With regular triple digit tumbles of the Dow and foreclosures threatening to outnumber new mortgage loans, it follows Americans might embrace Prosperity Theology. This is the belief—usually associated with evangelical groups-- that financial prosperity, and personal and commercial success and good health, are evidence of God's favor.
This premise suggests that preachers worth listening to should be rolling in dough. On that score, a half-dozen well-known (and well-heeled) ministries recently received a letter from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) minority leader of the Senate Finance Committee. By December 6, recipients are to answer the committee’s questions about executive compensation, use of private cars and jets, and ministry expenses.
Some might argue that high-rolling senators scrutinizing the spending of men and women of god smacks of the proverbial pot calling the metaphorical kettle black; but those doing “god’s work” are usually held to a higher standard. That standard probably precludes a $23,000 toilet like the one purchased for the headquarters of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo. Three of the ministers being asked for answers by Grassley’s committee are regents at Oral Roberts University, itself the subject of a spending probe. ORU “first lady” Lindsay Roberts is said to have $800 monthly cell phone bills. Charges include alleged “inappropriate” text messages to “underage young men.” My personal favorite extravagance of Lindsay’s is $39,000 in charges at Chico’s, which sells third world fashions at Fifth Avenue profits.
When biblical scribes spoke of casting one’s “bread upon the waters” to have it returned “a hundred fold,” it seems unlikely they had marble commodes from Carrara and brocaded slacks from Bangladesh in mind. Popular televangelists as well as the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, however, appear to have rejected the vow of poverty.
Pioneer televangelist Pat Robertson lives well and has power. He was in the news recently too, not for his lifestyle but for his endorsement of Rudy Giuliani. How much Robertson spends has become secondary to his controversial pronouncements. Besides embracing the pro-choice, pro-gay-rights, thrice-married and openly philandering Giuliani, Roberts has called for the “taking out” of Venezuela’s Chavez, the rejection of feminism which he claims, “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians” and the condemnation of Presbyterians as the “spirit of the Antichrist.”
While Robertson’s camp may quietly wink and plead the dementia defense, Giuliani is seriously running for president. Both men are full of contradictions and both fly in private jets.
At a minimum of $100,000 per public speaking engagement plus millions in consulting fees since he left Gracie mansion, Giuliani—a former Catholic seminarian—seems more suited to the Prosperity Theology camp than among the rope-girdled, sandaled Franciscans embracing poverty as basic to their faith.
I look forward to the “Prosperity Theologians’” responses to the senate investigators. Whatever the outcome of the government probe, however, it seems hard to believe the moneychangers were thrown out of the temple for nothing.
- ► 2008 (17)