The American Dream has really good PR.
October 7, 2014 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Guernica: In propagating a vision of life that's about wealth in the individual, perhaps the influence of these churches lies in what they obscure.

Anthony Pinn: Right. It hides the larger problem. The problem is poverty. And it hides the problem. We often associate black churches with a history of protest. But prosperity gospel and megachurches tend to be rather soft on political issues. T.D. Jakes doesn't take a major stand on political issues. Creflo Dollar certainly doesn't.

But it's the American way. So it seems to me that what they are doing is training black people to be even more American. To buy into this system rather than critique it. And if you're not gaining from it, to assume that the problem's with you. It provides a spiritual lesson that's very similar to the idea of "poor people want to be poor; if they just worked harder they could have more." Here, spiritual people could have more if they were just more spiritual and lived out scripture more authentically. So the prosperity preachers are training people to be better US citizens [laughs].
Meara Sharma at Guernica talks to Anthony Pinn about the ongoing embrace of prosperity gospel by preachers and parishioners at black megachurches across America: Divine Acquisition.
Guernica: How, specifically, might black megachurches begin doing things differently?

Anthony Pinn: Publicly, and consistently, point out the problems in the US system that generate the issues that we encounter. Point out and critique problems of class, of gender, and race. Be vocal about this.

But instead they're selling snake oil. They're providing folks with strategies that ultimately will not make a sustained difference. But this is the genius of the system. It's a loop. And it always points back to the failure of the parishioner who's not getting the good stuff, and no one raises the question concerning the system that feeds off of impoverishment.
Prosperity theology previously.
posted by divined by radio (35 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
From Wikipedia:

Dollar is known for his controversial teachings regarding prosperity theology. He has long been criticized for living a lavish lifestyle; he owns two Rolls-Royces, a private jet, and real estate such as a million dollar home in Atlanta, a $2.5m home in Demarest, N.J., and a $2.5m home in Manhattan, which he sold for $3.75m in 2012. Dollar has refused to disclose his salary and Creflo Dollar Ministries received a grade of "F" for financial transparency by the organization MinistryWatch.

I you listen to onefuckingword from someone like this, you deserve what you get. He's a con man bilking the less fortunate. He belongs in jail, not in a pulpit.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:33 PM on October 7, 2014 [11 favorites]


The essence of the Gospels is Be good and wait patiently for the hereafter, where the hierarchy is based on morals not money; prosperity preachers teach something else which is popular because impatience, either way magical thinking that precludes critique.
posted by koebelin at 12:34 PM on October 7, 2014


I'm not a Christian myself, but am a big big fan of many of the things Christ himself said. These people either simply haven't read "their" book, or they are willingly ignoring his teachings in order to live large. It's the latter, of course, which is not surprising given human nature.

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." (Mark 10:25)
posted by jbickers at 12:40 PM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


I used to see subway ads for Creflo Dollar related event in NYC. I would always think to myself, "Jeez, I mean it's right there in the name!"
posted by Sara C. at 12:48 PM on October 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


The essence of the Gospels is Be good and wait patiently for the hereafter

In jail, a Catholic Worker taught me that the essence of the Gospels is to resist the oppressive machinations of violent authority with empathy for other people, especially the oppressed & beleaguered. To speak truth to power and to fuck shit up - and that was the essence of things that have been misinterpreted, like going the extra mile (carrying a Roman soldier's stuff further than they were allowed to impress people, subjecting them to punishment), giving somebody your cloak when they ask for your shirt (shaming them with your nakedness for their greed), and turning the other cheek (forcing somebody to strike you with their fist, as an equal, rather than with a backhanded slap, which is about degradation and humiliation).

