The Creflo Dollar/Reverend Ike/George Bush axis

CrefloThe Oct. 11 issue of The New Yorker (not yet available online) includes an eight-page article about Creflo Dollar, who preaches what is widely called prosperity theology. The article, by New York Times writer Kelefa Sanneh, mines some of the rich details a reader would expect in a New Yorker profile, such as these:

Dollar has also become something of a hip-hop icon. He appears in the music video “Welcome to Atlanta,” by Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris, and 50 Cent recently rhymed “Creflo Dollar” with “pop my collar.” When the rapper Ma$e decided to devote himself to God, Dollar became his spiritual father.

Sanneh deftly pokes fun at the widespread corporate-speak at Dollar’s World Changers Church International. We read of a man in charge of “ministry systems,” of the sign designating Dollar’s office as an “Executive Suite” and of the weekly “cabinet meeting” by the church’s leaders.

But he also uses a disdainful tone that veers between a meaningless list of clichÃ(c)s (“Dollar is a slick TV preacher who sometimes impersonates a down-home Holy Roller”) and gratuitous adjectives (“This was, in a sense, his second conversion, and he describes it with the shivery enthusiasm of a true believer”).

Sanneh is amazed that Dollar is friends with both Evander Holyfield and Oral Roberts, which should surprise no one who knows much about Roberts (who never met a prosperity preacher prosperity teacher he hasn’t liked). Sanneh defines prosperity theology in an overly ecumenical fashion: “Dollar’s commitment to the combined power of faith and finance puts him firmly in the American mainstream, alongside P. Diddy, President Bush, and a lot of other people in between.” By that definition, Dollar has just as much in common with Senator John Kerry or Sir John Templeton.

Sanneh’s worst mistake, though, is one that suggests he doesn’t understand the meaning of evangelical, one of the most common words in American religion: “An earlier generation of Evangelicals found their own style — Jimmy Swaggart was the lachrymose drama queen, Pat Robertson was the down-home scholar of world events, Reverend Ike was the shameless hustler.”

Fair enough on the Jimmy Swaggart joke — it’s timely comic relief after Swaggart’s cringe-inducing remarks about killing any potential gay suitor.

But please pay attention, all you acclaimed New Yorker fact-checkers: evangelicals are keen on the authority of Scripture over their lives. Evangelicals are not known for saying Scripture is flat-out incorrect about wealth, as Reverend Ike frequently has done in asserting that the lack of wealth, rather than the love of it, is the root of all evil.

GetReligion often complains when reporters use fundamentalist as a synonym for evangelical. A promiscuous definition of evangelical is no less troubling.

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  • http://www.wildfaith.com Darrell Grizzle

    It looks like Sanneh is confusing “evangelical,” which has a specific theological meaning, with “evangelistic,” a descriptive term for anyone who assertively shares his or her faith (i.e., evangelizes). Rev. Ike is definitely evangelistic, but not evangelical.

  • Joshua Cordell

    Great post DL.

  • Marlon Millner

    Interesting post. I would simply suggest there needs to be an intersection of race and faith in the use of the term “Evangelical.” On what basis is Rev. Ike not an Evangelical? For many, he is not, but many black Christians are ok with Ike or Dollar or many black variations.

    It might be that you are not overtly aware that many terms are not out of place because of doctrinal differences, but that African Americans, good Presbyterians, or faithful Methodists, and most historic black denominations have little use for the word “Evangelical,” although they may very well be more “Evangelical,” than those whites who define and domesticate the term.

    But that said, is Oral Roberts an Evangelical? Are prosperity teachings inherently anti-Evangelical? There is a circularity to the logic in the post that I think cannot be maintained, some imagined “purity” in the term Evangelical, which the Christian marketplace will not allow for. Sorry for my conflating captalism and ecclessiology in that last sentence :-)

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Marion. I always appreciate when people interact with what I’ve written, even if we come to very different conclusions.

    I agree that “there needs to be an intersection of race and faith in the use of the term ‘Evangelical.’” I agree that “born-again Christianity” and evangelicalism are multicultural movements.

