Prosperity Preachers

creflodollar.jpgIn my undergrad days in Atlanta, I remember many folks referring to two of the black megachurch preachers, Creflo Dollar (yeah, that’s his real name) and Eddie Long, as “Theft Yo’ Dollar” and “Eddie Wrong.” I always thought there was a lot of truth in those nicknames–still do. This new news gives me no reason to think otherwise.

Two Atlanta preachers with large media ministries snubbed a U.S. senator’s request for documents sought in a probe of nonprofits.

In response, the preachers say Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is crossing the line of separation between church and state.

The Rev. Creflo Dollar, of World Changers Church International in College Park, and Bishop Eddie Long, of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, were among six media ministries from which Grassley requested records a month ago. [source: AJC]

The argument that Grassley “is crossing the line of separation between church and state” for requesting financial records is straight garbage. But truth be told, even if Dollar and Long turn over these documents and it shows that they are on the up-and-up, I will still take issue with them and other megachurch leaders using “prosperity gospel” as justification for living in opulence. And opulence it is:

Dollar is making no apologies for living in a $2.5 million mansion in Georgia, driving a church-bought Rolls Royce and having access to a luxury Manhattan apartment. He said the church owns some of his luxury items and he bought the rest with his own money. [Source: CNN]

What business do spiritual leaders have with possessing luxury items? Some argue that because they do the community a great service they therefore deserve to have many of the lavish comforts of life. Doctors, lawyers and CEOs all make good money. Why shouldn’t preachers who provide so much more than any of these professions receive at least as much, if not more? Right?

Wrong.

Materialism does not necessarily conflict with the philosophy or mission of these other professions–with the church it is in direct conflict. Why invest in the material when in the end it means absolutely nothing spiritually? More importantly, not only does it have no value in this regard, but it largely acts as an impediment and distraction to the goal. Poverty and injustice, of course are also major distractions, but nobody is asking these preachers to live in poverty.

As they claim, I am sure Dollar and Long have received all kinds of extravagant gifts from their members. Does it mean they must accept them? How about instituting a church policy that disallows or limits personal gifts? How about setting a reasonable self-imposed salary cap with any money being made beyond that going to church services?

We worry all the time about how large “gifts” going to our politicians corrupts them. Should we not have the same concerns for preachers?

In my mind, preachers should only follow materialism to the extent that it is useful for connecting with its current and potential members. But their fundamental message and action should remain grounded in tenets of spirituality–not monetary prosperity. Money can and should be talked about in church but should never be central to the overall message.

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14 Responses to “Prosperity Preachers”


  1. 1 Tracie December 8, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    What trips me out is that any other time Christians (myself included) feel separation of church and state is heavily misused by some in secular society … yet now these two want to use it as an excuse (and a flimsy one at that) to keep their [alleged] wrongdoings private?! Sigh.

  2. 2 V December 11, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    I agree that the First Amendment argument is non-existent. And, while I do think the books need to be turned over—I do so for completely secular reasons. The books should be turned over solely for purposes of determining whether these mega-millionaires are masking their for-profit enterprise as a not-for-profit charity.

    That said, I find interesting the lack of accountability being assigned to the gift-givers. I mean, if these mega-ministries are raking in the dough hand-over-fist, at what point do we hold accountable the folks handing it over? Not legally acountable but why cap the amount these men are able to receive? Why arbitrarily prevent the gift-giver from giving? How high is the cap? Who decides? Why is the “decider” chosen? Is he/she in a better position to judge?

    These mega-ministries have made religion their business. How is this business different from any other business formed under the supply and demand principles?

    Why should we penalize the Creflo Dollars of the world? Should we really adopt a position that implies that we as a people are too dense to determine who is worthy of our money?

    Aren’t we capable of choosing where we tithe? Isn’t it a better positon that we determine on our own if the preacher/pastor embodies what we believe and support him or her? And, if the Theft Yo’ Dollars and the Eddie Wrongs of the world are not for you, then hold your money. I find it difficult to say that a spiritual leader has no business owning luxury items. Why? Is it realistic to think barring a single profession or several professions from owning luxury items is an answer?

    Can we force preachers/pastors to be better men? T.D. Jakes has said that a church can only find a person for the pulpit in the pews and it can only find a person for the pews in the streets. I think we’d be better served to remember that these men are just that. And, if these men, or any other for that matter, are living a lifestyle with which we disagree then we do not have to fund it. From what I recall, Atlanta has plenty of churches from which to choose.

  3. 3 Mike December 11, 2007 at 9:20 pm

    V,
    There is a key distinction between your perspective on this and mine. You view mega-churches as businesses that should be treated as such. I don’t. I’d be with your line of reasoning all the way for businesses (see my post on BET and responsibility).

    Sure, some of these joints are being run as typical corporate empires but my point is that they should not be. Living in material excess is not in conflict with typical businesses–in fact it’s the ultimate goal; but with religion this way of living is in direct conflict with their goal. So in my mind, running a church like a business where the sky is the limit in terms of how much money you make and what kind of nice toys you have is a flawed philosophy from the jump.