I'm not religious, but that shit stuck with me.
posted by entropone at 12:48 PM on October 7, 2014 [68 favorites]


My opinion on the prosperity gospel:

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

Obviously offered while in the temple, at the moneychangers.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:50 PM on October 7, 2014 [41 favorites]


This is sort of natural and typical of religion inside a larger culture, though. Prosperity gospel is big in the United States because it fits into our cultural sense of a just world with America on top, just as what Americans like to think of as Islam is really a fusion of Muslim beliefs and Arab culture. The people who are most obsessed with doctrine are the people who have already tailored it to put their vested interests first.
posted by selfnoise at 12:50 PM on October 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


I you listen to onefuckingword from someone like this, you deserve what you get.

Many of the people who fall under the sway of preachers like this grew up poor, attending inadequately funded public schools, and graduated (if they graduated) high school only to enter an economy dominated by low-wage, part-time service work or outright unemployment. The allure of the prosperity gospel is understandable, and I think an attitude of "they deserve what they get for believing it" is mean.
posted by jingzuo at 12:59 PM on October 7, 2014 [15 favorites]


So. These guys are making money from Christianity? Would that be the religion where you're told that if you are poor, just be right with god, the ultimate authority figure (after you've given Caesar what's his) and since it's quite clear you will not be rewarded in this life given the system you are living in, your ultimate reward will be after you die? In fact, god loves poor especially well (which is why he made so many of them, as the wag said), and it's much easier for you the poor to get to that beautiful heaven, than a rich person (so don't envy the rich and don't rock the boat), you will be richly, richly, richly rewarded in the next life, for sure! So the prosperity gospel just brought the reward one step closer - they say you'll be materially rewarded in this life. Both are empty promises. The appeal of a reward in this life (prosperity gospel) is obvious and immediate, but suffers from the problem of what to do when the promise is exposed as empty (solution: it's YOUR fault). The regular gospel has the reward postponed, but in compensation doesn't suffer from the problem of the promise being exposed as empty since nobody has filed a live report from heaven. In either case, the authority figures and churches profit on this earth - oddly enough neither postpones their reward to the afterlife - while the believer foots the bill. Same as it ever was. Any difference is one of degree, not kind.
posted by VikingSword at 1:02 PM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


This seems like a phenomena that would tend to come out of a society that celebrates greed.
posted by basicchannel at 1:03 PM on October 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


Many of the people who fall under the sway of preachers like this grew up poor, attending inadequately funded public schools, and graduated (if they graduated) high school only to enter an economy dominated by low-wage, part-time service work or outright unemployment. The allure of the prosperity gospel is understandable, and I think an attitude of "they deserve what they get for believing it" is mean.

The extreme stratification of our society is evil, too. I recognize that. But, how intelligent do you have to be to see through Dollar's scam/crime? Not very, I submit.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:05 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


A pernicious side-effect of prosperity gospel and, in general, any theology that holds belief leads to better material outcomes is that it allows and even encourages successful people to look down on those who have less as less worthy people and perhaps even sinners and apostates.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:09 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


> I you listen to onefuckingword from someone like this, you deserve what you get. He's a con man bilking the less fortunate. He belongs in jail, not in a pulpit.

Our society has jailed mediums, psychics, Xian affinity fraudsters, 419ers, etc. Their victims are arguably more credulous than these folk yet we refrain from belittling them.
posted by Monochrome at 1:14 PM on October 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


We often associate black churches with a history of protest. But prosperity gospel and megachurches tend to be rather soft on political issues. T.D. Jakes doesn't take a major stand on political issues. Creflo Dollar certainly doesn't.

I have no love for the prosperity Gospel, but Pinn seems to be confusing political and partisan. Jakes, at least has had a lot to say about politics even if he has intentionally positioned himself as non-partisan.

Meanwhile, while the prosperity gospel may be relatively apolitical or at least non-partisan, he's gonna have a major "no true scotsman" problem with "megachurches" because 3k congregants (where he sets the bar) isn't all that large and there are going to be plenty of political black pastors of megachurches. Jeremiah Wright would be a well known "megachurch" pastor (emeritus). Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem prides himself on being political (not surprising in a church that launched Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. into politics).
posted by Jahaza at 1:17 PM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I you listen to onefuckingword from someone like this, you deserve what you get.

