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November 26, 2007

‘Giving makes you rich’

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/giving_makes_you_rich/

This week I am going to try to post some of the stories I’ve had sitting in the queue for a little while. This piece from Portfolio is apt for the holiday season and plays into the idea of the prosperity gospel, meaning that the more you give, the more God gives you.

In John Bunyan’s 1684 classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, the character Old Honest poses this riddle to the innkeeper Gaius: “A man there was, tho’ some did count him mad, / The more he cast away, the more he had.” Gaius solves the riddle thus: “He that bestows his Goods upon the Poor / Shall have as much again, and ten times more.”

Less poetically, the idea is this: Giving makes you rich. A lovely sentiment, to be sure, but quite backward-sounding to an economist. You obviously have to have money before you can give it away, right? Or in the pithy words of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions—he had money too.”

Well, it turns out that Gaius was right, and new economic research backs him up.

The rest of the article by economist Arthur C. Brooks reads somewhat like a balance sheet, but in it he explains that people aren’t just giving more because they make more, but that evidence shows people give more before they become wealthier. In essence, the egg is laying the chicken.

This is a good thing, and a good reminder that charity does pay (oddly, it appears, literally). There could be a biblical explanation for this: If you give your resources back to God, He will reward you with even more.

But the gospel of wealth, something televangelists love to trumpet, takes this too far. Yes, I believe God wants us to give back (at least 10 percent), and yes, I have faith that I will never be fully without means (though I’m uncomfortable with the idea of being rich in spirit and poor in the world). But there is a difference between a place to sleep and a house in the Hollywood Hills. The church is not an investment plan.

Ole E. Anthony, founder of the Trinity Foundation in Dallas, a televangelist watchdog, said he knew people who had given the last of their savings to TV preachers, hoping for a windfall that never came.

“The people on TBN are living the lifestyle of fabulous wealth on the backs of the poorest and most desperate people in our society,” Anthony said. “People have lost their faith in God because they believe they weren’t worthy after not receiving their financial blessing.”

Thomas D. Horne, of Williford, Ark., a disabled Vietnam-era veteran, said that in 1994 he was swept away by the rhetoric of TBN pastors and donated about $6,000 in disability benefits.

Time went by and he did not receive the promised surfeit of money. Last year, he found out that TBN had purchased a Newport Beach mansion overlooking the Pacific. He wrote to the network, asking for his money back.

“I want to recoup my hard-earned disability money I sent to these despicable people,” said Horne. He said he has received no reply.

Philip McPeake is another donor for whom God’s economy of giving did not deliver. Out of work and out of luck in November 1998, McPeake heard the Rev. R.W. Schambach make an impassioned plea for donations on TBN’s Kansas City television station, KTAJ.

Schambach promised that if viewers sent $200 as a down payment on a $2,000 pledge, God would give them the rest within 90 days - with a bonus to follow.

McPeake sent in his money and waited for his luck to change. When it didn’t, he complained to the Missouri state attorney general’s office and the Federal Communications Commission (news - web sites). TBN refunded his donation.

To see how the gospel of wealth can support the luxurious living of those at the top, read this and this.

“Mansions, big planes, money, fame. That’s what it’s all about now,” said the Rev. Hector Gomez, a former Without Walls staff member who left in 2000. “There are prophets for God, and there are prophets for profit. That’s the category they fit in.”

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