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October 9th, 2013
07:07 PM ET

Believers in bling: Behold, the prosperity 'Preachers of L.A.'

Opinion by Kate Bowler, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Money. Women. Fame. Church.

That's a day in the life of “The Preachers of L.A.,” a new reality show centered on the lives of megachurch pastors of the so-called “prosperity gospel.”

The show, which premiers Wednesday night on the Oxygen Network, is a chaotic mix of prayer, "house porn," and neatly orchestrated dust-ups between senior pastors and their “first ladies.”

In some ways, the combination of the prosperity gospel with the “Real Housewives” format is a match made in Oprah-produced heaven.

Men of the cloth cruise Southern California in lavish cars weighed down by their gold watches and tiny dogs.

As Ron Gibson, a bishop in the largest Pentecostal denomination in the country, explains: “P. Diddy, Jay Z. They’re not the only ones who should be driving Ferraris and living in nice houses.”

Clarence McClendon, said to be so good-looking that he must take out restraining orders on women in his church, concurs: “The Bible says that I wish above all things that you would prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.”

He grins. “I believe that.”

To critics, "The Preachers of L.A." represents the distilled toxicity of Christianity combined with a money-obsessed generation of American preachers.

Even to sympathizers, the show seems to reaffirm all the negative stereotypes about greedy prosperity preachers more interested in bling than the BIble.

So why would six well-established prosperity preachers put so much on the line, with so much to lose?

I have spent the last decade studying the prosperity gospel and trying to convince readers that, underneath all the hype about the lifestyle of its preachers, there is serious theology at work.

The prosperity gospel is an offshoot of Pentecostalism that centers on a new understanding of faith. Faith, rather than simple trust, is re-imagined as a spiritual power released by positive thoughts and words.

This faith formula was a blend of early 20th-century American theologies of self-help, popular psychology, metaphysical philosophy and can-do attitudes about the power of the mind.

During the economic boom of the 1950s, tent-toting Pentecostal healers like Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin and A. A. Allen began to expand on what this newfound spiritual power could do.

By their teaching and their example, they showed a generation of believers how they could use their faith to change their circumstances. Faith could heal bodies, multiply finances, restore families and bring a taste of heaven down to Earth.

The prosperity gospel is predicated on the belief that your life—your body, wallet, family, career and full head of hair—is a witness to whether your faith is effective.

Having traveled the country to visit these churches, I have seen preachers make this point in a thousand ways: from boasting about their perfect health (“I’ve never been sick!”), giving tours of their airplane fleet, even handing out cash in the Sunday service.

In "Preachers of L.A.," when Bishop Noel Jones of the 20,000-member City of Refuge rolls out of his Sunday service with his entourage in a gleaming town car, fawning women pressed up against the glass, his celebrity status is confirmed.

But this is not just show-and-tell bragging. It’s meant to be a spiritual witness, concrete proof that God is present. Look at what God can do!

What's most dangerous for a cast of prosperity preachers, though, are the unwritten rules of all reality shows: The rich and the mighty must prove that they, too, are plagued with “real-life” problems. They might be in a Lear jet, but they are suffering in a Lear jet.

“Being a pastor is very dangerous, because you have to be perfect at all times,” says one L.A. pastor.

“People put you up on a pedestal that you can’t live on,” complains another.

Or as Pastor Deitrick Haddon bemoans behind designer sunglasses: “I’m a pastor, but at the end of the day, I’m a MAN.”

The problem is these ministers gave up being “just a man” when they became prosperity preachers. The movement places a great weight on the spiritual power of leaders as living proof of what the prosperity gospel can do.

You will find a theological justification for this every time a journalist asks a prosperity pastor a few pointed questions about why he or she needs a plane or a vintage muscle car collection or a personal rare bird sanctuary.

The answer is always the same: What I have, I use for the ministry. If the prosperity gospel worked for me, it can work for anyone. I’m commissioned by God with special gifts for special purposes.

These pastors’ Midas touch provides endless sermon illustrations designed to tantalize audiences: If only you believe what I believe, you can have what I have, too.