    The difference in our perspectives also applies to your comments about responsibility of preachers vs. their church members. For a typical business, yes, those funding it through consumption bear a large part of the responsibility for doing so. You can’t expect businesses to have much of a moral compass. You should expect that of churches and preachers though. Morality and spirituality is exactly what they are supposed to be in the “business” of.

  4. 4 Sade December 16, 2007 at 1:01 am

    Just because they’re Christians, there supposed to be broke? That’s ridiculous! Jesus and his disciples lived, traveled, and ate due to the tithes and offering of his followers. Our pastors preach, counsel, and live under constant scrunity of heathen embeciles, they deserve to live a life of luxury. Christ died so that we would no longer have to suffer!

  5. 5 Mike December 16, 2007 at 1:16 am

    Sade,
    In the post, I clearly mentioned that nobody expects these preachers to be poor (including me). There’s a whole lot of middle ground between owning a gated mansion and living on the streets. As for your last sentence, all I can say is that I wholeheartedly disagree with you if you are in any way referring to money.

  6. 6 STEVEM January 3, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    I didnt know that we were now a communist nation where peoples income should be limited. This has to be wone of the most dumb and thoughtless articles I have ever read on any blog

    I motion that we should limit the income of dumb bloggers

  7. 7 Mike January 3, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    How did you come to the communist conclusion? I said that the salary cap should be self-imposed, not imposed by the nation. And I make no money from blogging. Sorry to disappoint your motion.

  8. 8 STEVEM January 4, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Dude,
    The very fact that you are endorsing that Govt take a look at these ministries for no other reason than the fact that you have a problem with their doctrine is de-facto communism. That is the doggone point.

  9. 10 Pabs January 4, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Hi again. In reply to STEVEM.

    I think you missed the point that the other bloggers were making. As far as I can see, these men are guilty on multiple fronts, i.e. as “non-profit” organisations according to the law, and according to Scripture which clearly states that we should not “peddle the Word of God for profit” 2 Corinthians 2:17. As an example, the Word also rebukes such men in Jude 1:11, stating in chapter 4- “For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you.” As we read on he also states in chapter 11- “Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into BALAAM’S error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.” I would recommend strongly that you do some research into “Balaam’s” error, to see how it applies to these modern day mega-ministries and its associated pastors.

    STEVEM, there’s one other question I’d like to ask, since you seem to be an advocate of Capitalism. How are the fruits of Capitalism more in line with God’s will than those of Communism? As far as I’m aware, Communism has some Godly principles that we could certainly adopt, particularly those of us in the Pentecostal movement who seem to be so focused on material prosperity. The problem I see with Communist ideals is that they seem to have left God out of the picture, i.e. they are a counterfeit ideology. I think that the Communist principle of a more balanced wealth distribution is very much in line with Scripture, and ultimately God’s will. This is reflected in Paul’s letter in 2 Corinthians 8 chapters 12 to 15- “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

    Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be EQUALITY. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”

    Very interesting, particularly the part that says- “the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” This is very much in total contrast to the “Pentecostal” concept of giving beyond one’s means, (in some reported cases with credit cards) and in return reaping a “harvest”.

    If God was truly some celestial slot machine, why would Paul state- “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are HARD PRESSED”. HARD PRESSED?? Surely not, after all, don’t these pulpit pimps preach that I will be blessed in abundance as a result of my generosity?

    Sorry bro, look at the fruits and tell me if these men, as representatives of the Kingdom of God, and ultimately imitators of Christ, (as they’re called to be, and more so as Pastors)in any way reflect His humility and modesty. Donkey vs Rolls Royce, hmmmmm!!

    Just a thought.

  10. 11 Mike January 4, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    STEVEM and Pabs,
    As I have noted in the banner, I’m now operating this site at a new address: http://communitycheckup.com. I’ve transferred your comments there and would appreciate it if are to continue the conversation to do so at the new site. The specific address to this post is: http://communitycheckup.com/2007/12/08/prosperity-preachers/ Thanks!

  11. 12 KM January 5, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Dear Sade,

    Riddle me this?

    Would Jesus Christ, as you understand him, walk into a roomful of lower-middle class to poor people, take enough of their money, walk out, and furnish for himself an extravagantly wealthy and lavish lifestyle that went beyond anything he would ever need in lieu of “giving a group of hopeful people the word of God” while those people that he took from remained poor and hopeful?

    Didn’t Jesus ride into Damascus on a donkey? Didn’t he get questioned everywhere he went because he did NOT look like royalty, or a prophet, or like the son of a so-called GOD? Was he not a vagabond with no where to lay his head? Was he not unshaven with hair like “lambwool?” What about this man was even remotely synonymous with “materially prosperous or extravagant”…and moreso, capitalizing on giving the have nots of the world the word of God and getting rich on it…Jesus never did this!!!!!!!!

