Gospel of Enticements

Photo source: Cathollic Herald UK

 

 

Varghese Pamplanil

 

Introduction

On 13th August 2020, CCV published an article captioned Gospel of Prosperity or of Poverty of the Crucified?  It is the article that had appeared as How Catholics are falling for the Prosperity Gospel in the Catholic Herald U.K. on 29 November 2018. The article exhibited the dread of the Catholic Church of the exodus of African Catholics to the “Prosperity Gospel” purveyors. Why this wailing and beating of the chest by the Church received the belated attention of CCV now is not clear.

 

The origins of Charismatic Movement and its offshoots

Charismatic Movement  is the adoption of the  beliefs and practices similar to Pentecostalism by mainstream Christian Churches. Fundamental to Pentecostalism and its progeny, Charismatic Movement is the utilisation of spiritual gifts (charismata)  believed to be conferred by the Holy Spirit.  

Among mainline Protestants, the movement began to take hold  around 1960; the Roman  Catholic Church gravitated towards the movement around 1960.

The parentage  of Pentecostalism is attributed to Charles F. Parham, William Joseph Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival. The underpinning of the doctrine is the dramatic encounter with God, termed baptism with the Holy Spirit. The evidence for having received this experience was interpreted as “speaking in tongues. This thinking is also linked to the “healing revivals” that happened between 1946 and 1958. The revivalists of the time: Oral Roberts, William Branham and A. A. Allen held large inter-denominational meetings which emphasised the “gifts of the spirit”.

The beginning of Charismatic Movement is usually dated to Sunday 3 April 1960, when Dennis J. Bennet, rector of St. Mark’s Church in Van Nuys, California recounted his Pentecostal experiences to his parishioners: he repeated them  in the following Sundays including Easter Sunday, April 17. Other clergy climbed into the bandwagon; started holding meetings for seekers of healing services that included praying over the sick and anointing them. The Catholic Charismatic Movement began in 1967 at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

 

C. Peter Wagner traces the spread of the Charismatic Movement within evangelism to around 1985 and named it, “The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit”.

1 Corinthians 12:8-10, lists nine special gifts of the Holy Spirit: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, identification of spirits, speaking in different tongues (talking in languages) and the interpretation of tongues.

Almost all denominations Christianity have been affected by the charismatic affliction; Anglicanism, Evangelicalism, Lutheranism, Methodism, Calvinism, Adventism and Roman Catholicism.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the movement became particularly popular among Filipinos, Koreans and Hispanic communities of the U.S. as well as Philippines and Latin America, mainly Brazil.

 

The Prosperity Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel (also known as “health and wealth gospel”) or its popular brand, the “Word of Faith” is a perverted movement that claims that God would give more rewards to those with more faith in the form of wealth and other material things.

Stephen Hunt explains this doctrine as “divine” gift of physical health and prosperity through faith. In short, automatic “health and wealth”  a divine gift to all Bible believing Christians; procreated by faith as part and parcel of the “package of salvation”’. The Atonement of Christ is projected to include, not just the removal of sin, but also the eradication of sickness and poverty.

David W. Jones summarises the errors of prosperity gospel teachings thus: at the bottom, it is a false gospel because of its faulty view of the relationship between God and man. Simply put, if the prosperity gospel is true, grace is obsolete; God is irrelevant; atonement, faith or prayer is meaningless. Prosperity teacher turns the relationship between God and man into a “quid pro quo transaction .”

 

Spread of Pandemic Prosperity Gospel

Oral Roberts, the faith-healing evangelist, is considered the father of modern prosperity gospel teaching. At the height of his influence, he earned a whopping $110 million annual revenue through his Oral Roberts University (ORU).

Kenneth Copeland, Robert’s student at ORU, and his pilot and chauffeur became one of the notorious (and wealthiest) of prosperity preachers. Others of the genre in U.S. are: Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, late Kenneth E.  Hagin, Robert Tilton, late T.L Osborn and the late Rev. Ike.

In 2007 US Senator Chuck Grassley opened an investigation into the murky finances of six prosperity theology televangelism ministries : Ministries of Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Bishop Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer and Paula White. But being sacred religious cows with enormous political influence they escaped punishment.

The shocking net worth of the top five prosperity gospel preachers in U.S.

Kenneth Copeland: Net worth reported to be over $ 750 million.

The ministry of Copeland – a convert to Christianity – is located on a 1500 acre campus near Fort Worth, Texas with a private airstrip and hanger for a $ 17.5 million aircraft; he lives in a $6.3 million lake front mansion.

Pat Robertson: Net worth $ 100 million.

A former marine, founder CEO and chancellor of Regent University; he floated the Christian Right organisation —Christian Coalition; also founder of a Christian Broadcasting Network that beams  to 170 countries in 71 languages.

Benny Hinn: Net worth $60 million

Israel born “Miracle Crusader, Faith healer, lives in Texas. His followers believe that he can heal all ailments. There was Senate investigation but he was cleared.

Joel Osteen: Net worth $ 40 million

The attendance in his Houston church is around 54,000; 7 million people watch his broadcasts in 100 countries. The IRS raided this pastor’s headquarters.

Creflo Dollar: Net worth $ 27 million

He has been criticised for his opulent lifestyle and possessions: two Rolls Royce cars, a private jet and million dollar home in Atlanta. He replaced his damaged aircraft after being run off the runway by a new jet through donations.

The Latin American Scenario

Tens of millions of Latin Americans have left the Roman Catholic Church in recent decades and embraced Pentecostal Christianity. A new PEW Centre research survey of 18 Latin American countries and Puerto Rico disclosed that nearly one in five Latin Americans, now describe themselves as Pentecostalists giving emphasis to  the “gifts of the Holy Spirit" speaking in tongues,faith healing and prophesying.

According to Andrew Chestnut, Professor of Religious Studies-Virginia Commonwealth University,  the reason for the phenomenon is the successful absorption of Latin American native culture by Pentecostalists; their adoption of the rhythm of the local music the ordinary people are accustomed to by the Pentecostal churches. Pentecostalism has converted itself as an indigenous or “Latin Americanised” to a very large extent. During its existence for four centuries in the region, the Roman Catholic Church could make only tardy progress in this regard. At the time of crisis of health due to sickness, faith healings of Pentecostalism becomes attractive. Unlettered Pentecostal preachers talk and behave like the common folk of the region. In Guatemala many of its preachers are of Mayan origin while the Catholic priests are from the elites, white or mestizo or from Europe.

Historically Pentecostalism has appealed to the poor and those in the margins of society. The deprived are attracted to prosperity theology in the hope of moving up regardless of their station. People are brainwashed that with sufficient faith and active petition to God, things they lack will be theirs eventually. This is very powerful message which resonates well with those who have very little. Pentecostalism also promotes healthy life style; serves as detox centres for Latin Americans addicted to hard drinking or gambling or womanising. Amazon lepers, poor indigenous people, former slaves too flocked to Pentecostal faith healers. Roman Catholicism’s focus is on the middle class and the elite with funds to spare.

 

PEW Forum findings

Recently PEW Forum on Religion & Public Life, supported by Templeton Foundation, conducted surveys in 10 countries: U.S., Brazil, Chile and Guatemala in Latin America; Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa in Africa; India, South Korea and Philippines in Asia.

The surveys disclose that the size and composition of the renewalist population varies substantially from country to country ranging from a low of 5% in India to the high of 60% in Guatemala. Pentecostals are concentrated more in Latin America and Africa (9% of the population in Chile and more than 50%in Kenya and Nigeria are Pentecostalists).

 

Filthy rich prosperity preachers of Latin America (Source: Anderson Antunes’ article in  Forbes magazine,7 years ago )

Religion has always been a profitable business. And if one happens to be a Brazilian evangelical preacher, chances of hitting a heavenly jackpot are much higher. Evangelicals proclaim the prosperity theology of tangible and visible material progress during one’s life here on Earth out of God’s favour vis-a-vis the focus of heavenly happiness, after death, preached by Catholicism.

 

“Bishop” (?) Edir Macedo. Net worth estimated at  $ 950 million or more – 9 years ago.

This founder and leader of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God with temples in the U.S. Despite being accused of siphoning off billions of dollars intended for charity and laundering of money; jailed for 11 days, he has managed to keep his followers with him. Macedo was also investigated by the US authorities. He is the owner of Rede Record a recording company; the newspaper – Folha Universal, with a circulation of over 2.5 million; a music label company – Record News; state-of-art properties and a Bombardier Global Express XRS private jet.

Valdemiro Santiago: Net worth estimated at $ 220 million.

After parting with Macedo, he started the World Church of the Power of God having 900,000 followers and over 4,000 temples, owns a private jet worth $ 45 million, similar to that of Macedo.

Silas Malafaia: Net worth $150 million (2011).

The former leader of the Brazilian arm of the Assembly of God, Brazil’s biggest Pentecostal church, he started the Assembly of God-Victory In Christ Church. He is anti-gay and active in Twitter with a following of 440,000. He owns record companies and publishing company – Central Gospel.

Romildo Riberio Soares a.k.a R. R. Soares: Net worth $ 125 million.

Singer, composer and evangelist, founder of the Inter-national Church of the Grace of God, former member of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and a regular face in the Brazilian TV.

Estevam Hernades Filho and his wife “Bishop”(?) Sonia: Combined net worth $ 65 million.

Founders of the Reborn-in-Christ Church and they oversee more than 1,000 churches in Brazil and abroad including Florida; arrested in Miami for carrying more than $56,000 in undeclared cash stuffed between pages of Bibles, by US custom agencies. They are under investigation for a number of crimes.

Becoming an evangelical preacher in Brazil is the dream of many young people across the country. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God trains pastors for a meagre $ 350. Malafia pays up to $ 11,000 to some of top-notch pastors.

As the Bible says faith moves mountains; and money too; the enormous assets of the proponents would indicate.

 

The Paradox of Africa

Over the last few decades, the African churches have been significantly exposed to Prosperity Gospel.

The sub-Saharan Africa presents the paradox of the twin realities of extreme poverty and the rapid growth of charismatic Pentecostal Christianity with emphasis on prosperity. The poor are cynically hoodwinked by the clever charlatans with the promise of material prosperity. For critical minds, prosperity doctrine is a delusion.

Lovemore Tograsel of University of Botswana says: with the explosion of market capitalism, the noble veil of poverty was torn. In the developing regions of sub-Saharan Africa, religion is considered as the tool to improve the subjective wellbeing of the poor.

The prosperity gospel is mainly inspired by the biblical scriptures of 3 John 2 that declares: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in good health, even as thy soul prospers”. Pentecostal preachers promise a God who can deliver the poor from the spirit of poverty and bring them wealth and health. But these can only be precipitated through monetary offerings to God; give, in order to receive more, the necessary component of faith.

African Pentecostalism has indigenous roots;  nevertheless benefited from outside spiritual flows and interventions. The 1970’s are regarded as the period of spiritual renewal in Africa from which modern African Pentecostalism has developed. Pentecostal churches address the spiritual needs of the people – the economic and social needs – through the prosperity theology. Faith gospel greatly appeals and is of relevance to the suffering poor and the marginalised and those in the grip of Satan, evil spirits, witchcraft, and barrenness.

In the poor African context of Zimbabwe, there is an observable linkage between decline of national economy and the growth of Christian ministries promising economic survival of the disadvantaged population. The tragedy in the offing might be that the Pentecostal Pied Pipers would lead the poor to their financial doom by divesting them of their merge resources.

The Catholic Herald articles says that Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, South Africa and Uganda are the African countries under the grip of the pandemic prosperity gospel.

The  richest pastors in Nigeria. (Source Mfonobong Nsehe — Nine year old article in Forbes magazine).

God is good especially, if one is a business savvy Nigerian pastor. These days millions of souls, desperate for financial breakthroughs, miracles and healing flock o the purveyors of prosperity gospel. They all mill around charlatans and fraudsters for redemption – spiritual and physical. While the Bible expressly states that salvation is free, in the socially and financially backward societies, it comes with a cost: gifts, tithes and offerings to spiritual leaders, it also involves buying of literature and other products of god-men.

Pastors and preachers are no longer solely interested in putting people in Heaven; they have devised intelligent and clever ways to make lots and lots of money in the guise of saving the souls.

Many Nigerian pastors are building multimillion dollar empires through their churches. Today they fly around in private jets, drive fancy cars like Daimlers, Porsches and BMWs, don highly expensive Rolexes and Patek Philips and own breath taking mansions around the world.

Bishop David Oyedepo. The wealthiest African preacher – net worth $150 million 9 years ago

Affiliation: Living Faith World Outreach Ministry aka Winners Chapel; estimated net worth: $150 million is the wealthiest preacher in Nigeria. The Faith Tabernacle, where he hosts three services every Sunday, is Africa’s largest worship centre with a seating capacity of 50,000. Oyedepo owns four private jets, homes in London and U. S. He also owns thriving “Dominion Publishing House” and is the foundered and owns Covenant University, one of leading tertiary institutions and Faith Academy, an elite high school.

Chris  Oyakhilome – Net worth $ 50 million – nine years ago.

Church: Believers’ Loveworld Ministries a.k.a. Christ Embassy. The church boasts of more than 40,000 members, several of whom are successful business executives and influential politicians. His thriving congregation has branches in Nigeria, South Africa, London, Canada and the U. S. His company Loveworld Publication brings out “Rhapsody of Realities” co-authored with his wife and sells over 2 millions month at $. 1 apiece. Oyakhilome has other diversified interests, including news papers, magazines, record label satellite TV, hotels and extensive real estate. His Love World TV is the first net work to broadcast from Africa to the rest of the world 24/7.

Last year he was accused of money laundering by siphoning off church funds and parking them in foreign banks. But he escaped punishment; could be due to his powerful connections.

Temitope Joshua Net worth $ 10 million

Nigeria’s most controversial clergyman heading Synagogue Church of all Nations and claiming powers to heal all sorts of diseases: HIV/AIDS, cancer and paralysis. His church has branches in Ghana, U. K., South Africa and Greece . He owns Emanuel T.V.

The Indian Scenario

Prosperity  theology, the engine that powers the health and wealth gospel across the globe is nothing new to India, at least not in some prosperous pockets of Kerala. Charismatic  centres have mushroomed all across the state with the tacit support of  the  Kerala Church. Evangelical  clerics have spawned programmes such as “Abisheka Agni” and other circuses and gimmicks. Some recommend even eating news papers published by them as cure for all sorts of illnesses. Some claim seeing Christ’s statues oozing blood; others claim to have witnessed Mary statues shedding tears. At least a few charismatic retreat centres have become dens of former traffickers of women bootleggers, drunkards and other worst specimens of humanity. These people are taken care of financially and otherwise. They are sent out as witnesses to the Word of God, whatever it means, with handsome monetary inducements. At each and every session of preaching, these charlatans bamboozle the congregation in paying 10% of their gross income as tithes. Guilt, gore and sin are the favoured merchandise. False witnesses are paraded to fool the gullible.

High profile peddlers of charismatic/ prosperity gospel in India

K.P.Yohnnan: Net worth $175 million in 2013

Yohannan, born in 1950 in Kerala, India is the founder of Gospel of Asia and Believers Eastern Church; now settled in Fort Worth,Texas. He and his family members run the second largest Christian mission agency in the U.S. which has branches in Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Laos and Thailand.

The operations of the Gospel of Asia and Believers Church came into negative focus after the outfit purchased a 2268 acre government leased rubber estate from Harrison Malayalam at Cheruvally, Kerala. The land is now proposed for the construction of an airport mostly for the benefit of the pilgrims to Sabarimala, a well-known Hindu hill shrine. The matter is enmeshed in legal tangle.

In August 2013, the Kerala police, arrested the brother of Yohannan for running a racket in defunct currencies –  Yugoslavian dinars.

In February 2016, law suits were filed in the Western District Court,Arkansas, US, alleging that Yohannan fraudulently diverted to his kitty, funds collected in the name of charity – over $ 170 million dollars. These RICO anti-fraud law suits were settled after three years of arbitration with Yohannan giving undertaking that the funds collected would be utilised solely for the designated purposes.

D. G. S. Dhinakaran (1935-2008)

Founder of Jesus Calls Ministry in 1962 had established 20 bases in India and abroad by the time of his death.

Allen Anderson, an academic specialising in studies of Pentecostalism, sees similarities between Dhinakarn’s efforts and those of Oral Roberts especially in the establishment of Karunya University. Dhinakaran noticed the potential of television as a medium for evangelism and he followed the US pattern. He specialised in broadcasting a heady mixture of sermons and songs in the vernacular language, Tamil. He built a massive prayer tower in Chennai.

