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Creflo Dollar's Prosperity Gospel finds followers and critics
June 10th, 2012
07:22 AM ET

Creflo Dollar's Prosperity Gospel finds followers and critics

By Melissa Gray, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) - The arrest of Georgia megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar brought renewed attention to his message of the Prosperity Gospel, controversial to some and faith-fulfilling to its followers.

Dollar, who was arrested last week after allegedly assaulting his teenage daughter, is the founder and pastor of World Changers Church International in suburban Atlanta.

It claims about 30,000 members and has a multimillion-dollar sanctuary that resembles a golden-domed spaceship atop a hill.

Dollar said in a statement he would never harm his children and that the facts in the case would be handled privately.

Prosperity ministers preach that God rewards the faithful with wealth and spiritual gifts. Pastors such as T.D. Jakes, Dollar, and Joel Osteen have become the Prosperity Gospel's most well known preachers, building megachurches and business empires with a message equating piety with prosperity.

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While popular in the black church, it is not a solely black phenomenon, as seen in the ministry of Osteen, a best-selling author and megapastor at Lakewood Church in Houston. The church website says it is considered to be the largest church in America, with more than 38,000 attendees.

The Prosperity Gospel is a form of evangelical Christianity that largely grew out of the booming economy of postwar America, says Jonathan Walton, a professor of Christian Morals at Harvard and author of "Watch This! Televangelism and African American Religious Culture."

The theology's emphasis is on God's promised generosity in this life and the ability of believers to claim it for themselves. If God loves us, it teaches, then God will reward us with a new home, a good job, or good health, Walton says. God wants us to be prosperous.

Megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar on his daughter: 'She was not punched'

One of the problems that conservatives tend to have with prosperity theology is its focus on material prosperity, says Ben Phillips, a theology professor at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Houston.

"The Prosperity Gospel tends to mask the greatest need that any individual has, and that's to be reconciled to God through faith in Christ," Phillips says.

"The point is that God is the ultimate good," he continues. "Knowing Him, being in a relationship with Him ... in which He is God and we are His creatures, that is where joy is found."

Believers may argue, however, that material wealth is evidence of being in covenant with God, says Michael Long, a teacher of religious studies at Elizabethtown College and editor of the book, "I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin's Life in Letters."

Those believers might say material goods are a side effect of believing in God and Christ, he says. "The focus is on getting right with God, but you know that when you get right with God, you're going to get something for it."

While the theology may attract more followers in a time of economic boom, the fact that it focuses so much on the individual and controlling one's own heart is a comfort in tough economic times as well, Long says.

Tom Brown, senior pastor of the Word of Life Church in El Paso, Texas, says wealth and prosperity are what God desires for us.

"Just as any parent enjoys watching their kids have fun, God delights in watching His children enjoy what money can buy," Brown writes on the website for his ministry. "I believe God is love and He desires the best life we can have."

Believers must then use their wealth to help others, Brown says - and that to have money for its own sake is pointless.

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Phillips says it's true that the Bible teaches Christians to care for the poor, sick and needy, "but the Bible also teaches that God uses and permits suffering in the lives of people for His own ends and purposes."

He points to the Book of James, which says we must value the trials in our life because they shape our character.

"Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation - since they will pass away like a wild flower," it says in James 1:9-10.

Critics may say prosperity followers are wrong, but believers say they are sincere, Walton says. The pastors may be pop culture celebrities, but it doesn't mean their congregations don't find fulfillment in the message.

The pastors' wealth, derided by some as evidence of hypocrisy, could also simply be seen as evidence of their faith, Walton says.

"The wealth is part of their authority," he says.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity

soundoff (598 Responses)
  1. Dana

    Give me 10% of your money and you will be rewarded in your next life. I promise.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  2. Gawd

    It is unbelievable that people continue to give these people their money.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  3. Dan

    There is no god and this guy is a common thug.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  4. Living History

    One of the biggest problems with the this type of properity gospel is that it is so often used as EVIDENCE of God's love. In other words, the prosperous MUST be good and beloved of God as evidenced by their prosperity. A poor and homeless person MUST be out of the good graces of God, because otherwise they would not be in such a lowly state.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Scott

      ...and the entire book of Job disproves the theory of the "prosperity gospel".

      June 11, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  5. Scott

    According to Christianity money is not evil. The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. Preaching that you should love/obey God to get money is preaching that love of God = love of money and is wrong. We are to obey God and we are promised that our reward will be in heaven, not on earth. Wealth does not make you evil, but obsession with it clearly is, and unfortunately it is this very obsession that is preyed upon by the "preachers" of the "prosperity gospel".

    June 11, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  6. Former Christian

    A Christian wife-beater. What's new about that?

    June 11, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  7. zeibodique

    "Prosperity ministers preach that God rewards the faithful with wealth and spiritual gifts. Pastors such as T.D. Jakes, Dollar, and Joel Osteen have become the Prosperity Gospel's most well known preachers, building megachurches and business empires with a message equating piety with prosperity."

