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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. Double R

    Being properous in life doesn't necessarly equate to being rich and rich doesn't always equal money. If I'm able to pay all my bills, feed my family, and buy them clothing and not have to worry about the next paycheck, then I consider myself prosperous. I'm rich! I have the love of a great wife, the love of two beautiful children, and for me most importantly the love of a gracious God. He has blessed my life with a career, a nice house, two dependable cars, and great health. I consider myself properous in every sense of the word and I thank and praise Him everyday for it. When I read the gospels and epistles I know that this is what is meant by the Lord wanting prosperity in your life. Even Jesus says it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      How sad it appears to someone outside your faith like me that you place the love of your God above that of your family and that everything that you worked so hard to achieve in life is also credited to your God. YOU did it all and YOU deserve all the credit and love that you've fostered. Ultimately when you die all that you did that was meaningful to your loved ones will be diminished. They will not properly grieve for you and really face the finality of losing you forever but instead will be whitewashed by the notion that your life yet continues in some fashion. From my point of view you sacrifice too much and appreciate too little this one and only brief lifetime we each get. And for what? The hoped for and even greedy expectation that your life continues beyond your death? Every living thing dies...nothing that we know of has ever been shown to survive it's death to live again but somehow this rule doesn't apply to you and your fellow believers?

      June 11, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      RR,

      Did you ever think that maybe it was YOU that worked hard to attain all of those things for yourself and your family? It is really sad that you dont take credit where credit is due when you work hard like that. I feel sorry for you.

      June 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  2. Anonymous010

    Meh, their message of 'faith yields wealth' is just like every 3 am infomercial you see on a program about profit through buying real estate – it's all just a bunch of lies and empty promises built on a few very atypical examples. They all claim, "It worked for this guy; it could work for you too!" They know there's a sucker born every minute and they cash in on that. Come to think of it, it's actually a better scam than those infomercials. By conning people into making 'donations' to the church, they can build these huge megachurches and thus make it look like their message is actually true when it really isn't.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  3. JP

    Check your bible folks, it does not say anywhere in the new testament that followers of Jesus will be rich. The wealth referred to is spiritual and is taken with you to heaven when we leave this world.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  4. vultures_R_you

    Amazing how quickly the vultures come out when a news story comes out on a christian pastor.

    Where are you when you idols make mistakes or has a news story about their life cpmee out?
    Hypocrites unite....

    Where were you when Pres. Obama's Pastor said G D America? Didn't see your blogs back then

    Judge not least yea be judged.

    God Forgives.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • dsaf

      Eh, moral equivalence was invented by weak willed people so they could feel good about their bad behavior. Sorry, it's always been, and still is, an invalid way to justify anything.

      It's amazing you can use the statement above for about 1 out of 3 "conservative" posts on these blogs!

      June 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • vultures_R_you

      @dsaf

      you are a Christian's favorite kind of person. We just want you to know GOD loves you.

      June 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  5. Eddie O.

    Step right up, step right up... "buy" your stairway to heaven!

    June 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  6. martyy

    Churches that promote the faith/wealth connection are providing a cover story and justification for fraud and theft from non-believers. I've seen it so many times that when I'm listening to a proposal and the candidate says "praise the lord" the pitch is over.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      No different than any other church/cult that takes money from their followers.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • vultures_R_you

      Shame on you... No one is forced to believe, give or take from a church.

      By the way, do you realize most help for the homeless, drug addiction recovery, feeding the poor, helping those unable to leave their homes, teenage gang intervention, support groups for elderly & battling cancer or lose of a loved one, and other acts of kindness comes from churches and synagoges in your community. Including muslim churches. Surprised?

      The government is broke. GOD never empowered them to take care of these needs. HE charged the church with this responsibility. Believers give out of the abundance of their hearts. Even non-believers give to charities, including church based ones.

      So you know little, so learn first before you comment.

      You may want to start by counting your blessings from above. You created nothing you have.

      It is better to give than received.

      June 11, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  7. The Woof

    To the replier that made a statement about divorce, yes He did state "I say to YOU that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.” But you only referenced the very last sentence of His answer and this was in regard to the nature of the question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on every sort of ground?”, a question that was posed to tempt Him into giving what could be a wrong answer and in difference to the Mosiac Law of the time. In reality His answer applies to both men and women.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  8. tmt

    This article forgot to mention Ken Hagin and Kenneth Copeland who is associated with Pastor Dollar and also teaches the prosperity gospel along with many others

    June 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  9. Hanginginthere

    I am a believer, have faith and live paycheck to paycheck. The prosperity message is false teaching. Christians are not promised wealth for believing. Ridiculous!

    June 11, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  10. Robert

    "in which He is God and we are His creatures, that is where joy is found."

