An article in the Wednesday edition of Slate on how the prosperity gospel is faring in the midst of a severe economic contraction. A couple of excerpts to whet your appetite:
But reality, in the form of a housing-crisis fallout, is full of victims who ought to be a clarion call for Prosperity’s out-of-touch-ness. Its territory—locus of the lower-middle-class and minority neighborhoods from which most followers are culled, like modest exurban areas in California’s Southland and the edges of greater Atlanta—has some particularly high foreclosure rates. The number since 2007 in the greater Atlanta counties of Henry, Newton, Paulding, and Clayton (home of Creflo Dollar’s World Changers Ministries) is two to three times higher than the already-high statewide average, according to data from Foreclosures.com. The disparity jumps even higher outside Los Angeles, but inside the vast, gilded auditoriums, it’s Prosperity business as usual. “Where are these preachers as parishioners’ mortgages continue to default?” University of California-Riverside religion professor Jonathan Walton asked last September as the government took over Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. “One need look no further than the same congregations and networks where they have always resided. Same theology, same sermons, and same results.”
Detractors wonder how this neo-Pentecostal offshoot became evangelical kudzu, snaking its way even into Baptist churches. When did Max Lucado and Pat Robertson, two mainstream evangelicals, start producing fawning blurbs for Your Best Life Now? And of the top 15 spots on Outreach magazine’s largest megachurches, how did Team Prosperity get to control No. 1, No. 6, No. 10, and No. 14? Assemblies of God church leaders, whose Pentecostalism some tag as Prosperity ground zero, tried uprooting the theology, even resurrecting a 1980 position paper, but this has been ineffectively and self-destructively like using prescribed burning to eradicate kudzu that’s already taken over the yard.
This movement is, if anything, durable. Neither incredulity of its methods nor bad publicity, like the cadre of TBN televangelists under Senate investigation for their Robin Leach-voice-over-worthy lifestyles, affects its salability. After all, Osteen’s sunny view is that his message has “increased relevancy in a time of economic uncertainty.” His church Lakewood generated $76 million last year, the most in the United States. He says attendance is up since the economy tanked. Hard-on-their-luck audiences are more likely to buy in to the message’s fire-insurance appeal—the very “too big to fail” clout that attracted traders to AIG or Lehman Bros. until they failed them, too. For evangelicals, the culture wars trump self-policing; attempts to intellectually defrock Prosperity preachers come episodically from jailbird Jim Bakker, too-nice Rick Warren, or little-known leaders like Frederick Price of the National Baptist Convention, who compared Prosperity boosters to pimps. The signs do not point to a denouement.
Also, for today, Adbusters on human cyborgs: “The human and the machine-human cannot peacefully co-exist.”