Pope Francis and the Prosperity Gospel

Pope Francis extends his ecumenism to a minister many consider to be a prosperity gospel peddler and Christian pariah.

The pope shouldn’t have spoken to Kenneth Copeland. The televangelist from Texas represents, for many, everything that is wrong with American Christianity. Copeland preaches the gospel of prosperity, considered by many Christians to be a heresy that promises God’s material blessings for the faithful. The children of God, this line of thought proposes, ought to receive worldly benefits because of their membership in God’s family. This theology sees religious belief as a quid-pro-quo relationship with God: if I am faithful to God, God will be faithful to me. If I pray enough, serve enough, and give enough, God will reciprocate. Belief leads to prosperity. Religion is the key to success.

To many, Copeland is a conniving false prophet who promises the poor success in exchange for their tithes that go to line his own pocketbook.

A brief survey of the books on the Kenneth Copeland Ministries website shows how pervasive this ideology is there. With titles such as “God’s Will is Prosperity” and “How to Believe God for a House,” the gospel of prosperity permeates Copeland’s reading list. However dubious its efficacy in the lives of everyday believers, the prosperity gospel seems to be working quite well for Copeland. It is no secret that the televangelist and his wife have benefitted greatly from their worldwide ministry’s $6 million estate, private airport, and lavish salaries.

For many Christians, Copeland’s teaching represents a false gospel. Grace is a gift from God, they say, that we can’t earn. Obedience and service to God in no way obligate God to give us houses or health or good relationships. As a believer, I am not promised blessings in this life, but the joys of relationship with God and heaven in the life to come. The death of Jesus Christ and the persecutions suffered by many of his most devout followers prove that Christianity is anything but a ticket to worldly success. Furthermore, Christ’s recurring teaching in the Gospels privileges the poor and suffering in their relationship with God while condemning those rich and powerful who hoard material goods.

Perhaps most damning for Copeland is the accusation that he has accumulated so much wealth by taking advantage of his followers. To many, Copeland is a conniving false prophet who promises the poor success in exchange for their tithes that go to line his own pocketbook.

Kenneth Copeland is for many American Christians a pariah and danger to the integrity of their faith. Much like Judas, they believe, Copeland betrays Christ for material gain. He sullies belief and blasphemes God’s good name. In light of these conceptions, we imagine that Copeland’s ministry would be especially repugnant to Pope Francis, who has built up his papacy opposing ostentatious religion, the unjust distribution of wealth, and spiritual corruption. If we follow Francis’s teaching, Copeland is no friend of Christianity, and certainly no friend of the pope.

For all these reasons, Pope Francis’s recent warm greeting to the televangelist is perplexing. “I am speaking to you,” he addressed Copeland, “as a brother. I speak to you in a simple way. With joy and nostalgia (yearning). Let us allow our nostalgia (yearning) to grow, because this will propel us to find each other, to embrace one another.”

Perhaps most surprising is that Francis openly acknowledges Copeland’s Christian faith. The Holy Father does not berate the televangelist for preaching a false gospel, but praises Copeland and his followers as they “come together to worship Jesus Christ, the only Lord. And to pray to the Father and to receive the Holy Spirit.” Francis recognizes and takes joy in God’s work through Copeland’s ministry, finding in the wealthy preacher from Texas a fellow believer and co-worker in the kingdom of God.

Was Pope Francis being naïve when he addressed Copeland’s ministry? Was he unaware of how destructive the televangelist’s gospel of prosperity is in the United States and around the world? As the recent Archbishop of Buenos Aires, it is highly unlikely that Francis was unaware of the dangers of Copeland’s ideology. Latin American Christianity has been flooded in recent decades with the prosperity gospel. Books and CDs promising health and wealth through religion pervade Christian media there, while new religious movements offer the hope of escape from widespread economic difficulties. Francis was well aware of the prosperity gospel’s explosive influence during his tenure as archbishop. He knew, I believe, the ones whom he was addressing when he recorded a greeting for Kenneth Copeland Ministries.

Indeed, the pope knew that he was speaking to a group of Christians often excluded and perjured by other Christians. He was reaching out to a leader who has been accused of corruption and ill-gained profits. He was calling someone a brother whom many have called a fraud. Pope Francis chose to highlight the good in Copeland’s ministry and to focus on their shared faith. He chose to extend a hand of Christian fellowship rather than preach words of exclusionary condemnation.

