October 30, 2008
Churches buckling under economic pressure
No surprises in this AP story about churches suffering in the economic downturn. The reason is the same as it was for synagogues in the LA Jewish community: increased needs often follow decreased resources during times like these.
The greater question is just what is God’s role in our economic calamity? David Van Biema of Time wrote recently that maybe He’s to blame:
Has the so-called Prosperity gospel turned its followers into some of the most willing participants — and hence, victims — of the current financial crisis? That’s what a scholar of the fast-growing brand of Pentecostal Christianity believes. While researching a book on black televangelism, says Jonathan Walton, a religion professor at the University of California at Riverside, he realized that Prosperity’s central promise — that God will “make a way” for poor people to enjoy the better things in life — had developed an additional, dangerous expression during the subprime-lending boom. Walton says that this encouraged congregants who got dicey mortgages to believe “God caused the bank to ignore my credit score and blessed me with my first house.” The results, he says, “were disastrous, because they pretty much turned parishioners into prey for greedy brokers.”
Others think he may be right. Says Anthea Butler, an expert in Pentecostalism at the University of Rochester in New York: “The pastor’s not gonna say, ‘Go down to Wachovia and get a loan,’ but I have heard, ‘Even if you have a poor credit rating, God can still bless you — if you put some faith out there [that is, make a big donation to the church], you’ll get that house or that car or that apartment.’ ” Adds J. Lee Grady, editor of the magazine Charisma: “It definitely goes on, that a preacher might say, ‘If you give this offering, God will give you a house.’ And if they did get the house, people did think that it was an answer to prayer, when in fact it was really bad banking policy.” If so, the situation offers a look at how a native-born faith built partially on American economic optimism entered into a toxic symbiosis with a pathological market.
I’ve railed before against the prosperity gospel, which I think is disgusting, particularly this, but Van Biema’s article makes a stretch I’m not willing to accept. It’s wasn’t the Christian Gospel of Wealth that got us into this mess. It was the American brand.
As far as God’s role, I can’t answer that question. He hasn’t informed me.