U.S. Pentecostal Wing Undermining U.S. Empire

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“Daddy God,” is how Victoria Osteen refers to Him. Honestly. We’re not making this up. When Mr. Joel Osteen took a wife, it was Victoria that he got, for better or for worse. And now the two of them preside over a mega-church in a suburb of Houston. Mr. Osteen is the author of a super bestselling book, Your Best Life Now. God wants us to be prosperous, he argues, in front of thousands of worshippers. How does he know what God wants? He speaks “face to face” with God, says his wife, making him the first person ever to do so. (What did He look like? Has anyone asked?)

Over in Atlanta, the Rev. Creflo Dollar Jr., seems to be doing even better. He and his wife, Taffi, entertain at another huge church, drive around in a Rolls Royce, and have a private $5 million jet to move them from one speaking engagement to another.

Mr. Dollar, like Mr. Osteen, believes in the power of God to move mountains, but they trust in the Almighty Dollar to smooth out the little foothills in their way. Last year, for example, Mr. Dollar sent 100 of the local Fulton County police officers checks for $1,000 each – a month after two traffic tickets the Reverend Dollar had received had been downgraded to warnings.

And back in the Lone Star State, Kenneth Copeland and his main squeeze, Gloria, have done even better – with 4 jets at their disposal. Mr. Copeland, the subject of a MoneyWeek article last month, is also said to have a parsonage the “size of a hotel,” probably more like a huge Motel 6 than a Crillon.

This might be just another part of the baroque spectacle that makes America such an amusing place. But there is more to the story, which is – as you might guess – the subject of today’s column.

Gibbon blamed the fall of Rome at least in part, on Christianity; it encouraged a retreat from the battle for money and power, he said. Now, Kevin Phillips, in a new book, Bad Money, charges the U.S. pentecostal wing of American Christianity with undermining the U.S. empire in the opposite way. He argues that the evangelicals pushed the Republicans down-market. There, the yahoo voters brought them temporal power – 30% of Republican voters identify themselves with an evangelical sect. But they also hollowed out Republicans’ traditional respect for sensible finances.

Among the many frauds of the Reagan-Bush II period, few were gaudier than the “prosperity gospel.” Preached in America’s gamy religious outposts, the concept does for religion what the neo-conservatives did to conservatism, what modern portfolio theory did for Wall Street, and what Keynesianism did to the economics profession – it a made a monkey of it.

In politics, the neos turned conservatism inside out. The old conservatives were wet blankets, do-nothings and naysayers. When news spread of Calvin Coolidge’s death, for example, people asked, “How could they tell?” But the new conservatives are the life of the party. It is said that George W. Bush “doesn’t even know the meaning of the word can’t.” (Of course, there may be other words he doesn’t know the meaning of.) And the neocons’ idea of political economy was similarly liberated from any residual notions of conservatism and common sense. “Deficits don’t matter,” said Dick Cheney, speaking for every wishful thinker since Caligula.

On Wall Street and the City, the old conservative doctrines were put away with top hats and spats. In place of prudence came derring-do. In the place of reasonable salaries came breathtaking bonuses. Mortgage lenders no longer studied a borrower’s finances to make sure he was a good credit risk; they didn’t even take his pulse. And they no longer seemed to care whether their takeovers, triple-A paper, and structured products made any real financial sense; it was enough that they paid a fee.

In economics, too, somehow, the world’s leading economists bent the figures into a preposterous new shape so appealing that even a teenager could love it. An economy can get richer by living it up, they said; and the purpose of central banking was to encourage consumption rather than capital formation.

Was it any wonder that the Pentecostal pulpits sank into the honey too? Along came Jim and Tammy Faye Baker with a sexy new religion – spreading the get- rich gospel over the TV waves. Then, poor Jim got sent to prison for fraud, and when he came out he renounced the new doctrine. But other couples – for some reason these preachers seem to work in husband and wife teams, like Juan and Eva Peron – picked up the tablets. Soon, they had convinced millions to give up the hard-benches of the old Calvinists and sink their plump derrieres into some of the cushiest seats in Christendom.

