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Prophets of greed

The Rev. Jesse Duplantis, leader of the Jesse Duplantis Ministry (in Destrehan, Louisiana) reported God spoke to him. “It was one of the greatest statements the Lord ever told me,” Duplantis said. “Jesse, do you want to come up where I’m at? … I want you to bleed me for a Falcon 7X.”

A Falcon 7X is a $54 million luxury airplane, and by “bleed,” the Lord apparently means that Duplantis should ask for donations to pay for it. The new aircraft (he has three other jets) wouldn’t really be his, of course. No, it will belong to the good people of the ministry who pay for the plane described as “fighter jet technology with an elegant whisper-quiet executive cabin.” As one observer noted, Jesus “has very good taste in planes.”

Duplantis (estimated net worth $50 million, according to Etinside Online) noted that if Jesus “was to physically return to earth today, he wouldn’t be riding a donkey.” Apparently donkey-riding Jesus has been replaced by jet-set-traveling Jesus who likes to hang with the super-rich. After much bad publicity, Duplantis said he didn’t want his followers to pay for a new jet but “believe” it into existence.

Sleek — and very expensive — jets are the current status symbols for many big-name preachers. Creflo Dollar (estimated net worth $27 million — Etinside), head man of the World Changers Church, asked his followers to foot the bill for a $60 million Gulfstream G650 jet. Televangelist Kenneth Copeland bought a Gulfstream V jet from actor Tyler Perry. Certainly a much-needed mode of transportation for Copeland, who allegedly described flying in a commercial airplane as “getting in a long tube with a bunch of demons.” And the food isn’t very good.

Copeland (estimated net worth $760 million — Etinside) stated his “preaching machine” jet “will never be used as long as it is in our care for anything other than what is becoming to you, Lord Jesus.” Flight records indicate the aircraft landed at Yampa Valley Airport in Colorado, only a few miles from the Steamboat Springs Ski Resort. The “preaching machine” also journeyed to a hunting ranch in Southwest Texas where Copeland and his son proudly posed with a pair of axis deer — indigenous to India and Sri Lanka — that they killed. Apparently using the jet for trips to ski resorts and killing exotic animals is “becoming to you, Lord Jesus.”

So how do prosperity ministers pay for luxury jets and multi-million-dollar homes? They don’t — their supporters pick up the tab by way of these holy men selling a gospel of wealth often referred to as “prosperity pacts.”

Financial blessings are bestowed on the faithful by God as a reward for their commitment to Him and triggered by monetary donations to prosperity preachers — “call the number on the bottom of your screen to make a pledge.” Typically referred to as “seed money,” one preacher stated the “quicker” you put the seed in the ground, the “quicker” that seed will grow and produce a bountiful financial harvest.

Joel Osteen (estimated net worth is $40 million — Etinside) lives in a $10.5 million home. He told Oprah Winfrey that “Jesus died that we may lead an abundant life. … God didn’t create you to be average or poor.” Prosperity preachers have turned God into a heavenly “sugar daddy.”

Paula White (net worth a paltry $5million — Money Inc.) uses both the carrot and the stick telling the faithful to send donations that will transform their lives — or face divine consequences. Nice touch. Who wants God mad at them?

Promises of monetary return are usually specific. For every dollar you donate to a prosperity preacher’s ministry, you will be rewarded tenfold. But why donate to a ministry with a 10-to-one payoff when you can receive so much more? In his “Laws of Prosperity,” Kenneth Copeland states, “Do you want a hundredfold return on your money? Give, and let God multiply it back to you. No bank in the world offers this kind of return. Praise the Lord!”

Financial success couldn’t be easier. Take $10,000 from your savings (or borrow the money, or sell your car), and send it to Copeland. With a hundred-fold return, $1 million is heading your way. Donate that million to Copeland, and $100 million will soon be yours. And you thought saving for the children’s college education and your retirement would be difficult.

Credit card donations are cash cows for some TV preachers. No money, no problem. Michael Murdock tells people who have credit card debt they should make a $1,000 donation, and the Lord will wipe our their debt. The Dallas Observer reported that Murdock, who promised to use donations to fight poverty and spread the gospel, spent less than 1% of this money on charitable works.