    This is NOT rewarding the faithful. It is bilking millions of dollars from people who are lead to believe that they will find eternal salvation for believing in a God by posers on a pulpit. It is nothing more than organized extortion and these people are getting away with it daily. IT'S TIME TO END THIS LEGALIZED ROBBERY.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  8. redwine9991

    GO AHEAD GIVE MORE MONEY TO THESE FALSE PROPHETS!!!

    PROSPERITY GOSPEL, REALLY? THESE ARE THE ANTICHRIST CHURCHES!!!

    June 11, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  9. Dave

    He is the Sucubus. he asked for three fiddy but I gay him a dollah !!!

    June 11, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  10. pana

    30,000 mega-fools giving 10% to the mega-crook.....how dumb can you be.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Dave

      Obama voters – it is to be expected

      June 11, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Darryl

      Dave:

      Why is EVERYTHING about Obama to you?

      June 11, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • fintastic

      Dave can't stand the idea of a black man as president.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  11. MNTaxpayer

    If you are a 'follower' of Dollar, do you feel like a fool when you look at his mug shot? Either has done as his daughter says he has done, showing him to be a terrible parent and a terieible human being. Or his daughter hates him and is lieing, showing him to be a failure as a parent, and her to be a failure as a 'Christian'. Keep sending those checks.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  12. todd in DC

    Lets see. I'm in decent health. I'm worth over a million, I have friends and family who care about me. I have NOT been praying since I was a kid.

    So muich for God granting wealth to the pious.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  13. Menace to Society

    I say Dalamala too you all!!!!!!!!

    June 11, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  14. Bob Ramos

    The truth is that God does want you to be rewarded but nowhere else but Heaven. Preachers like Dollar, Osteen and the like make a mockery of what Jesus taught. When a rich youth encountered Jesus, he was very impressed and asked Jesus if he could follow Him. Jesus said that he could but that he would have to give away his wealth to do so. The youth could not bring himself to that sacrifice. Somewhere else, Jesus says, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven". Since these guys cannot practice what Jesus taught, they are doomed upon death.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • MNTaxpayer

      So Bob Ramos knows the truth about what God wants? A little self-important, aren't you Bob?

      June 11, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Darryl

      Apparently Bob does know more – he reads the Bible. You?

      June 11, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  15. Reasonably

    Our cult has more bling than your cult. Just ask us!

    June 11, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  16. Genesis

    Why anyone thinks they have to send money to someone else to get through to their god is beyond comprehension.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  17. Zee

    Rather than focusing on the real matter at hand: Creflo Dollar being arrested on charges of child abuse, we choose to argue religion in this forum. No one is convincing the Christians to give up, and no one is covincing the Athiests to believe. It's a bunch of pointless blather on both sides. Let's all get into heated discussions about our opinions on Creflo's innocence or guilt, which has nothing to do with whether one finds his message or his religion credible.

    June 11, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    June 11, 2012 at 4:44 am |
    • brian

      in your mind.

      June 11, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • MNTaxpayer

      Then why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?

      June 11, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • AthiestTexas

      Richest American Bill Gates is Athiest. Athiest children just means that they are not being brain washed and are basing their beliefs of facts and logic instead of "Faith" in some magical wizard in the sky.

      June 11, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Kent

      Maybe people pray for pain and suffering.

      June 11, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Zeke2112

      Every child on Earth was born an atheist. Get over yourself and find something new to post for a change.

      June 11, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • saganhill

      No more than a wish does. Pray is bunk.

      June 11, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      June 11, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Dana

      Yes, it makes you look like a fool.

      June 11, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • cedar rapids

      like rain dances change the weather

      June 11, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • MyTake

      Prayer is for the desperate and the foolish.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  19. thecollegeadmissionsguru

    Psst.. the TRUTH is that the Gospels are all just made up... they mean NOTHING they have no truths in them because they were written and publish as lies. Jesus was not a REAL person, he's just a retooling of some ancient deities that came before him. READ people, read something other than junk written by Christian Apologists. Read some real science books, some serious historical studies... just READ...

    June 10, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Russ

      @ guru: this is what passes for college admissions?

      even Bart Ehrman (one of the most liberal biblical scholars) recognizes that Jesus had to exist. His new book is all about how ridiculous claims such as yours are ("Did Jesus Exist?"). Check out the preface to that book (quoted below):

      ****

      Every week I receive two or three e-mails asking me whether Jesus existed as a human being. When I started getting these e-mails, some years ago now, I thought the question was rather peculiar and I did not take it seriously. Of course Jesus existed. Everyone knows he existed. Don’t they?

      But the questions kept coming, and soon I began to wonder: Why are so many people asking? My wonder only increased when I learned that I myself was being quoted in some circles—misquoted rather—as saying that Jesus never existed. I decided to look into the matter. I discovered, to my surprise, an entire body of literature devoted to the question of whether or not there ever was a real man, Jesus.