    Sounds a lot like slavery to me.
    It's a shame so many cling to such a primative way of life.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  11. Duh.

    "Dollar's gospel: Faith yields wealth "-headline Translation: Your faith yields his wealth. Duh.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  12. Chris

    I believe devotees of the "prosperity gospel" are in fact sincere, but they they sincerely wrong in believing that is the gospel message of Jesus Christ. They fail to recognize that Jesus is more than the ends to the means, He in fact is the means to the end. The shallow and self-centered teaching of the prosperity gospel fails to glorify God as God and only see's God as a cosmic ATM machine. It seems all the prospering is afforded by those that peddle this hot-tub gospel message at the expense of its followers.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      "The shallow and self-centered teaching of the prosperity gospel fails to glorify God as God and only see's God as a cosmic ATM machine."

      And the rest of the shallow and self-centered believers think it is a cosmic eternal Fantasyland ticket machine.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  13. Bible just a theory

    What do you expect from people who are so gullible that they believe a snake talked? And that because some stupid woman ate a piece of fruit, all her children inherit this "sin". Hey, if you actually believe that's true, then I have a donkey that is a descendent of the actual donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem for sale on ebay for ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • DCBuck

      an atheist posting on a religion thread is about as relevant as a member of PETA posting on a "cooking with beef" thread.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  14. Rev . Harlen Hoover

    Good needs you to plant a love seed ( money) to activate your faith , Give my minestery "x" amount of money and God will multiply that harvest and return to you "n" amount more in return . Its a scam .

    June 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      I think that P. T. Barnum said it best. "There's a sucker born every minute."

      June 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  15. Andrew

    What a charlatan, lying tool you are "dollar"!

    June 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  16. Jack

    Jonathan Walton's quote at the end of the article says it all when it comes to the discussion of these perverted criminals who have taken the "wealth that is part of their authority". These religious leeches play their congregations for fools and none of them even believe half of the stuff they preach. All you have to do is to look at the TBN fiasco that is going on right now between the Crouche's and their granddaughter to see the abject hypocracy that resides in these people. They have their followers and congregations so hypnotized by their charismatic "gifts of gab" that they are too caught up in the razzle dazzle to see the very real nature of the deciet and fraud perpetrated upon them by these felons. The wealth that these charlatans have collected has INDEED been a very LARGE part of their "authority" and therefore has made them virtually UNTOUCHABLE by law enforcment, the IRS, and, of course, there is absolutely NO accountability whatsoever by ANY "christian" organization except their OWN. Perhaps one day, folks will see these criminals for who they are and put them where they belong....FAR FAR away from the very needy people who seem to flock to them.

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

      True, but at what point do you hold people accountable for their own gullibility? There is a bit of preying on hope, certainly, and the pastor is far more insidious and crooked than his followers, but at some point they have blame for being taken in by it all.

      June 11, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  17. Bible just a theory

    If you pray in the name of MORRIS THE CAT, then he will make you wealthy – but I GET 20% AS HIS AGENT.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      And his answers can be "yes", "no", or "maybe". So if you dont get what you want it is because you dont have enough faith.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • DCBuck

      Do you have anything constructive to say, or are you just on here to spew atheist bile and insult people of faith? How productive of you!

      June 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  18. Tripp

    For his own enrichment he is trying to make people believe that the gods of ancient literature are actually real. That seems utterly dishonest and immoral.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • chris

      Why lie? He's not saying that at all. He's inventing a new God out of his own imagination.
      He does practice idolatry,

      June 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  19. Thinkforyourself

    Pastors who preach, and people who believe in the Prosperity Gospel must have a different Bible than me. Jesus would be very proud of you and your mansion.

    "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

    "One thing you lack, Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven. Then come and follow me."

    June 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Bible just a theory

      Sure, sure, but Jesus also said that divorce is prohibited except in the case of marital unfaithfulness (by the woman of course), and the Christians don't follow that scripture either!

      June 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Just a bunch of cafeteria Xtians.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • jason

      Jesus also said
      In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!"
      so basically this pastor is prepping his victims for hell
      Why is it that the conservatives want to extend the punishments of the old testament aka stoning, to gays but want people like cheater Newt to be adorned? Why is it the Christians in cahoots with the republicans want to kill the poor and harm the needy and still wonder that Christianity is in such a doodoo?

      June 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  20. George

    It is disturbing to me how many times I have seen what this man is accused of doing described as 'disciplining a child'. Usually followed or preceded by some comment about undo government interference in private lives. Choking and beating a child is not discipline, it is a criminal act in the United States. I hope that those who believe otherwise are childless.

    It is also not undo government intrusion into private lives to investigate whether or not this occurs when a 911 call is received. I suspect the very people that are upset about this would be up in arms if the government did not investigate and the child was killed.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:20 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.