Prosperity (Devil’s Dollar Edition)

Creflo Dollar, in undated, uncredited photograph.

The thing about Sam Stringer’s report for CNN is mostly the idea of what it takes to get people to pay attention. To wit, there really isn’t anything new about the idea that this is how it goes:

Prosperity gospel pastor Creflo Dollar responded recently to critics of his campaign to buy a very pricey Gulfstream G650.

Dollar noted in a recent address to his congregants that the devil was attempting to discredit him in regards to his campaign seeking $300 from 200,000 people globally to help buy the luxury jet.

In a newly posted five-minute clip on YouTube, the Atlanta-area pastor speaks to his followers at World Changers Church International, tackling his critics and allegations about tithes, his real name and reports alleging members of having to reveal their W2 statuses to come into the church’s sanctuary.

“(The devil thinks) I got to discredit that man before he starts showing people Jesus!” Dollar preaches to loud applause.

“I’m on my sabbatical, and the enemy’s trying to discredit me,” Dollar stated.

Dollar is focused in the video on getting his point across and slams critics of his original request by stating to the people gathered, “I never one time came to you and asked you for a dime for this airplane, did I?”

But in March, Dollar did appeal in a video to “friends from around the world,” soliciting donations to replace his current 1984 Gulfstream G-1159A.

This is not some new phenomenon. Prosperity gospel is the new Calvinism, by which blessed are the wealthy and the greedy.

Christianity Today explains prosperity gospel as―

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. Orthodox Christians wary of prosperity doctrine found a friend in Senator Chuck Grassley, who in 2008 began a thorough vetting of the tax-exempt status of six prominent “health and wealth” leaders, including Kenneth Copeland, Bishop Eddie Long, and Paula White.

Cathleen Falsani, explaining “The Worst Ideas of the Decade” for the Washington Post several years ago, called prosperity gospel―

an insipid heresy whose popularity among American Christians has boomed in recent years, teaches that God blesses those God favors most with material wealth.

The ministries of three televangelists commonly viewed as founders of the prosperity gospel movement – Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and Frederick K.C. Price – took hold in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the oldest and best-known proponents of prosperity theology, Oral Roberts – the television faith-healer who in 1987 told his flock that God would call him home if he didn’t raise $8 million in a matter of weeks – died at 91 last week.

But the past decade has seen this pernicious doctrine proliferate in more mainstream circles. Joel Osteen, the 46-year-old head of Lakewood Church in Houston, has a TV ministry that reaches more than 7 million viewers, and his 2004 book “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential,” has sold millions of copies. “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us,” Osteen wrote in a 2005 letter to his flock.

As crass as that may sound, Osteen’s version of the prosperity gospel is more gentle (and decidedly less sweaty) than those preached by such co-religionists as Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes and the appropriately named Creflo Dollar.

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.

Some days it might seem enough to simply say, “Well, most people can see what’s wrong with that,” except we’re only actually guessing; sure, it would seem likely true, but at the same time this stuff is rather quite popular.

And, let us face it, other public faces of Christianity suffer their own difficulties; certes, prosperity gospel flies in the face of what Jesus said, but so does a lot of pop-faith.

Or, to be more accurate, so does a lot of pop-Christian faithlessness.

They haven’t faith in God’s eternal truth, so they covet His judgment and blessings for earthly lusts. Sometimes we talk of behavior as a crutch, and therein we might find a common psychological aspect with Christian homophobes. It is also easy enough to say we find that common aspect regardless of the tremendous Venn overlap between prosperity gospel and homophobia, but neither can we pass by without wondering at the obvious, if there is a functional relationship. A lack of faith would be the first obvious candidate.

Detail of 'Lucifer' by Franz von Stuck, ca. 1890.With homophobia, it is a lack of faith in God’s plan and judgment, and ultimately His wisdom. Quite simply, coming from a generation sold on God’s forgiving love, it seems apparent that these people do not trust God to punish evil homosexuals to their own personal, earthly satisfaction. Every excuse to isolate homosexuality as unique among sins has failed; even Christ was gay.

With prosperity gospel, it is a similar process. Where the homophobe suppresses, rationalizes, and projects in order to ward off self-indictment for hatred and judgmentalism, prosperity gospel believers perform similar psychological contortions in order to justify greed. In the face of deadly sin, believers are just as human as anyone else.

This is not surprising. Nor is that moment in which we pause to reflect on the implications of a behavioral cohort so wracked by neurotic conflict that one might actually try arguing, “I never one time came to you and asked you for a dime for this airplane, did I?” a month or so after doing exactly that. Truth, behaviorally speaking, is not something that simply exists in God’s Universe, but, rather, is identified solely through worldly pronouncement. Creflo Dollar is infallible.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is prosperity gospel.

____________________

Image note: Top―Creflo Dollar, in undated, uncredited photograph. Right―Detail of Lucifer by Franz von Stuck, ca. 1890.

Stringer, Sam. “Creflo Dollar: The devil is trying to discredit me over jet campaign”. CNN. 24 April 2015.

“Prosperity Gospel”. Christianity Today. (n.d.)

Faisal, Cathleen. “The prosperity gospel”. Washington Post. (n.d.)

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