The Prosperity Gospel

Paul and Jan Crouch

Rod Dreher has two posts commenting on the extravagant lifestyle of America’s prosperity preachers. This one reports on the death of Paul Crouch–the founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Mr. and Mrs. Crouch have his-and-her mansions one street apart in a gated community here, provided by the network using viewer donations and tax-free earnings. But Mrs. Crouch, 74, rarely sleeps in the $5.6 million house with tennis court and pool. She mostly lives in a large company house near Orlando, Fla., where she runs a side business, the Holy Land Experience theme park. Mr. Crouch, 78, has an adjacent home there too, but rarely visits. Its occupant is often a security guard who doubles as Mrs. Crouch’s chauffeur.

Dreher observes that Mrs.Crouch has told employees, “Nobody has said ‘no’ to me for thirty years and I’m not about to start now.” He portrays the Crouch family as totally unashamed of their palatial lifestyle. The only objection I have to Dreher’s article is that he compares Paul Crouch to the pope. I’ve observed before that the opulence of the American prosperity preachers are papal in their pretensions only if you compare them to the Borgia popes. Would that Mr Crouch, Osteen and the others were papal like Francis is papal.

In this post Rod contemplates the worship and life style of Ed Young–pastor of a Dallas megachurch. He quotes another article describing the worship at Fellowship Church.

The screen darkens. A video with better special effects than most Syfy channel shows begins. It depicts a set of bones magically being enveloped in tendons, then flesh, then skin, until a whole man — naked and ripped, but shown in chaste tight shots — stands upright. Music swells. Cross-dissolve. Ed Young is now on-screen, live, at the Grapevine church, flanked by two medical-supply skeletons. The hashtag for today’s sermon and the handles of Ed’s Twitter and Instagram accounts remain posted in the screen’s lower corner. Want to accept Christ into your life at the end of the service? Hit #32898 on your smartphone and ushers will assist. Young wears a black hoodie with shiny zippers, snug rust-colored pants and chunky lace-up black boots. Later that morning, for the 11:30 service at the mother church, he will don a new outfit: blue oxford button-down, plaid vest, jeans cuffed at the ankles and wingtips with no socks. (One of Young’s side projects is a blog he started, called pastorfashion.com.)

You can read Rod’s whole article here with lots of links to further articles. Dreher is obviously displeased with this manifestation of American Christianity. Can it even be called Christianity anymore? I’m aware that Protestants of a primitivist/restorationist tendency will say, “Geesh, that’s rich coming from you Catholics. How much does the Catholic Church with the Vatican, the grand churches, the Roman Imperial legacy, the episcopal palaces and “Princes of the Church” have to do with the religion of a hillbilly preacher from a Galilean podunck town who was crucified for making trouble?

Okay, okay. But at least we have a the cultural argument: we did it all for the glory of God. The prosperity preachers don’t even attempt the jump. Yes we have apostolic palaces but we also have humble rectories in the bad part of town. We have cathedrals but we also have ramshackle churches in favelas in Brazil. We have Michelangelo and Raphael but we also have tacky madonnas and simple devotions of peasants.

Is the prosperity gospel still Christianity? It seems so detached from authentic classic historic Christianity as to be unrecognizable. But who am I to judge the separated brethren except to observe that they seem to be so separated as to no longer be brethren. Where is the boundary line? When is someone no longer part of the Christian clan?

I’ll let other people answer the question and with a shrug and a bemused exasperation maintain a benign agnosticism…and a benevolent distance.

 

 

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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