    These “pimps” are greedy capitalists. They have identified a “target group”, a group of hopeful, empty people who need to believe in something greater than themselves and their everyday lives…these are usually broken and on some level, emotionally traumatized or hurt people who need hope and need to believe. Along come these pimps, they have a “product”, there is high demand. There product is not dope, it’s “hope”…for the broken spirits out there, and those who need to believe in something greater than themselves and their everyday lives and realities, which might otherwise depress them, they follow these pimps, and follow them as if they are “Gods” themselves. They pay for their wisdom and they finance their lifestyles, meanwhile settling on being told to “hope” and “believe” and “pray” and “work on your life” and “give.” It is truly a shame, you finance an empire and in most cases, once they have convince you to feel good and feel better “believing” and forever “enduring” (while your life never changes and you never get what your pastor gets…), you are done, bought, and their empire is established.

    This is wicked and is it basically the infrastructure of megachurch Christianity today. This is spoken of in Holy Scripture as this church is NOT consistent with the BIBLE: in the book of Acts, 20:30,31, Jesus said to the apostle Luke that, “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after THEM. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and days with tears…

    This travesty was enough to make Jesus Christ himself cry.

  12. 13 STEVEM January 8, 2008 at 6:41 am

    http://bobbarr.org/default.asp?pt=newsdescr&RI=898

    Senator has no power or grounds for inquiry
    by Bob Barr
    special to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
    Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 9:00 AM

    I am considering sending the following letter to U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa:

    “Dear Sen. Grassley:

    I see where you recently sent letters to six ministries in four states, including my home state of Georgia, requesting detailed information on the finances of those ministries. Apparently, your concern was sparked, at least in part, by reports that these ministries and the individuals leading them might be spending monies in excess of what you believe is proper and in excess of what a tax-exempt institution is allowed.

    I commend your diligence in monitoring the funds donated to these ministries.

    Being now aware of your keen interest as a watchdog for questionable spending patterns, I would urge you to inquire into the practices of a certain individual who exhibits the following expenses that appear to indicate a lavish business lifestyle far in excess of that which his reported annual salary of $165,200 could reasonably sustain:

    • He maintains a beautifully decorated and expansive office in one of the most exclusive addresses in Washington, D.C.

    • He keeps six additional offices in the state that is his permanent declared residence.

    • He has an office staff of at least three dozen men and women.

    • His travel expenses run into the tens of thousands of dollars each year.

    • He works for a nonprofit entity that spends lavishly on all manner of programs not authorized by its charter and that are far in excess of its income each year.”

    Oh, I’m sorry, I neglected to give you the suspect person’s name. It is U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, whose primary office is in the Hart Senate Office Building, and who maintains six additional offices in the state of Iowa.

    Obviously, Grassley is not going to investigate himself, even though there appear to be superficial questions concerning his ability to maintain a huge staff and multiple offices on a senator’s salary. And it makes about as much sense for him to use the power of his Senate office to inquire into the expenditures of a handful of pastors because they reportedly spend money on items that don’t meet his notion of legitimate expenditures.

    The fact is, the items on which the Rev. Creflo Dollar and Bishop Eddie Long of Georgia —and their colleagues in other states who have received letters of inquiry from Grassley — spend their money apparently do meet with the approval of their constituents. In this respect the ministers are just like Grassley, since, presumably, the Iowa Senator’s constituents approve of the manner in which he is spending their “donations” (even though others may take issue with how the senator spends money over which he has control).

    For both the senator and the ministers, if there were any real evidence any of them were defrauding those funding their operations, there are legitimate, clearly defined avenues of redress. Attempting to intimidate private citizens, especially those heading recognized religious institutions, however, is not among them. If the good senator believes Dollar, Long or any other minister of a tax-exempt organization is defrauding their constituents or the government, then he can — indeed, should — request that the appropriate federal agency investigate to determine if such allegations are true and if so, prosecute them.

    Additionally, if the leaders of any one of the ministers suspect in Grassley’s eyes is defrauding their donors, then those believing themselves cheated have full recourse to the courts of this land to seek redress and hold the ministers accountable.

    This is the path that those at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma have chosen to pursue. (Interestingly, Grassley chose not to investigate Oral Roberts ministries.)

    Grassley may simply have forgotten he is no longer chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, but only the ranking minority (Republican) member. As such, he cannot himself compel any person — minister or layperson — to turn over to him detailed financial information of their income or expenses to peruse at his leisure and share with whomever he might like. The majority Democratic Party is now empowered to do that. It is hoped, in accord with long-standing precedent, including the doctrine of separation of powers, the majority will exercise sounder judgment than the ranking member.

    For now, Dollar, Long and the others should pray for the senator and simply ignore his ill-advised and unenforceable request.

    • Former congressman and U.S. Attorney Bob Barr practices law in Atlanta. Web site: http://www.bobbarr.org.

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