“Silver and Gold I have. . .” so said the televangelist to applause so overwhelming, he repeated the phrase. This made me shudder.
The phrase is a twist on the Biblical passage where a man who is lame confronts Saint Peter in front of the Temple. The Apostle has no money, but he does grant healing: “But Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” The Apostles had been commanded by the Lord Jesus during one mission to live simply. From the Old Testament prophets (and Law) to the Book of Revelation, God hates injustice to the poor. Take any passage where God judges the rulers of His nation and condemnations for social injustice will outweigh all the rest of the problems. God hates oppression, systems that oppress, and will end history with judgment to those who oppress the poor. The televangelist was (almost) surely running a con to make money on poor people. He was teaching a gospel without a cross, see Saint Paul’s thorn in the flesh and sufferings, and with magical “solutions” to poverty. “Give” so “you can get” twists the Biblical teaching.
That’s obvious and in the circles where I now live is a commonplace critique. If your pastor thinks God wants him to own a private jet, he almost surely is both a heretic and a grifter. Read the 990 for a prosperity gospel charity. Check the salaries and the “expenses.” If they are not required to file one as a church, then ask the salaries of the leadership and paid expenses. If they will not tell you, do not give money. This is a big problem, but after having all those thoughts, the Socratic questions began.
Why were the people applauding?
What about the decent people in the audience? What were they hearing? Were they really such dupes? Didn’t anyone see the obvious problems?
I had to repent my haste.
The audience had grown up in an era where pastors made the opposite mistake from the one made by the televangelist.
Poverty was praised as poverty. The poor are not poor due to vice anymore than the rich are all rich due to vice, but then the poor are not all poor due to virtue anymore than the rich are all rich due to virtue! Poverty is grinding and extreme poverty comes with a great human cost. Nobody should wish to be poor. This is wholly different than living simply, God’s command to many of His ministers. Simplicity has food to eat, some clothes to wear, and dignity. Poverty, at least extreme poverty, can strip a man of all the external trappings of dignity all men deserve. The folk in the audience knew that generally, in a just society, good deeds, living justly and working hard, should lead to a dignified and human life. Prosperity should follow virtue or there is something wrong with a society!
Folk I know tempted by the “prosperity gospel” also have known pastors who hated beautiful things. Only the “worldly people” could appreciate or be patrons of great art or culture. Christians could not fund or approve of great beauty. This is, of course, the error of Judas Iscariot. He pretended to wish all the money “wasted” on beauty be given to the poor. In reality, he wished to steal the money. Art, literature, and beauty should not be exclusive to the rich, but supported so all of us can thrive. Artists, like those God anointed to build the tabernacle, require “silver and gold” in order to help all of us.Take away the cathedrals and the rich will find a place to use and “own” art, but the public space for all of God’s children to enjoy lasting beauty will be gone. The televangelist’s problem is not that they build expensive things, but that they build them for themselves, have diabolical taste, and waste so much of the money they are given. We need great universities, patrons of paintings, backers for alternative films, and educational institutions who will train apprentices in how to do all these tasks properly.
Beauty starved people were applauding because they did see some good being done with their funds: a college for their grandchildren, programming they enjoyed watching. If too much was wasted, they did not know this fact. That bad theology, the opposite of the old error, was also creeping into the church and there was blame to go around. Too often critics of these preachers sat in “blue state” enclaves where all their tastes and preferences were satisfied by patrons of the arts, by builders of cathedrals in previous centuries, and sheer snobbery tainted the truth of the critique.
The “friends of the poor” too often are like the Bolshevik, talking justice, but giving us ugly state art, taking our liberty, and making sure they always have poor to help. We live in grinding poverty while they live well. The gap between the lifestyle of the “rulers” and the “workers” is not so great as there is less of everything, quality is negligible. The lies, that someday will do better in the Soviet by and by, are the same as the preachers who put off justice, beauty, and goodness for heaven.
The prosperity preachers are like the lying “capitalists” who promise we can all be rich as they are if we just do . . . whatever list of things that end up making them rich and leaving us with little. West Virginia has seen all these lies before now. At least the “capitalists” and the prosperity preachers are honest grifters and the crumbs they leave us are better quality and tastier leavings.
Against this must be the beloved community that does not covet another man’s wealth, yet will not tolerate injustice to the poor. When a man goes to court, he should receive equal justice under the law regardless of wealth. All should be able to live in dignity, even if all do not have equal amounts of money and power.
The perfect community will not exist this side of Paradise, but that does not mean we should not avoid obvious errors and seek plain good deeds. The grifter who said “silver and gold I have” was playing on truth, but twisting that truth. The Bolshevik who promises justice and an end to inequality sees something good, but in a distorted way. We can and should reject all the lies we can and live by truth, supporting beauty for all, and doing good to all we can.
Death to the prosperity Gospel.
Life to the Gospel and genuine prosperity!