Pope Francis has once more surprised us with his inclusive vision of Christian faith. Through his greeting to Kenneth Copeland Ministries he has challenged all Christians to look beyond established divisions to recognize the good in places where we have long sought to obscure it. Through his blessing on Kenneth Copeland Ministries, the pope has opened Christianity up to a radical form of reconciliation that overcomes all the boundaries Christians have set up.

Once more, the pope models the reconciling love of Christ that called a tax collector like Matthew to life-changing discipleship, beckoned the outcast Zaccheus from the margins of society to table fellowship with the Lord, accepted blessings from prostitutes, and associated with those considered unclean or sinful by the rest of society. This inclusive Christianity, patterned after Christ, is founded in love, described by Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 as patient and kind, adding, “It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (niv). Christian love finds opportunity for spiritual growth where others see moral failings. It seeks understanding and fellowship where others exclude and condemn.

In spite of what many perceive as Copeland’s personal and theological failings, the pope, like Christ, reaches out to love what many consider un-loveable. He fellowships with those whom the world—especially some in the Christian world—despises. Francis’s actions call believers to participate in God’s mission to “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:10 niv) however badly it might appear to others. Pope Francis sets an example for all Christians to share in the reconciliation and love of God’s ministry to the world.

This love, strangely enough, extends even to televangelists and those on the margins of more socially-acceptable Christianity. It should be the desire of all believers to contribute to the unity of Christ’s body, no matter how far apart they may be ideologically or spiritually. In the words of Francis, “let us all pray to the Lord that he unites us all. Come on, we are brothers. Let’s give each other a spiritual hug and let God complete the work that he has begun. And this is a miracle; the miracle of unity has begun.”

 

Image courtesy of Kenneth Copeland Ministries.

Jason Steidl
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  • Savio D’Souza

    Who Am I to JUDGE???

    • Rational Conclusions

      We judge everyday as noted by our court systems etc.

  • Rational Conclusions

    The author might want to consider a different academic career considering the following:

    To all the misguided “believers” out there, your salvation is at hand:

    Tis mind boggling that your religions can be brought down to earth in less than ten seconds. With this in mind should not the moderators of this blog and their buddy Stevie P be looking for new jobs?

    Again for the new members:

    To wit:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e. the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

    • James H, London

      And as usual, a village atheist rocks up to make his faith statements. He then disappears, presumably to ask his Mum if his Time-out is over and he can come out of his room.

      • Rational Conclusions

        Obviously, the truth about religion is not yet acceptable to some. As noted, added details to support my conclusions are available.

        • saneandreasonable

          Your conclusion are hog wash. Go take a hike on some other website and peddle your nonsense. Jesus rose again. Believe it ! And your life will be fulfilled.

          • Rational Conclusions

            Saving Christians from the Resurrection Con Game:

            From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

            Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

            To wit;

            From a major Catholic university’s theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

            “Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
            Jesus and Mary’s bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

            Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

            Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus’ crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary’s corpse) into heaven did not take place.

            The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

            Only Luke’s Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus’ mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus’ followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary’s special role as “Christ bearer” (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus’ Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary’s assumption also shows God’s positive regard, not only for Christ’s male body, but also for female bodies.” ”

            “In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him.”

            With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

            o An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,
            o
            p.4
            o “Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God’s hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus’ failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing.”

            o p.168. by Ted Peters:
            Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. ”

            o So where are the bones”? As per Professor Crossan’s analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

      • tahoel

        Actually, his statements are what are known as “facts”, a statement about reality in the physical world, something the “faithful” have difficulty accepting. I don’t see any “faith” involved in his statements except a belief that human knowledge is gained through rational thought rather than through some delusional set of beliefs that supernatural entities control the physical world. It is useless to argue these point of view, however, since those who choose to live in the primitive superstitious village where faith trumps reason cannot, by definition, be “reasoned” with.

        • saneandreasonable

          And who decides what is “rational thought”, YOU?

          Mature people realize that all fact is truth but not all truth can be proven empirically as fact. Scientific fact is a subset of truth, but there are other truths, such as love, faith, and hope, which are NOT in the scientific realm.