Back in March of 2015, Televangelist Creflo Dollar had the acquisition of a $65 million, highly coveted G650 private jet in his prayers. To make it happen, Dollar turned to his following: he launched the “Project G650” fundraising campaign, hoping his following of roughly 200,000 people would sponsor the effort to “spread the gospel around the world.” After months of backlash and mockery, Creflo Dollar Industries announced they would go ahead and buy the luxury private jet anyway, to continue to further the mission—because, after all, it’s what God would want.
Dollar preaches a movement known as ‘prosperity gospel’, the belief that God will reward the righteous with material wealth. “Prosperity gospel is a strain of theological practice where these individuals believe that god wants them to be prosperous, that god want them to succeed, and a direct correlation of their personal piety, of their personal righteousness in their prayer life, is that god allows them to thrive,” Reverend Emmett G. Price III said in an interview with Boston Public Radio. “In essence, it almost dictates that those of us who are not thriving aren’t doing something right.”
“It’s a sin to be poor,” Reverend Irene Monroe said. “I call it “bling bling theology.” We see these mega-churches that have these huge congregations speaking about prosperity gospel—the contradiction is that the parishioners, while they are struggling and tithing and giving their last cent, [he or she] is living high on the hog. I just call them theological pimps—because they are actually pimping the soul of a people who believe in such a theology, ‘I must be doing something wrong [if] I’m poor.’”
The teachings of prominent prosperity gospel leaders like Dollar, Joel Osteen and Oral Roberts could soon reach beyond the screen post-inauguration, with televangelists Paula White, Mark Burns and Darrell Scott representing President-elect Donald Trump’s spiritual cabinet. Their congregations; New Destiny Christian Center, Harvest Praise & Worship Center, and New Spirit Revival Church (respectively) are not associated with any denomination, standing as independent churches. Trump, a Presbyterian, leaned heavily on these leaders for spiritual guidance, as he preached his own gospel of material fortune.
“It’s a level of introspection, it forces you to look in; ‘what am I doing that doesn’t allow me to become prosperous?’” Monroe said. “What it doesn’t do is that it doesn’t look at the structural problems as to why individual people are poor. It again doesn’t advocate for social change, it advocates for personal change. You can navel-gaze and never get to that answer.”
Emmett G. Price III is a Professor and the Founding Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Rev. Irene Monroe is a syndicated religion columnist who writes for Huffington Post and Bay Windows. To hear their full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.