Friday, November 20, 2009

Is the Prosperity Gospel Responsible for the Crash?

"DID CHRISTIANITY CAUSE THE CRASH?"

Definitely grabs your attention, doesn't it? However, the title of this month's Atlantic's cover story is a bit misleading. Writer Hanna Rosin does not blame the current economy on the teachings of either the Bible or the Church. Instead, Rosin examines how the economy might have went south with the help of a fad that many Christians denounce--the Prosperity Gospel.

The article mainly focuses on Casa del Padre, a Latino church in Charlottesville, VA, and their pastor Fernando Garay. On any given Sunday, Garay (a former loan officer) preaches that God is willing to shower true believers with great abundance. Like many other prosperity gospel preachers, he urges his congregation to aim big, regardless of their income. "If you can't afford a house you shouldn't buy it," says Garay's wife Hazael. "But if the Lord is telling you to 'take that first step and I will provide,' then you have to believe." If you don't, it's a sign of disbelief.

While Garay claims that the recession did not affect his church, many other churches aren't so lucky. According to the article, "most new prosperity-gospel churches were built along the Sun Belt, particularly in California, Florida, and Arizona--all areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis." Also, at one point the article mentions that apparently Wells Fargo had the idea to send sales officers to church-sponsored "wealth-building seminars" and tell the churchgoers how they could buy new homes.

At the end of the article, there's no clear answer as to whether or not the prosperity gospel played a hand at bringing down the economy. However, I'm sure it didn't help things, either. If last year's crash taught us anything, it's that for too long we've been spending more money than we have. The pastor should be a voice of reason in a world of mixed-up values. But with these prosperity gospel churches, people are hearing the same message they would hear from Jim Cramer: buy it all now! The only difference is the prosperity gospel throws in religious guilt; if you're not prosperous, you're not a good Christian.

What do you think? Do you think the prosperity gospel had a hand to play in this mess?

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