He has apparently come to the same conclusion you have.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:35 PM on October 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


Talk about Indulgence. I am reminded of Little Ed from WKRP.
posted by marienbad at 1:36 PM on October 7, 2014


This afternoon's Out of the Ordinary, about the power of praying on Radio 4 touched on similar matters, of how praying not only could heal, but also reward with gold and precious jewels, literally.

There is an appeal to stories like this.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:36 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


VikingSword:
"In either case, the authority figures and churches profit on this earth - oddly enough neither postpones their reward to the afterlife - while the believer foots the bill."
Don't you see? By taking the burden of wealth from their followers and putting it upon themselves instead, they are sacrificing their own eternal souls so their flock may be rewarded with eternal life. It's an act of pure selflessness.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 1:49 PM on October 7, 2014


What bothers me about prosperity theology (apart from everything) is something that also bugs me about, say, karma, or any other idea that being a good person will earn you prosperity or good fortune or justice via cosmic forces.

Viewed in one direction — if I do good things, good things will happen to me — it's unobjectionable. But viewed from the other direction — good things happen to all these people, ergo they are good people — it's troublesome. And the corollary — these people are downtrodden, therefore they are not good people — is even worse. To believe these things, you'd have to believe that your devout grandmother who died in poverty wasn't worshiping correctly.

The best idea that mainline Christianity has (in the opinion of this grumpy agnostic/atheist) is the idea that this world is imperfect, but the next world is not; that the rewards for being a good person don't necessarily manifest in this life, but certainly will in the afterlife. It makes room for the obvious injustices that are all around us, and does so in a way that does not legitimize them or try to twist them into justice.

Hence prosperity theology gets dismissed as bad theology because it could only ever be. It's so very at odds with the central message of Christianity that I'd be astonished that someone tried to pull it off in the first place — if not for the obvious upside of doing so, in the form of the nice cars and nice suits and the Scrooge McDuck pool of money. I'd half expect to enter such a mega-church, pick up a bible, and find the Sermon on the Mount hastily redacted with black marker.
posted by savetheclocktower at 1:50 PM on October 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


But, how intelligent do you have to be to see through Dollar's scam/crime? Not very, I submit.

50% of people have an IQ of less than 100.
25% of people have an IQ of less than 90.
10% of people have an IQ of less than 80.

That means that 31.6 million Americans have an IQ less than 80. I don't know how intelligent you'd have to be to figure out this kind of scam, but with an IQ of 80, I'd imagine it would be pretty hard.

Numbers aside, charlatans don't have the right to prey on the unintelligent just because they're unintelligent. That's just a might-makes-right argument.
posted by jingzuo at 2:08 PM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


I find this to be a fascinating topic, and what I've read so far is interesting. Do these conversations go on in black religious communities? This magazine doesn't exactly look like something that has a lot of penetration in that community.
posted by lownote at 2:21 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]



I don't know how intelligent you'd have to be to figure out this kind of scam, but with an IQ of 80, I'd imagine it would be pretty hard.

IQ is also a scam.
 
posted by Herodios at 2:34 PM on October 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


Do these conversations go on in black religious communities?

I heard a radio interview with an African-American minister who has been engaging his congregation in discussions of the so-called "prosperity gospel". He was alarmed to find that many of them were being taken in by an almost superstitious idea that, if you go into debt up to your eyeballs to buy nice cars etc, then God will see that you look rich and He will make you rich. His church is providing people with classes in budgeting, managing credit, how to interview for better jobs, saving, and things like that, which will actually help them become more prosperous.
posted by thelonius at 2:38 PM on October 7, 2014 [9 favorites]


Thanks for this post.