    Otherwise, I’ll respond with a few points:

    ° My understanding of evangelical is reinforced by the Associated Press Stylebook, which I cit here because this is primarily a discussion about usage in reporting. I quote from the 1992 edition because I do not yet own the latest edition:

    {Historically, evangelical was used as an adjective describing dedication to conveying the message of Christ. Today it also is used as a noun, referring to a category of doctrinally conservative Christians. They emphasize the need for a definite, adult commitment or conversion to faith in Christ and the duty of all believers to persuade others to accept Christ.

    Evangelicals make up some conservative denominations and are numerous in broader denominations. Evangelicals stress both *doctrinal absolutes* (emphasis mine) and vigorous efforts to win others to belief.}

    ° I once wrote about the National Black Evangelical Association, but I can find no Internet presence for it. I would love to know if Rev. Ike is a member.

    ° Rev. Ike appears nowhere in the 789-page “Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals” — http://smallurl.com?i=19960 — which does include listings for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Azusa Street Mission, the Church of God in Christ, the Free African Society and, incidentally, Oral Roberts. There is a vigorous evangelical critique of prosperity theology, best expressed in “A Different Gospel: Biblical and Historical Insights into the Word of Faith Movement” — http://smallurl.com?i=19959 — by D.R. McConnell. I suggest that prosperity theology puts its champions in conflict not only with evangelical theology but even with “mere Christianity.”

    ° If it’s circular logic to say an evangelical would not teach, contra Scripture, that “the lack of money is the root of all evil,” I plead guilty to circular logic.

  • S. Andrews

    My email sent directly to you (at engt1@aol.com) came back “user unknown.”

    I commend you for speaking out against the ministry of Creflo Dollar. In 2001 God opened the eyes of husband and myself to the heresy of word-faith/prosperity theology, and subsequently we left a church that practically worships Mr. Dollar.

    Is your son still music coordinator with World Changers? How does he feel about your publicizing his name and findings?

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    S. Andrews raised good concerns about the comments from Edna.

    Edna, if you’re reading this, please send email to me at dlleblanc –at– spamcop.net. I am concerned about listing your son’s home and work phone numbers if he is, as you say, afraid to come forward publicly with his concerns. I am further concerned that the email address you left returned to S. Andrews as “user unknown.”

    I have removed your post until I can discuss this matter with you. I have saved it as a Word file in case I agree to have it appear here again.

  • Deanna Lynn

    As far as evangilistic I think that Rev. Ike and others who follow his lead in suckering money from people who honestly have no money is just wrong.I personally was looking for help anywhere that I could find it, My husband and I were in desperate need of help and had tried for financial help from local government and made only $3.00 TOO MUCH to qualify!!!! So I was looking for help, I have been to many different churches in my life and have sat in many denominations, My own parents are registered Evangilist, but there not money seeking, they dont charge for going to preach Gods word nor for there music ministry.However alot of the time they do recieve a love offerering usually about 30 to 100 dollars which is used for the ministry and nothing else, they dont even use the ministry account for clothing to wear in the ministry as some do…My point is this, I had written to Rev. Ike and told him of my husband and I, and our financial burdens and even sent bills to him as proof of the help we needed and what did I recieve???NOTHING, instead he sent me a letter ( aform letter about how GOD Would bless me if I sent my donation to REV> IKE) anyway I wrote him another letter and aked him if he was a man of GOD or a man of GOLD???? I received no reply to that..Anyway I think that anyone who thinks that sending in money to TV evangelists should actually listen to a song by: RAY STEVENS,called Would JESUS wear a Rolex? or something like that, it is very apt and totally pertains to the man of GOD or man of GOLD SINdrom.If any one reads this please I beg of you, listen to the song,it will put things in perspectibve for you and make you greatly enlightened on the matter.”Would he wear a pinky ring, would he drive a fancy car, would his wife have furs and diamonds,would his dressing room have a star,if he came back tommorrow, theres somethiong Id like to know, would JESUS wear a rolex on his television show???) Its a really revealing song, check it out. Thank you and GOD BLESS!


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