Saturday Book Club: God's Profits
It's a busy weekend for me, but I hope folks get a chance to check out what sounds like a Most Excellent book about religion in America today. Posner looks to have done some great research, and the Alternet excerpt is especially useful, on this day when 'religious voters' in the Black community are on the verge of handing Obama a needed victory. "And what does it profit a man to gain the whole world..." heh.
nside the Trinity Christian Church in Irving, Texas, a crowd starts gathering in the afternoon for a Victory Healing and Miracle Service that is to begin at 7 p.m. that evening. People have traveled from as far away as Ohio and Arkansas and Georgia to participate. Most are waiting in the perimeter lobby of the church, camping out with pillows and Bibles, ordering pizza, and waiting for an event that has been hyped on Christian television for months. I approach one woman, an African American member of televangelist Rod Parsley's World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio. Judging from her clothes, the woman could scarcely afford the plane ticket she bought to see a performance of the preaching phenomenon whose services she can attend three times a week at home in Columbus. She's almost in a trance, barely able to focus on me or what I am asking her, and she brushes me aside as I inquire about her journey.
People are waiting to see healings and miracles; Parsley claims a quarter of a million people have mailed in prayer cloths (and money) so that he could put his "anointing" on them. Once returned to the donor, the prayer cloths can be used to heal anything in a broken life, from depression to cancer to joblessness to debt.
Parsley takes his self-created opportunity to parlay his own rendering of "integrity" into his speech, melding his prosperity gospel with a message of individualistic entitlement that fuels the Word of Faith movement. Parsley's own wealth is built on the tithes and offerings he solicits through his church, television show, and Web site, but he justifies taking the donations by claiming that he serves God's kingdom by giving some of the money away. He says that "the government cannot do what the church must," insisting that the church must focus on issues of justice in addition to those of "righteousness." He claims that "if every church in Ohio had done what mine has done in the last year, there would not be one hungry person in the state. Not one hungry person." But he doesn't say what it is his church has done; did it take in the homeless or help people find jobs? That is not clear. But the Word of Faith message, the gospel of money and greed is clear, and Parsley implies - though he offers no proof - that his wealth is godly because he redistributes it. "It's time we stop being intimidated by the naysayers who say it's godly to have nothing. That's a lie, that's a lie. It's godly to believe for more than enough because there are always those who don't have enough."
He will not document his generosity, however. Parsley operates his ministry under tight familial control, with a complete lack of transparency and accountability. But mixed up in his contrived message of his own generosity, he implores his audience to be generous to him. That, the Word of Faith credo goes, will result in givers being blessed with their own financial harvest. With the thousands in the audience repeating each phrase, he tells them to "throw your hands up and say, 'Bless me, Lord! I'm a giver. I'm a tither. I'm going to bless your kingdom. And I receive financial abundance!'"
I've mentioned before, after my grandfather died, my hard-headed, tight-fisted, count every penny born in the Depression grandmother started sending these frauds money, a lot of money, until my mom stepped in an put a stop to it. "Prosperity Christianity" is just the latest incarnation of an old, old scam. So I hope you can understand why people like me seriously question the 'value' of supposedly progressive politicians spending a lot of time with these people. Snake oil salesmen would be cheaper, I think.