At least as far back as the mid-early 90s, the teaching of the prosperity gospel in black churches (mega and otherwise) was something that rappers from the Five-Percent Nation railed against. I can remember Brand Nubian in particular speaking disdainfully about preachers driving nice cars while their flocks lived off of soup and welfare benefits.

On the other hand, I've seen a number of rappers -- including those who rail against prosperity gospel -- explicitly tie their own wealth acquisition to being looked upon favorably by God.

I've noticed a number of my relatives, including those still struggling to stay in the working class, let alone become wealthy, seem to subscribe to some of the tenets of PG.

I can't look down at anybody who believes in it though, because when I think about it, it's not too different from my own vaguely defined and felt belief that if you live right, "The Universe" will treat you right. And while I usually tie the "treat you right" part to being granted a stress free, happy life, I sometimes tie it to material rewards: if I treat my colleagues and clients right, then "The Universe" will see to it that I get that promotion and raise, etc.

Fascinating topic. Thanks again for the post, I enjoyed that back and forth between Pinn and Guernica. I'd love to pick Pinn's brain some more about religion and black culture in America.
posted by lord_wolf at 2:41 PM on October 7, 2014


Ach! People do not deserve to be ripped off just because they are desperate for hope!

Who can blame them for not accepting the truth - because of education, demographics and other barriers almost impossible to overcome they have very little chance of a comfortable life?

And some people are just plain stupid. That doesn't give you some sort of moral license to defraud them!

You can tell a society by how it treats its weakest members.. ..
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:18 PM on October 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


I tried to explain prosperity gospel to my parents last month -- smart people, lifelong church-goers with a good grounding in dogma -- and they just didn't get it it. It was like pouring mercury on a plate: it rolled around but never stuck. Nowhere in their understanding of Christianity could they imagine words that would justify this.

Then we talked about banking.

I think I broke their hearts a little that night.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:38 PM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Melismata at 3:54 PM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think we've established this has nothing to do with Christ.
posted by ckape at 3:57 PM on October 7, 2014 [9 favorites]


The real scam is that Creflo Dollar Ministries is tax exempt.
posted by feste at 5:04 PM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


Sarah C. I was going to say the same thing. Those subway ads were everywhere. You wouldn't buy a car from a man who looked like that named "Dollar." How could you possibly buy a god from him?
posted by 1adam12 at 5:20 PM on October 7, 2014


For that matter, why did the black community buy the religion of their oppressors? The religion of the people who enslaved them, who hung them from trees, who them denied equal rights? The religion their oppressors claimed supports such cruelty and injustice. Talk about Stockholm syndrome.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:23 PM on October 7, 2014


For that matter, why did the black community buy the religion of their oppressors? The religion of the people who enslaved them, who hung them from trees, who them denied equal rights? The religion their oppressors claimed supports such cruelty and injustice. Talk about Stockholm syndrome.

Because they thought it was true?
posted by vorpal bunny at 6:34 PM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Probably because like most everyone in America they had it crammed into their ears morning, noon and night.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:06 PM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Dollar's" got an Loew's movie palace about a mile south of me on the Grand Concourse, one built in the glory days of the silent cinema. I've never seen anyone go in or out, and supposedly his program is shot there, but I've never seen anything relating to a production set-up around, either. While walking through the area this summer, I saw that there were flyers put up by the local NYPD precinct on lamp posts near his "church" letting people know if they turned in their guns, they could get cash for them up to $250 each. I mean, that's not a lot, but...

...Creflo Dollar promises, but the NYPD delivers? If that wasn't worth my ironic chuckle, I don't know what would be.
posted by droplet at 8:27 PM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Blacks on arrival as slaves were either practitioners of traditional African religions, or they were Muslim.
Forced conversion played a huge rôle in making Black Americans Christian.
The conditions of slavery in the U. S. pretty much made even the most lax interpretation of Islam difficult or impossible to carry out.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:13 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


« Older Oh no they didn't!   |   But baby, it just won't feel as good. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments