What Would Jesus Do? Not Bless the Prosperity Gospel

Jesus eschewed the rich—why don’t churches?

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By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The December issue of the Atlantic magazine has a fascinating cover story entitled, "Did Christianity Cause the Crash?" The gist of the article is, churches preaching the Spenderella doctrine, commonly referred to as the Prosperity Gospel, drove people who could not afford to spend wildly to do so. And the current recession is due in part to overextended credit and its consequent credit crunch.

For several years I’ve been driving by a huge roadside billboard that is updated every few months. It appears on a route I take five or six times per week. It shows an attractive, affluent, African-American couple who formed and run a church together, extolling the virtues of believing in Jesus and believers’ financial rewards.

I have never understood how anyone can read the New Testament and think that Jesus would have supported such poppycock. Yes, he advocated for the poor, fed them, and offered whatever forms of support he could. But he obviously eschewed riches and rich people (throwing the money lenders out of the Temple and so on.) So where and how modern-day churches have been allowed to perpetrate the myth of Christian materialism is beyond my ken. Here's an excerpt from the article:

America’s churches always reflect shifts in the broader culture. The message that Jesus blesses believers with riches first showed up in the postwar years, at a time when Americans began to believe that greater comfort could be accessible to everyone, not just the landed class. But it really took off during the boom years of the 1990s, and has continued to spread ever since. This stitched-together, homegrown theology, known as the prosperity gospel, is not a clearly defined denomination, but a strain of belief that runs through the Pentecostal Church and a surprising number of mainstream evangelical churches, with varying degrees of intensity.

At the very least, self-promoters who lead such “churches” (they’re not really churches so much as ponzi schemes) should be prosecuted by the IRS and be forced to pay their fair share of taxes like every other commercial enterprise. I never have viewed organized religion as anything more than a form of government and taxation to which one voluntarily surrenders. But this goes beyond surrender and rises to the level of exploitation. It’s certainly a complete perversion of Jesus’ word. Why isn’t it against the law?