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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. David

    There is an obvious ulterior motive for the Prosperity Gospel preachers: if they preached more traditional Christianity then they could not themselves become wealthy. As an atheist, I'm convinced of the sincerity of, for example, Friars who live a life of poverty. But I strongly suspect that some of these money preachers are, themselves, atheists.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Joe

      Teachers of Prosperity Christianity are sincere. They sincerely care about wealth above all other things.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • El Duderino (if you're not into the whole brevity thing)

      Their God is money. They preach that faith equals wealth so they can be justified as affluent preachers, otherwise the sheep would object to their affluence and greed.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Frank

      There might be a few of them who are atheists but I think the majority are theists and Christian but have so many doubts that they're really just going through the motions and are making so much money by fleecing the deluded sheep that they can't let go of the lifestyle they've gotten used to. The Clergy Project is a place for atheist pastors who have yet to come out.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • liz

      More likely they're just Mommpm worshipping "Christians"

      June 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • liz

      Mammon worshippers

      June 11, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  2. Joshua the Agnostic

    Prosperity gospel is only a gospel for the preachers. It's so stupid. They tell people if they give them money then they will have more. It's not a miracle. It's a lie. If you have $1000 and give $400 away, you have $600 left. Period. End of story.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  3. liz

    "Dollar's gospel: Faith yields wealth" Is that why so many of the richest people in the world are atheists or nonChristian?

    June 11, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  4. Bible just a theory

    Only 25% of Americans can correctly answer the question "Why do we have winter and summer", so it's not surprising that this preacher can attract the "non-thinking" segment of our society with his magic money making nonsense.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Joshua the Agnostic

      The Bible isn't a Theory, its a story. The church treats it like scientific fact sometimes picking verses here and there to support their cause, but it's a narrative nothing more. Whether one chooses to play a part in that narrative or not makes you a believer or not.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Bible just a theory

      Hi Josh – It's a play on the fundies claim that "Evolution is JUST a theory".

      June 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Joshua the Agnostic

      Aah I always tell them that Creationism is a Hypothesis

      June 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  5. Sacmar

    I grew up in the bible belt so we went to church faithfully every Sunday. I don't remember my ministers ever driving fancy cars and livinig in big houses that they expected us to pay for. They had jobs and didn't turn their religion into a business. They didn't preach that if you are faithful to God he would reward you with riches. Where did this come from?! Since when are Christians so concerned about material possessions? Aren't you supposed to be concerned with living right and going to Heaven? These teachings are just one of the many reasons I no longer go to church. I'm now agnostic and will stay that way.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • liz

      Since so many Christians replaced the gospel of Jesus Christ with the prosperity gospel and began worshipping Mammon

      June 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • housla

      please don't give up just because of bad christians who preach only prosperity gospel. unfortunately there are many of them who thrive on the greed of a human being. we need christians like you who can really testify god's truth.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      "many of them who thrive on the greed of a human being"

      The *all* do. Some highlight financial greed, the rest focus on the greed of not being satisfied with this life and desperately craving MORE... and not only more, but a PERFECT, eternal MORE.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      *They

      June 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Sacmar

      Housla, I gave up religion for other reasons as well. The biggest being no proof of a God existing at all.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  6. spangler

    Someone needs to start a church which deals with the teachings of Jesus only, not the OT or of Paul. Then gays and straights can all attend and prosper.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • John

      You don't want a church.You want a gay community center.There they won't talk about sin or hell.Jesus died for sin,not for community centers

      June 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Professor

      Great! Then your perfect church can tell all the gays to go on their way "AND SIN NO MORE."

      Good luck with that.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      John and Professor: Being gay is natural, science has proven this. Sin is only pertinent in the buybull and now in the real world where the government makes laws and listens to the updated studies. Time to pull your heads out of the sand and realize that gay people are not going any where and no amount of wishful hating and bigotry will make it happen.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Should have read "not in the real world" instead of 'now in the real world'

      June 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Truth – I think the point is that it is, in fact, natural. Just as the lust for money is natural. Just as lust for power is natural. The Christian is called to rise above his nature.

      June 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  7. ChristopherM

    Why these people don't have to pay taxes is beyond me.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Charles Yoder

      They do pay taxes. Their churches are tax-exempt but they aren't.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Joshua the Agnostic

      same reason that the United Way doesn't either.

      June 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  8. KC

    Does anyone remember that Bible verse about camels and eyes of needles?

    June 11, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Joshua the Agnostic

      yeah but that's probably a mistranslation. The word for camel and rope are very similar. Camel makes no sense.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • liz

      There's also something about NOT worshipping Mammon. At least there is in my Bible. Unfortunately, too many of my fellow Christians have forgotten that.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Joshua the Agnostic

      For the layman here, mammon is the lustful desire of wealth at all costs. This was especially bad in the first century because the wealth was held by the occupying Romans and to be a wealthy Jew you were most likely in bed with the occupiers.

      June 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  9. Omar

    If he doesn;t teach accoring to the gospel there is no light in him. It fi easir fot he camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to make it to the eternal kingdom. READ YOUR BIBLES FOR YOURSELVES!!!

    June 11, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Joshua the Agnostic

      Yeah but he has a REALLY BIG needle. Solves that problem.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Frank

      As for Bible verses, all Christians treat them per the following. They can either be ignored, taken within any context you wish or interpreted in any way to fit your into your own personal agenda.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Joshua the Agnostic

      Frank – LIke Jeremiah 29:11 a favorite of Christians. "For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future."

      Context: God has risen up Babylon against Israel and they are surrounding the gates and starving Jerusalem. God is destroying them. Makes the verse not so happy.

      June 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  10. thejesters1975

    The problem is that the media is not telling you that these prosperity preachers are saying to the people that"every dollar you give to me,God will give you 10 back!"

    June 11, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • KAS

      So what you're saying is God is running a ponzi scheme?

      June 11, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • LaLa

      Moreover, these preachers tell their flock that God wants them to have all the things they covet & how they come to acquire it is OK by Him. Some even go so far as to say that since they'll own all those things in the Afterlife, they may as well claim them now.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Professor

      God is FDR? Celestial rewards are like Social Security- pay a dollar and get back $10.00. Who knew? So that means the day of judgment will be when God (the government) finally runs out of money- say about 2030?

      My Bible says from whom much has been given much shall be required. The duties come conjoint with the reward. The reward is not for fulfilling your duties in my version.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  11. David

    What is this world now coming to? If the daughter was arrested for committing a crime we will be quick to ask where the parents are. But when a father disciplines his child people are questioning his faith. No wonder we have so many zombies among us.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Mike

      Choking = Crime
      Choking =/= Discipline

      June 11, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • thejesters1975

      Put your hands on an adult and we call it assault,putting your hands on a child is ok?Maybe we should "Disipline" you,what?You dont mind dishing it out,afraid to take it?

      June 11, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • John

      There is a difference between discipline and choking your daughter. He was arrested because both of his daughters claimed that he punched her in the head, choked her and struck her with a shoe while she was on the ground. That's a long ways away from appropriate discipline for a 15 year old girl.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Joshua the Agnostic

      Yeah I beat my kids with Rods because Solomon thought it was the best way.

      June 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  12. Mt.

    What goes on in the dark will come to the light!

    June 11, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  13. Chris

    Yep. A 1%er preaching to the 99%ers.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  14. tony

    Thou shall not make any graven collection plate.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  15. Big_D

    Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  16. Richard Aberdeen

    If faith yields wealth, one might fairly ask why Jesus and Paul were among the poorest of all people. Perhaps Mr. Dollar is just a liar out for his own financial gain, who can say for sure?

    June 11, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Heinz Doofenshmirtz

      You just did say for sure. Works for me.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  17. Eric

    What good is gaining the whole world but losing your eternal soul?

    June 11, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Frank

      Because the world actually exists.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  18. brian

    People have to come to terms with the fact that faith does not equal fact. Religion is for the desperate and hopeless. It is a crutch for the weak and misguided. It does nothing positive in the world except create a false sense of comfort and hope and provides a social gathering for other like minded sheep on sundays. Science flies us to the moon. Religion flies us into buildings.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Heinz Doofenshmirtz

      Let's not forget the tax shelter.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • MarylandBill

      And yet ironically, it was science that brought us Communism (Marx and his followers thought they were simply applying science to economics and government). Science has been responsible for giving us the means to destroy the world (in more ways than I could easily list here). Science has given us trans-fats, and TV's to allow us to have our arteries get all clogged up.