Paul Dhinakaran: Net worth $700 million

The son and successor of D. G. S. Dhinakaran, is the current Chancellor and owner of Karunya Institute of Technology and operates  evangelical television channel, Rainbow TV. He is an MBA and Ph. D. holder in marketing.

In November 2017, Karunya Institute of Technology was ordered to close its two off-campus centres in Tamil Nadu which were opened without permission leaving 750 of its students in the lurch.

Divine Retreat Centre, Muringoor, Kerala: Net worth not available.

Started by Mathew Naickomparambil V.C. and  inaugurated in 1987. But from the 1950s the renewal movement of the Vincentian Congregation of India was in existence.

The centre has been involved in controversies since 2006 such as alleged incidents of rape, suspected murder, financial irregularities including violation of foreign exchange and wrongful inclusion of its inmates in electoral list. As many as 974 persons are reported to have died at the centre under suspicious circumstances; the dead bodies were disposed of without investigation. Other misdemeanours include running of medical facilities without licence or statutory clearance, unauthorised administration of psychotropic drugs, forced confinement of inmates, receiving financial favours from government etc. The centre could extricate itself, reported to bedue to the high influence of Syro-Malabar Church bishops with the political establishment.

Xavier Khan Vattayil:  Net worth a mystery

Founder director of Sehion Retreat Centre in Palakkad,Kerala. He is very active in the television media.

He is reported to be a clever operator inculcating a sense of guilt and sin into the minds of his listeners; his extreme greediness shown in the demanding of tithe from participants of his programmes. Vattayil is reported to be very rich.

SUMMATION

Prosperity gospel – the promise of abundant wealth as a sign of God’s blessing – is one of the most prominent hallmarks of charismatic Christianity in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. In many of the mega churches of the Movement spread all over the world, pastors preach health and wealth gospel; they promise material wealth to congregants as a sign of God’s blessing and strongly encourage members to give generously to the church. Many prosperity pastors  themselves are illustrations of what they preach, living in opulent mansions, driving luxury cars and some even having private airports and jets. People flock to the prosperity churches in search of health and wealth. There are cases of prosperity preachers being accused of fraud and chicanery.

The social science literature on charismatic Christianity points out that the movement hinder development by ignoring individual responsibility and  social structures in alleviating poverty and unequal access to material wealth.

The central features of prosperity gospel are the claims that this-worldly success and material riches are signs of God’s blessing and  enacted through ritual practices such as giving offerings and tithes and pastors praying for  blessings of God. The fundamental idea of the prosperity gospel is “sowing and reaping”; sowing offerings and tithes in order to reap harvests.

Every miracle grows from a seed – at least that’s the main tenet of the “prosperity gospel”. A believer seeking God’s help should first consider which seed is the most likely to produce the hoped-for crop,says Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of Nigeria. According to him someone who is in dire financial straits or is praying for a miraculous recovery from a disease must sow this “precious” seed: the seed for this pastor is money.

“All giving is a demonstration of our faith in God and his word” he says. To the believers who give generously, the preachers of the prosperity gospel promise wealth, health and good luck. Those who a lot will reap even more later, they vehemently insist.

Using faith for money-making is an age old tradition. Five hundred years ago the Pope allowed sinners to redeem themselves by buying so-called “indulgences”. The money was then channelled to Rome”. This is con game that gave birth to the Reformation of 1517 by Martin Luther and the eventual founding of Protestantism. What appalled Luther, the Augustinian monk from Germany, during his visit to the Vatican was the opulent lifestyle of the pope and the all-round moral degradation of Vatican.

In Latin and North America as well as in Asia and Europe, there are prophets and apostles who trade salvation for cash. This brand of Christianity has elements of shamanism.

The gospel of prosperity seems to appeal to the low educated, economically deprived desperate people easily susceptible to the enticing life dangled before them. Rational behaviour could be scarce among such people. 

The Catholic Church seems to be in a Catch 22 situation; the bishops and others at the top echelons of the ecclesiastical hierarchy seem to be reluctant to forgo their political clout, luxurious life and walk with the ordinary members of the Church. How can they let go of their expensive top end cars, get out of their mansions and walk with the ordinary members of the church? For them the ill-clad Nazarene who kept company with the riff-raff is not the model. How can they stop fleecing the “sheep"?

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