Because these leaders are symbols of more and better, some argue that the prosperity gospel’s primary aim is to inspire. It infuses people with optimism and a desire to want, expect and make steps toward achieving greater things.

But don't mistake the prosperity gospel and its preachers for religious sideshows or easy targets.

If you look past the Rolexes, Mercedes, gold chains and monogrammed pocket squares, you might see something surprising. These pastors, bejeweled as they are, would never want their lifestyle to be a barrier to their evangelism.

Precisely the opposite. They still want their message and their ministry to transcend—and be mediated through—their material "blessings."

There is a reason why the prosperity gospel represents a powerful stream in American religious life.

As my own research shows, millions of American Christians have turned to the prosperity gospel to help them understand God as deeply invested in their everyday lives. They want a God who cares about their heath, their mortgage payments and their ability to afford a better life.

Many believers in the prosperity gospel will despise the “The Preachers of L.A.” for advertising the humanity of the man behind the message. Still others will tune in because of their deep belief that the high life might actually be divine.

Kate Bowler is assistant professor of the History of Christianity in the United States at Duke Divinity School and author of "Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel." The views expressed in this column belong to Bowler.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Entertainment • Faith • Faith & Health • Media • Money & Faith • Pentecostal • Prayer

soundoff (480 Responses)
  1. lulu

    Prison, CNN.

    October 10, 2013 at 6:02 am |
    • lulu

      No evidence for your gods. Plenty for god.

      Hope u like prison food dodo, big john, danny boy!

      October 10, 2013 at 6:12 am |
  2. saggyroy

    All you need to do is get a nice suit, memorize a couple dozen bible verses, and get a microphone, and you too can be a millionaire.

    October 10, 2013 at 6:01 am |
  3. Gatorfan

    If you fools are dumb enough to send your money to these charlatans, then I have no sympathy for you.

    As for the "preachers," I don't believe in hell or god or any of that nonsense, but if hell does exist, there is a special circle reserved just for the likes of you.

    October 10, 2013 at 5:57 am |
    • lulu

      Just wait, dodo! Hope u like surprises!

      October 10, 2013 at 6:03 am |
  4. C

    If They Were True Pastors or Preachers of The Word of God, They would also know they are not suppose to Be Lovers of this World, No true Believer is suppose to Be. If U take an oath to yourself to preach the word, its only right to live The word Aswell. Like The bible Teaches You Cant Serve 2 Masters. Jesus was the greatest Role model when it comes to this, He gave up all his Earthly possessions and Relied on people blessing him with a Meal as He moved on to Spread the message else where. I dont agree with Pastors being paid to preach the word of God "That Should be a Sin and frowned upon" If You need to provide for your family Get a Job, and if U feel to preach the word still do so. I Myself Would Preach for free, THE WORD is to Be TOLD not SOLD. We are living in a time that is a Test by God, and We ultimately get to choose Salvation or Damnation. Choose wisely..... +

    October 10, 2013 at 5:38 am |
    • C

      The bible Says "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any Man love the world, The love of the father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" Id say the only things that are good is the things God said was good when he created everything – Read Genesis

      October 10, 2013 at 6:04 am |
      • Wholly Goats

        C,

        Genesis says that special striped goats are bred by having the mating pair stare at striped objects – Genesis 30. I say PFUI on the rest of it too.

        October 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • calvin

      God Bless You, How true this is, Love IN Jesus

      October 14, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  5. kellie

    Sorry, the last sentence was to be deleted. Please read it without that. Thanks,

    October 10, 2013 at 5:00 am |
  6. kellie

    I wonder how many homes, schools, hospitals they have built? Perhaps they just have not gotten around to that yet.
    I Wonder do they know the number children waiting to be adopted–foster agencies across this nation have long lists of children waiting to be placed in loving homes, especially African-American children. Minister H., tried to make some point in the Man Cave, which I was inclined to support. Such points cannot be accepted or even heard by those who are profiteers and have made God a marketing tool to further their opportunistic adventure. What I sincerely believe, however, is that the ostentatious materialistic life style is a function of choice, individual taste, priorities and ego. At the end of the day, unfortunately, GREED governs and their "God" and their church simply serves as their true vehicle. These men would want/have this life style even if they were not CALLED. What an embarrassment.
    is that the bling and materialism is a function of YOUR taste. If the church were not your vehicle, for acquiring this life style,
    you would seek it elsewhere

    October 10, 2013 at 4:57 am |
  7. satanicviews

    The prosperity of these men come about because of the gullibility of human beings donating money to snake oil salesmen.

