Prosperity Gospel, It’s a Shame Some Don’t Know It’s a Sham
In 2008, prosperity gospel guru Joel Osteen authored a book titled “Making Wise Choices – Your Decisions Determine Your Destiny” so he shouldn’t be too surprised that, in the middle of Hurricane Harvey, during a ‘once in 500 year storm’, the decision to shutter the former home court for the Houston Rockets, a structure Osteen now calls a church capable of seating 16,000 and change, was probably a piss poor choice and may determine his destiny.
According to the Houston Chronicle, on just about any given Sunday, Osteen’s non-denominational megachurch draws some 16,000 worshippers, but Lakewood’s two services yesterday each drew between 1,000 and 1,200 worshippers and Osteen, who typically preaches for 20 to 30 minutes, kept the first “Hope for Houston” service to just six minutes. At the 8:30 service, after Osteen offered to clarify the church’s position he said “I know y’all love me,” and told those gathered that they needed “to get on social media.” Probably didn’t have anything to do with his sister Lisa, who on Wednesday preached to a tiny crowd about the “financial needs” of victims, pointing out that there were survivors of the hurricane in the audience that night and asked them to stand up and receive prayers from the crowd, and then later closed out her sermon as ushers handed out collection plates to each row. As Patheos’ Hemant Mehta points out: “I know churches, especially one of that size, rely on those donations to function. I know giving is always optional (peer pressure aside). But after a weekend of horrible PR, this was another self-inflicted wound.”
That “horrible PR” of course stems from the fact that Lakewood associate pastor John Gray originally explained in posts on Facebook and Instagram that “flooded highways had made the church inaccessible,” but later, through those same social media outlets and some tweets, his now deleted explanation was debunked and followed up by Osteen himself simply claiming the main reason the church was shuttered at the time was because…”the city didn’t ask us to become a shelter then.”
I was going to save this for a story ending punch line of sorts, but….Fuck This Guy and #TaxTheChurch!
In an August 30th op-ed piece for the New York Times, Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania wrote: “Mr. Trump and Mr. Osteen are mirrors of each other. Both enjoy enormous support among evangelicals, yet they lack a command of biblical scripture. Both are among the 1 percent.
Natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey are the worst kind of crises for people like Mr. Trump and Mr. Osteen, who purvey their own versions of the prosperity gospel. This is a belief that says if you think positively and make affirmations, God will reward you with financial success and good health. If you don’t, you may face unemployment, poverty or sickness. (Mr. Trump in particular always speaks in laudatory terms about himself and his companies.)
But the problem is that it’s hard to promote “Your Best Life Now” or “The Art of the Deal” to people whose houses have flooded or been blown away, or to evacuees who have only the clothes on their backs.”
So what is this ‘prosperity gospel’? Cathleen Falsani, a religion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and the author of “The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers” describes it as “an insipid heresy whose popularity among American Christians has boomed in recent years,” and a “pernicious doctrine prolifer” that teaches “God blesses those God favors most with material wealth.” Falsani sites Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and Frederick K.C. Price as the founders of the prosperity gospel movement that took hold in the 1970s and 1980s.
Christianity Today, a publication founded by Billy Graham* with a stated mission of equipping Christians “to renew their minds, serve the church, and create culture to the glory of God,” calls Osteen’s style of ministering an “aberrant theology that teaches God rewards faith—and hefty tithing—with financial blessings, the prosperity gospel was closely associated with prominent 1980s televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Bakker, and is part and parcel of many of today’s charismatic movements in the Global South.”
And lastly, writing for the Gospel Coalition, a broadly “Reformed” network of churches that “encourages and educates current and next generation Christian leaders by advocating gospel-centered principles and practices,” David W. Jones penned an article titled “5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel“, but due to so many references being made to passages from the best selling work of fiction ever printed making no sense to me, only one point was retained: “Simply put, if the prosperity gospel is true, grace is obsolete, God is irrelevant, and man is the measure of all things.”
So, what is ‘prosperity gospel’? It’s a sham that takes the sham of organized religion one step further and all the way to the bank.
Of all the authored sources, Cathleen Falsani made one of the most astute and damning criticism of the ‘piety through Pay-Pal’ preaching style and it seems like a good one to close with: “Few theological ideas ring more dissonant with the harmony of orthodox Christianity than a focus on storing up treasures on Earth as a primary goal of faithful living. The gospel of prosperity turns Christianity into a vapid bless-me club, with a doctrine that amounts to little more than spiritual magical thinking: If you pray the right way, God will make you rich.
But if you’re not rich, then what? Are the poor cursed by God because of their unfaithfulness? And if God were so concerned about 401(k)s and Mercedes, why would God’s son have been born into poverty?
Nowhere has the prosperity gospel flourished more than among the poor and the working class. Told that wealth is a sign of God’s grace and favor, followers strive for trappings of luxury they can little afford in an effort to prove that they are blessed spiritually. Some critics have gone so far as to place part of the blame for the past decade’s spending binge and foreclosure crisis at the foot of the prosperity gospel’s altar.
Jesus was born poor, and he died poor. During his earthly tenure, he spoke time and again about the importance of spiritual wealth and health. When he talked about material wealth, it was usually part of a cautionary tale.”
*As a side note, a few years ago Graham’s son, ardent Trump supporter Franklin, decided to give up his pay as head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He felt he had been called “to this ministry and that calling was never based on compensation,” though he did feel the more than $620,000 he received for his other full-time job, leading Samaritan’s Purse, was a compensation (rated about 40 to 50% higher than average
) worthy of his continued acceptance, which in 2013 alone made him the highest-compensated CEO of any international relief agency based in the U.S.
At some point in time since announcing he would give up his pay as head of his father’s Evangelistic Association in 2011, he has since decided that he’s cool with the $258,000 compensation as CEO of said Association and now has amassed a net worth estimated to be more than $28 million US dollars.