      I was surprised because I am trained as a scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity, and for thirty years I have written extensively on the historical Jesus, the Gospels, the early Christian movement, and the history of the church’s first three hundred years. Like all New Testament scholars, I have read thousands of books and articles in English and other European languages on Jesus, the New Testament, and early Christianity. But I was almost completely unaware—as are most of my colleagues in the field—of this body of skeptical literature.

      I should say at the outset that none of this literature is written by scholars trained in New Testament or early Christian studies teaching at the major, or even the minor, accredited theological seminaries, divinity schools, universities, or colleges of North America or Europe (or anywhere else in the world). Of the thousands of scholars of early Christianity who do teach at such schools, none of them, to my knowledge, has any doubts that Jesus existed. But a whole body of literature out there, some of it highly intelligent and well informed, makes this case.

      These sundry books and articles (not to mention websites) are of varying quality. Some of them rival The Da Vinci Code in their passion for conspiracy and the shallowness of their historical knowledge, not just of the New Testament and early Christianity, but of ancient religions generally and, even more broadly, the ancient world. But a couple of bona fide scholars—not professors teaching religious studies in universities but scholars nonetheless, and at least one of them with a Ph.D. in the field of New Testament—have taken this position and written about it. Their books may not be known to most of the general public interested in questions related to Jesus, the Gospels, or the early Christian church, but they do occupy a noteworthy niche as a (very) small but (often) loud minority voice. Once you tune in to this voice, you quickly learn just how persistent and vociferous it can be.

      Those who do not think Jesus existed are frequently militant in their views and remarkably adept at countering evidence that to the rest of the civilized world seems compelling and even unanswerable. But these writers have answers, and the smart ones among them need to be taken seriously, if for no other reason than to show why they cannot be right about their major contention. The reality is that whatever else you may think about Jesus, he certainly did exist.

      Serious historians of the early Christian movement—all of them—have spent many years preparing to be experts in their field. Just to read the ancient sources requires expertise in a range of ancient languages: Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and often Aramaic, Syriac, and Coptic, not to mention the modern languages of scholarship (for example, German and French). And that is just for starters. Expertise requires years of patiently examining ancient texts and a thorough grounding in the history and culture of Greek and Roman antiquity, the religions of the ancient Mediterranean world, both pagan and Jewish, knowledge of the history of the Christian church and the development of its social life and theology, and, well, lots of other things. It is striking that virtually everyone who has spent all the years needed to attain these qualifications is convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure. This is not a piece of evidence, but if nothing else, it should give one pause. In the field of biology, evolution may be “just” a theory (as some politicians painfully point out), but it is the theory subscribed to, for good reason, by every real scientist in every established university in the Western world.

      Still, as is clear from the avalanche of sometimes outraged postings on all the relevant Internet sites, there is simply no way to convince conspiracy theorists that the evidence for their position is too thin to be convincing and that the evidence for a traditional view is thoroughly persuasive. Anyone who chooses to believe something contrary to evidence that an overwhelming majority of people find overwhelmingly convincing—whether it involves the fact of the Holocaust, the landing on the moon, the assassination of presidents, or even a presidential place of birth—will not be convinced. Simply will not be convinced.

      And so, with Did Jesus Exist?, I do not expect to convince anyone in that boat. What I do hope is to convince genuine seekers who really want to know how we know that Jesus did exist, as virtually every scholar of antiquity, of biblical studies, of classics, and of Christian origins in this country and, in fact, in the Western world agrees. Many of these scholars have no vested interest in the matter. As it turns out, I myself do not either. I am not a Christian, and I have no interest in promoting a Christian cause or a Christian agenda. I am an agnostic with atheist leanings, and my life and views of the world would be approximately the same whether or not Jesus existed. My beliefs would vary little. The answer to the question of Jesus’s historical existence will not make me more or less happy, content, hopeful, likable, rich, famous, or immortal.

      But as a historian I think evidence matters. And the past matters. And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist. He may not have been the Jesus that your mother believes in or the Jesus of the stained-glass window or the Jesus of your least favorite televangelist or the Jesus proclaimed by the Vatican, the Southern Baptist Convention, the local megachurch, or the California Gnostic. But he did exist, and we can say a few things, with relative certainty, about him.
      http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/03/30/the-historical-evidence-of-the-existence-of-jesus-of-nazareth/

      June 11, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • richunix

      Only a fool would that Jesus never existed, but a man did live during that time and did preach his belief, however that is where the story should have ended. But as men corrupt do, the story has taken a life of its own. Sorry to hear you spent so much time and money on a trying to prove fantasy.

      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      June 11, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • MyTake

      He most likely did exist ... there are reasons his story seems like older ones ... but the person almost certainly existed

      June 11, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  20. Rebel4Christ

    Prosperity Gospel is so dumb. In fact it's not even a gospel at all, the real gospel isn't that you'll prosper and get rich quickly but it's that you know Jesus and for a real christian that's all you need, all you need is him!

    June 10, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.