    October 10, 2013 at 4:45 am |
  8. Humanbeing

    There's no such thing as a "Preacher, Pastor, Minister...Clergy...etc" only Thespians, playing the role of clergy. Exploiting gullible, naive people for personal greed and gain. All Churches, belong to and are controlled by the "state", the Organized Christian Crime Cartel like all other social Crime Cartels, isn't going any where.

    October 10, 2013 at 4:40 am |
  9. Ben

    Bishop Jones in pic# 8 got himself a nice ferrari and Land Rover. I'm definitely in the wrong profession.

    October 10, 2013 at 4:21 am |
  10. OldMo

    2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts they shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

    It's been shocking to have a front row seat for the great falling away that God's word told us would happen near the end times. Even though greed is a driving force for many, the prosperity gospel isn't the only false doctrine that has seduced people.

    October 10, 2013 at 3:30 am |
    • Humanbeing

      And this is why these Clerical Thespians are able to steal, manipulate and control the masses!

      October 10, 2013 at 4:43 am |
  11. Name*Kitten28

    After watching this show, I don't see what all the fuss is about. First off, these pastors have thousands of members in their churches. So they probably get paid good salaries. Most preachers do get paid salaries by their churches. I didn't see anything outrageous or materialistic about the show.Most churches don't have membership in the thousands. You have to take that into account.They are doing big ministry.They pastor what you call mega-churches.That explains their lifestyles.These are well known preachers who minister around the country and around the world.People don't really understand how ministry works.I enjoyed the show. I thought it was great.

    October 10, 2013 at 2:57 am |
    • Burnz

      Religion is a scam.

      October 10, 2013 at 4:27 am |
    • Holy Mural

      When I look at Jesus Christ nailed to that cross... I can understand why people want to be delivered from that cross... what I don't understand is why people have no regard for the pain of God... the money preachers act like God exists for their pleasure... and perhaps that is why they have no capacity to even think about the struggle of God... and WHY God would create such a terrible thing as the story of humanity... Why did God create humanity... what pain and struggle within God made God create the light and the darkness... why did God deliver some from the cross with money... while nailing others to the cross with no regard for justice or fairness... not all the rich are good... not all the poor are bad... these type of questions are way too deep for the money preachers and their followers... people who are obsessed with God giving them money and deliverance from the cross... but I say this looking in the mirror... because I too want money and deliverance from the cross... I too want to be free from the pain of God and the pain Jesus felt nailed to that cross... but I do think about the struggle of God... maybe the money preachers should think about the struggle of God too...

      October 10, 2013 at 4:33 am |
    • SLM

      YOU are absolutely correct! 🙂 I too enjoyed watching the show. SALVATION is not free. It was paid for and bought with a price...JESUS"s BLOOD. I do not know why everyone is so upset about what these preachers of mega-churches have. These pastors watch over the souls of their congregations, spend time with the LORD to bring a timely message and care for humanity. GOD said that the word will be preached to every nation etc... Everyone will have the opportunity to hear about JESUS before he returns. It is up to each one of us to accept his invitation of salvation or reject it with non belief. Choose wisely... because after death, comes the judgement...It will then be too late!

      October 10, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
      • Yeah Right

        STOP IT!! After congregant number 50, it is IMPOSSIBLE for these business men to know all of their members. After number 100, people stop being souls, and they become paychecks to the business. Paying clients. I'm sure these dogs don't know ALL of their members, nor do they counsel with ALL of them. I see they've done a good job on your ability to reason with logic also.