Churchgoers at Mr. Dollar’s World Changers church services wave envelopes full of cash, reports the Atlanta paper. On the big screen, they offer testimonial proof of the ‘financial blessings’ that came their way after they began sending the preacher 10% of their pre-tax earnings: “The congregants…yell in joy as ushers pass the white buckets down the row to collect the envelopes. After more singing, Dollar preaches… He relentlessly attacks the idea that Christians should limit material possessions. Christians have for too long let the ‘devil’s crowd’ get all the money, power and real estate, he says. Then he tells congregants to say, ‘I want my stuff.'”

“I want my stuff,” they repeat, laughing.

Politics, money, religion – the flim flam was the same everywhere. It was the promise of something for nothing, gain without pain, Easter without Good Friday. But with America’s housing prices falling and unemployment rising, the Pentecostals will find it harder to get their stuff than ever. Maybe God didn’t want them to be wealthy after all. On the evidence, maybe He just likes a good laugh, like the rest of us.

Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning Australia

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail The Daily Reckoning.
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Comments

  1. You are condemning an entire group for the actions of a few. be careful. God is not mocked.

    dick carter
    August 19, 2008
    Reply
  2. Interesting article. Fairly onesided though. There is no mention of the huge amounts of giving these people do. Did you know, that one particular ministry mentioned were the first in to help some of the Katrina victims? Did you know that they were able to fly in medications, food, water without having to wait for a government grant? They had the money, saw a need, were prepared and got aid in as fast as they could, all without government aid or money!! What about all the ophanages, food banks, other disaster aid, schools etc. that these ministries pay for without government aid all around the world!! What their lifestyles are about is giving. Most of them are huge givers. Sure, there will be some that bilk the people, but most of the ones you have mentioned are not in that group. What the “prosperity” message is about is giving in order to bless others. I would much rather have money and give, then to have no money and not be able to help those in need.

    Marie Warren
    August 19, 2008
    Reply
  3. Much of the attention that has been brought to this specific denomination of ministries has come about because of the Grassley investigation. Copeland has fought this and his support is continuing to grow. Grassley has mishandled the situation from day one, and that’s why it has continued to drag on. The ministries have all recently been given clean bills from the IRS, yet Grassley seems to think differently. His motives are certainly to be questioned, as he could have already had the information he wanted if he had gone the IRS route in the beginning.

    Reply
  4. Bill,

    I’m so glad your an investment authour because you know very little about Chrsitianity other than what someone told you at the local pub. The bible, which happens to be the book that determines what Christians beleive, says that it is God who gives the power to get wealth. It also says the poverty is a curse. So now that the secret is out your efforts to restrain the Christian Church into a domicile for false humility, self debasement and poverty is over. The timing is perfect for the Christian Church to rightfully take its place to administer justice and mercy and love on behalf of our leader, Jesus Christ. Just as the wealth of the Church founded hospitals for the sick, Universities and schools for the education and welfare for the poor, the modern church can be the leader in society instead of being relegated to tail wagger.

    Loveyuhsall
    August 19, 2008
    Reply
  5. michele – you bring some great points regarding Grassley’s investigation. The whole situation has already been dragged out for way too long. The decisions that are made in this case will affect all of us and not just the churches. Copeland recognizes that and is determined to see this through to the end. The recent smear campaign by Grassley’s camp also is evidence to me that he is struggling to find some ground to stand on.

    Reply
  6. Interesting indeed. I’m surprised that Kevin Phillips, in a new book, Bad Money, charges the U.S. Pentecostal wing of American Christianity with undermining the U.S. Empire. Wall Street and the Federal Reserve are mostly to blame for the economic crisis, yet someone has found a way to blame the Christians. What next, blame the Jews too? Come on, the Harry Potter books are teaching the next generation that witchcraft is fun and safe to play with, while Mr. Phillips is condemning the ‘feel good’ preachers? Give it up.

    Reply
  7. Yes, the whole claim is quite comical isn’t it? Grassley’s investigation has brought more media attention to this denomination than need be. I think his attempt to sabotage them has only brought them more publicity. And like you Michele, it seems that this situation has gone on long enough. Copeland is going to stand his ground to the end and Grassley seems to have lost any he may have had.

    Reply

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