      Now I am not saying science is bad, it has in fact done quite a lot for the world. But then again, an honest assessment (as opposed to a materialistic dogmatic assessment such as yours) will show the same thing for religion.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Frank

      Religion brings you nothing tangible, just delusion and becoming a sucker for others who will take advantage of your superstition. Communism has nothing to do with science BTW.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • sandra

      The moral decay in this country should answer your posting.. we took God out and now we are suffering the consequences. and I am faithful in God and in Christ His son ... My weakness makes me strong ...

      June 11, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Nathan

      Lets focus on one religon, Christianity. What is your proof that Christianity is false? In a very broad sense you are making the same arguments that religon does. You are asking everyone to take on faith that all religon is false.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • fintastic

      Nathan, If you are making a claim (the exsistance of the Christian God) then YOU need to provide the evidence.

      Can you prove that Santa Claus doesn't exsist?.... get it?

      June 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • John

      Oh give me a crutch please.I know you are gonna need a crutch to stand on the Day of Judgment looking for mercy and grace when they play your life on the big screen

      June 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • MalB

      Brian you are misguided in your thoughts religion is what ever one makes their believes to be and then put it onto others but the word of God is not a religion it is life eternal beyond the grave, the muslims tell you about virgins waiting on you after you kill yourself. Have you ever heard of a Christian taking anyone hostage in the name of Jesus, Have you heard of any one of the any other and to use your word "religion" claim to raise the dead, heal the sick, calm the raging seas, and walk on water. Hmmm. Leave Christians out of your talk of religion for the son of the living God does not demand us to kill in his honor. And as for the desperate and hopeless when they turn to serve God and not man they are given a new lease on live if it was not for this group who look up to the heavens every day and bruise their knees this world would cease to exist. Your scientist my fly to the moon but the knowledge to do such came from the almighty, the air you breed belongs to the Almighty God, your soul belongs to him also but many like you are working hard to give it to satan. Thats why persons in other religions fly plans into buildings, kill innocent people including children and hold the Earth at ransom in the name of their religious believes. Open the Bible and ask god to give you the wisdom and understanding so that you can bask in the words of the true and living God and why doing so gain eternal life.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • OTOH

      MalB,

      Islam is around 1400 years old. Take a look sometime at how the Christian Church was behaving when it was about that age.

      That said, however, there is NO verified evidence for supernatural beings and NO justification for killing and mayhem in the names of these fantasies and superst'itions.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  19. cherrypieguy

    yet another snake oil salesman that creates zombie like paritioners that are too ignorant to understand they're being manipulated

    June 11, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Nathan

      Please do explain how you are enlightened. Where is your proof that there is no God?

      June 11, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • fintastic

      Nathan, again, where is your proof there is no Santa Claus?

      You are making a claim that something exsists, you need to provide the evidence to back-up that claim.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Sacmar

      Nathan, where is your proof that he does? Please don't reference the Bible because I've read that. I'm not saying there is or isn't a god, but there is no proof of his existence at all. We just have books written by and interpreted by man.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I have proof. Undeniable proof. I was there when it happened. I was a certain type of man. Then I had an experience. I was touched by his passion. There was a reaction, a change, a spiritual delta occurred. Now I am a new man. The evidence is undeniable. What you seek is for my proof to work for you but that is not the way. You must find it for yourself. Money probably hinders more than helps.

      June 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  20. ocdlover

    Faith makes a LIAR out of yourself and you wind up HARMING others. Religion is not needed in our world.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Nathan

      Oh really what do you have faith in then? Please do explain to me how your lack of faith and hope is what the world needs

      June 11, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Nathan....non-believers don't have faith. Faith is belief without evidence. What you think we have..that which you call faith...is really just reasonable expectaions or trust. Further our trust or expectations can change if new information is revealed...it is open to questioning and skepticism....not so for religious faith...it must adhere to dogma and since it's not based on evidence it is impossible to even begin to determine or distinguish if any of it is true fact or total fantasy. Faith isn't a virtue....it's gullibility.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:45 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.