According to social Darwinism, wherever you are in the economic class hierarchy is where you deserve to be. The rich are the fittest, the poor the least fit. The gospel of wealth and health substitutes faith for economic fitness. The faithful will be blessed with wealth and health because they merit these “blessings”; their faith is strong and justly rewarded. Faith, therefore, guarantees success not only in the heavenly kingdom but in this world.

Kate Bowler, a professor of Christian history at Duke University Divinity School, states the prosperity gospel “revolutionized prayer” as a way of having God always say “yes” to our wants. “It offers people a guarantee: Follow these rules, and God will reward you, heal you, restore you.”

The downside of the gospel of wealth-health is that if you are not rewarded, it’s your fault — you didn’t have enough faith, are harboring “hidden sin” and/or didn’t plant enough seed money. People can find themselves not only poor and sick, but saddled with the additional burden of having to accept the “fact” it’s all their fault. They may feel ashamed of their lack of faith and insufficient seed money donations and, possibly, be shamed and/or shunned by people in their faith-based community.

Professor Bowler argues that prosperity pacts are a “natural fit” in capitalist societies with a significant degree of economic inequality (such as the U.S.) because these pacts “explain away the deep seated problems that individuals feel powerless to change.” While big-business and the government are not able (or willing) to alleviate the financial well-being of the poor and lower classes, the Lord (via his TV ministers) will help the faithful.

According to a study that appeared in Christianity Today, the prosperity gospel is taught to 4 in 10 evangelical churchgoers. Political scientist Ryan Burge of Eastern Illinois University found that poor Americans are most likely to buy into this gospel of wealth. “That’s clearly what the data indicates. For those who make less than $10,000 per year, they are twice as likely to espouse prosperity theology than those who make between $35,000 and $50,000 per year.”

Prosperity pacts are the perfect scam as they play into the troubles, fears and hopes of millions of people mired in poverty and/or struggling with sickness. This perversion of Christianity is also legal and largely, if not completely, tax free.

George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale and is retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego.

Sources:

Bowler, K. (Feb. 13, 2016) “Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me,” The New York Times, www.nytimes.com

Burge, R. (Nov. 21, 2017) “Do Americans Believe in the Prosperity Gospel? Here’s what the Data Say,”Religion in Public, http://religioninpublic.blog

Burton, T. (Sept. 1, 2017) “The Prosperity gospel, explained: Why Joel Osteen believes that prayer can make you rich,” Vox, www.vox.com

Criss, D. (June 4, 2018) “Jesse Duplantis says he’s not asking followers to buy him a private jet, He just wants to ‘believe,'” CNN, www.cnn.com

Freston, P. (accessed 2018) “Prosperity Theology: A (Largely) Sociological Assessment,”Lausanne Movement, www.lausanne.org

Getlin, J. (June 22, 1999) “Feeding a nation’s hunger to get rich and be happy,” Los Angeles Times, www.latimes.com

Gutierrez, L. (Jan. 21, 2018) “‘Word from the Lord’: Televangelist ministry buys Tyler Perry’s Gulfstream jet,” Kansas City News, www.kansascity.com

“Jet flight records spur Kenneth Copeland ministry question” (March 5, 2018) Religious News Blog, www.religiousnewsblog.com

Lee, A. (accessed 2021)“How Paula White Achieved a Net Worth of $5 Million,” Money Inc.www.moneyinc.com

Krishna, S. (October 2018) “Prosperity Gospel preacher Jesse Duplantis’ net worth: his lifestyle & properties,” Frostnow. https://frostnow.com

“Overseen but out of sight: TV preachers avoid tax scrutiny” (April 14, 2014) National Public Radio, www.npr.org

Smietana, B. (July 31, 2018) “Prosperity gospel taught to 4 in 10 evangelical churchgoers.” Christianity Today, www.christianitytoday.com

“The false prosperity gospel” (accessed 2020) Worshiping in spirit and truth, www.worshipinginspiritandtruth.com

“Top 15 Richest and Most Successful Pastors in the World” (Aug. 30, 2020) Etinside Online, www.entinside.com

West-Savali, K. (March 13, 2015) “$65,000,000 for a new private jet, Creflo Dollar,” The Root, www.theroot.comm

Willingham, A. (May 30, 2018) “This televangelist is asking his followers to buy him $54 million private jet,” CNN, www.cnn.com

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