Churches: Places where rich people go to get God’s approval to live lavishly

| July 27, 2008 | 3 Replies

MSNBC has recently reported on the prosperity gospel of Televangelist Kenneth Copeland, which appears to be benefiting mostly—Kenneth Copeland and his relatives.

Kenneth Copeland, 71, is a pioneer of the prosperity gospel, which teaches that believers are destined to flourish spiritually, physically and financially — and share the wealth with others.

His ministry’s 1,500-acre campus outside Fort Worth is testament to his success. It includes a church, private airstrip, a hangar for the ministry’s aircraft and a $6 million, church-owned mansion.

I shake my head when I read these corporate media reports about these upstart religions. That’s because many long-established religions also allow their leaders to live in wanton opulence. Consider, for instance, the Catholic Church (in which I was raised). When is the last time the Pope or any of the Cardinals or Bishops missed a meal because they couldn’t afford it? Although I know of frugal (and morally admirable) priests and nuns, I have yet to hear of any high-ranking Catholic clergyman who had to scrape by. If you doubt this, check out the opulent living quarters of your local Cardinal or Arch-Bishop.

It’s also pathetic to watch the mainstream media attacking newly-established religions for preaching the prosperity gospel. You can almost hear the sneering and snarling when the big media outlets report that preachers like Copeland (or, another example, Joel Osteen) teaches that there’s nothing wrong with being rich or enjoying a life of conspicuous consumption.

It’s a rare religion, though, that has ever ejected any member for being rich or for consuming conspicuously. It doesn’t matter that Edward or Susan or Walter has five vacation homes or a private jet or pays 27 times more to eat at fancy restaurants than most people pay for food. Here’s what being rich does for members of organized religions: they get more deference and more respect than lower earning members of the church. Never are they scolded from the pulpit. I beg you—if anyone reading this knows of any rich person being asked by any mainstream church to stop living so lavishly, let me know.  I assume that it occasionally happens in tiny or fringe sects, but not in Big Church USA.  For instance, do you think the Catholic Church has ever told any of the Kennedys that they should sell their lavish property at Martha’s Vineyard or that they should otherwise cut down on their conspicuous consumption? Their whirlwind vacations or their fancy cars or their fancy jewelry?  Churches are utterly obeisant to rich people.

Here’s the real-life gospel every Sunday: “No matter what we say up here, it’s OK for you to keep the vast majority of your money and to blow it on any luxury you care to dream up.”

Mainstream certainly preach the gospel that “Blessed are the poor,” but they actually push their members to act on it. I’ve yet to see it. Therefore, why does the mainstream media pounce on churches that allow its leaders and members to flaunt their wealth?  Jealousy?  Schadenfreude? For rich people (and for many poor), church is for Sundays only.

Most churches founded by organized religions are country clubs with steeples. They are happy to accept most anyone who walks into the door, especially if that person has some resources he or she might donate to the church. In return, wealthy members of mainstream churches have grown accustomed to a substantial return benefit. Never will a church leader suggest that those wealthy members need to actually change anything about their lifestyle unless it involves something about family planning or sex for pleasure.

It’s less likely that a mainstream church will scold a member for conspicuous consumption than it would be for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

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Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Good and Evil, Meaning of Life, Media, Religion, snake oil

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Interesting you should mention the "Eye of the Needle" passage. It is one of the most mis-interpreted and misused quotes from the New Testament of the KJV concordance bible.

    Matthew's native language was Aramaic, or Old Arabic. In Aramaic, as in modern Arabic, many names are descriptive rather tha literal. The Eye of the Needle" is a literal translation of what some historians call the "Warrior's Gate".

    The warrior's gate was usually a low, narrow passage that led through the city wall. The tight confines on the passage made swords and spears usless, and lead past internal doors and cul-de-sac rooms where sentries could skewer suspected enemies with spears through holes in the wall.

    To get a camel through a warriors gate involved unloading the camel and forcing to through the passage on it's knees, a task made more demanding by the fact that camels can be notoriously stubborn. It is not totally impossible, just amazingly difficult.

    So the "Eye of the Needle" quote is not saying that all wealthy people are evil, and that they may become good by giving up the wealth, but more about how greed makes many wealthy people feel they are superior to the less fortunate, and feel justified in increasing their wealth at the cost of the misery of the poor.

    This theme of supporting the poor and the weak recurs a lot in the New testament. In the context of American Christianity, it gets warped into a belief that money can be substituted for personal integrity.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Andrew Sullivan argues that the "prosperity gospel" drove American into its current economic crisis:

    [M]ost Christians have at least not deceived themselves into thinking that the Gospels are actually about family life above everything and wealth as a critical element of Christian life. Until now. The Prosperity Gospel is one of the greatest blasphemies against the message of Jesus – but it is increasingly a part of the American "Christian" landscape.

    http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dhttp://dailydish.typepad.com/the_daily_dish/2006/

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