        October 11, 2013 at 7:57 am |
  12. Jason Roberts

    Talk about "wearing your true beliefs around your neck."

    October 10, 2013 at 2:46 am |
  13. Gordon

    What about "Behold, the idiots that are supporting these pastors."

    October 10, 2013 at 1:31 am |
    • Jack Parker

      These "pastors" are definitely not of God. The people who follow them are seeking "prosperity," not God. In fact, these pastors are part of God's judgment on the very people who do follow these men and give them their money.

      October 10, 2013 at 2:31 am |
      • Terrence

        Jack like to use his imagination.

        October 10, 2013 at 2:42 am |
      • saggyroy

        And that is the beauty of religion, you can have it both ways and be "blessed". My brother in-law was "blessed with pancreatic cancer. My friend was "blessed" with a big win at the casino.

        October 10, 2013 at 6:29 am |
  14. Lenin

    These men and their idols shall burn in the fires of the coming Socialist Revolution! Their temples shall burn and their so-called gifts shall be given to those who are in need. It shall be your character and not your gold that determines whether a man in the sky likes you or not!

    October 10, 2013 at 1:27 am |
  15. nerdy_christian_13

    This is disgusting.

    ~An evangelical

    October 10, 2013 at 1:17 am |
  16. BIll

    And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. -Matthew 19:24

    October 10, 2013 at 12:40 am |
    • Herman

      No religion has ever proven to me that Humans have souls. Without that, there is no after life. Maybe I read too many mythologies as a kid, then too much science fiction as a young man. Stories of gods always have similar themes, similar message, but never a shred of proof. Makes it hard to follow any of them, or take any of them seriously, and thus difficult to show respect to what appears under close scrutiny, to be tripe.

      October 10, 2013 at 12:51 am |
      • SLM

        TRY reading the BIBLE, it is written by anointed, inspired men of GOD (There is only 1 GOD). These men wrote with the spirit of the true and living GOD as witnesses of who he is. FYI. once you become saved, GOD dwells within YOU. There are no more temples that he dwells in, but the temple of our bodies. He dwell within with HIS HOLY SPIRIT.

        October 11, 2013 at 12:08 am |
        • Yeah Right

          The "bible" is a mythological, mystical, esoteric book exhorting us to "go into ourselves" (meditate). None of the stories are real, they are parables. This is the reason why the world is in the state it is, because of religion. Because some egotistical liars decided to interpret the bible thew wrong way, and now they have people believing there is a mean god watching them make mistakes, waiting in the wings to send them to an eternal fire. Wow, glad I'm delivered from that B.S.

          October 11, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • Apple Bush

      WHY do you people copy and paste bible versus??????????????

      October 10, 2013 at 1:03 am |
      • Patty

        Because....these are christians...and where do their beliefs come from? That's right, the bible.

        October 10, 2013 at 2:30 am |
    • RC

      And you're the 4th one to spout that verse. Don't you people read? Or do you just post thinking you have "the answer".

      October 10, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  17. Apple Bush

    I love these guys. They cut right to the chase. Men of leisure pimpin' the Lord instead of the whores. And all the dummies who buy the goods.

    October 9, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
  18. Lem

    Let the wheat and the tares grow together. (Matthew 13:30); Many are called but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14)
    Whether in pretense or in truth; Christ is preached. (Philippians 1:18)

    October 9, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
    • Fiction is as fiction does

      Today in the scarlet forest, Minnie the Pig will meet with Alec the Horse 🙂

      (that one sentence contains as much information as your holy book of horrors)

      October 10, 2013 at 12:39 am |
      • Apple Bush

        Minnie and Alec can fly too, plus walk on water. Great kids story.

        October 10, 2013 at 1:05 am |
      • Jack Parker

        Good luck with that.

        October 10, 2013 at 2:37 am |
  19. samuel

    guys check out this teaching youtube video and know what really is the prosperity gospel and how ugly it is and its nefarious consequences. go on youtube search gospel of prosperity and click on the teaching of paul choo. he exposes these heretics.

    October 9, 2013 at 11:30 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.