All over the world — and among 1 in 3 American Protestant churchgoers — Christians believe that God rewards good behavior with health and wealth.
“Prosperity theology” says that God matches faith with financial blessing and physical well-being. Common in Pentecostal and charismatic circles and at the heart of popular ministries such as Joel Osteen’s and Kenneth Copeland’s, the teaching has made many pastors and circuit speakers quite rich.
It also implies that if you are poor or face health setbacks — well, that’s ultimately on you, friendo.
Evangelical leaders have roundly condemned the prosperity gospel for manipulating the poor and making promises not found in the Bible. “Nowhere do the Scriptures tell mankind that if we just do our part, God will do his,” says Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler.
One pastor in the Dominican Republic (where 81% of Protestants are Pentecostal) lamented that the prosperity gospel “creates a cycle of guilt and greed,” and treats God as easily manipulated, “a combination of Aladdin’s lamp genie and Psychiatrist Almighty.”
In sum, prosperity teaching makes obedience a means to an end — worth pursuing so long as we humans get some kind of kickback.
It is ironic, then, that Christians who denounce the prosperity gospel have in recent years touted its sexier, if subtler, form: the sexual prosperity gospel. This is my term for a core teaching of the purity culture that erupted in the 1990s, telling young evangelicals that True Love Waits. It holds that God will reward premarital chastity with a good Christian spouse, great sex and perpetual marital fulfillment.
Sexual prosperity theology was supposed to combat the mainstream culture’s embrace of no-strings-attached sex and sex education in public schools. Purity culture arose in a time when the traditional sexual ethic looked increasingly prudish, unrealistic and kind of boring. Writers like Joshua Harris, Josh McDowell and Eric and Leslie Ludy held out the ultimate one-up to secular licentiousness: God wants to give you a hot spouse and great sex life, as long as you wait.
The giveaway of any prosperity teaching is an “if/then” formula: If you do this, then you will get this. If you put a $100 bill in the offering plate, then you will get tenfold back. If you stay chaste now, then you will later be blessed by marriage and children.
Like all powerful myths, it offers the illusion of control in an unpredictable world. We are most tempted to adopt prosperity teachings for our greatest areas of vulnerability. This is why health and wealth teachings typically attract the financially struggling, and why the promise of sexual and marital fulfillment attracted so many sexually frustrated Christian teenagers.
Last week, Joshua Harris — arguably the poster boy of the sexual prosperity gospel — announced that he and his wife, Shannon Bonne, are separating after 19 years of marriage.
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Source: Religion News Service