regardless of how bad things are on Earth, God will reward the pious in heaven.  That’s why the faith initially was very popular with the downtrodden and the slaves in the Roman Empire. In theory, the rich would suffer in the hereafter while the once-poor rejoiced for all eternity.

The newer Prosperity Gospel approach counsels that the rich don’t have to suffer and can still receive eternal life.

Such an argument is penny-wise, pound-foolish.  If everyone were rich, everything would cost a heck of a lot more because everyone would have a lot of money to spend.

It also ignores the obvious reality that even the most devout can end up bankrupt.  

Dollar is in the news for another reason.  According to police, the pastor last weekend choked his 15-year-old daughter, an event collaborated by another daughter.  Dollar denies the charge.  A man trying to get his hands on the pulse of the nation, however, understandably may be focusing on one throat at a time.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.com.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.


  1. That's not a picture of Father Divine, in fact that is Daddy Grace or "Bishop CM Grace" not Father Divine. He was the leader of the United House of Prayer.