Poor, Dumb And Pentecostal

Thanks JohnEatsLocusts! This article is frightening! I am a pentecostal believer. And while I am not a prosperity gospel believing pentecostal, I couldn’t resist this humorous title! I don’t mind if Pentecostals are the dumb blonds in religious jokes. I used to be blond.

From: http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/1374/

The Ponzi Prosperity Gospel

By Pen Itent

Pen Itent is a private school teacher of theology and philosophy in the American Southwest. He holds a BA in Religion, and is currently completing a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Religion. He pastors in a small church plant, and leads an Emergent Village Cohort.

Editor’s Note: Be sure to read the companion to the below article, Cosmic Lessons: When the Ministry Pulls a Madoff, by renowned scholar, Anthony B. Pinn.

Today we shriek as we hear of financial scams, corporate greed, and virtually anything money-related that isn’t entirely on the up-and-up. While religion has generally been a help in these economically difficult times, there is one segment of Christianity that is scamming as many as they can. Those who have ears (and debt) let them hear.

The Prosperity Gospel, also known as a facet of the Word of Faith movement (a louder voice in Pentecostalism), has been writing checks with its lips that’s its theology can’t cash. Last year’s Pew Foundation mega-poll, which surveyed nearly 35,000 people (one of the largest religion polls ever accomplished), revealed a few interesting facts about Christians in the Pentecostal tradition, among them:

• Pentecostals have the lowest incomes of any other Christian denomination.
• Pentecostals have the least education of any other Christian denomination.

The results show that Pentecostals have the most high school dropouts, the fewest college graduates, and the fewest post-graduates. But the most interesting thing is that they earn the least annual income of any other Christian tradition polled. This is shocking, considering that a main feature in popular Pentecostalism is the Prosperity Gospel, where church members are promised that God will make them rich beyond their wildest dreams if they tithe generously and believe that they will receive the money.

The trouble I’ve seen…

Not only do Pentecostals fail to out-earn the regular “non-spirit filled” Christian, they make less. For me, to read such information is heartbreaking, as I am a teacher in a private school that’s part of a Word of Faith church. The church is doing very well for itself, as most Pentecostal churches are, but the people are suffering.

I often speak with coworkers and church members as they slowly slip into despair. I watch helplessly as their hopes dim, and their pennies dwindle. When I attend a service at this church, I hear the pastors declare that God will make everybody rich, if only they will throw what little they do have into the offering plate. Loud confident voices echo off the palatial walls of the sanctuary, while weary, struggling believers bristle with the hope of God’s “promises.” My impoverished friends dance down the plush expensive carpet to the altar and pull out their dollar bills (not their food stamps and government checks, though they have those also) and cheerfully give. The pastor nods approvingly, his hands folded in prayer (a shiny Rolex on his wrist), his eyes misty.

Say what you want about the corruption of the pulpit, or the decadence of the minister—that’s not my issue. My point is that while the world howls at the scam artists who fail to deliver on big promises, Christianity has its very own Ponzi scheme that’s alive and well. At least when Bernie Madoff promised big returns he actually delivered (if only for a moment); the prosperity gospel doesn’t even do that much. When Joel Osteen, Ken Copeland, Paula White, or Benny Hinn take your money, you’ll never see it again (unless you happen to glimpse one of their private jets leaving a runway for Bermuda).

Creating “The Least of These”

When a major tenet of your theology is that people who invest in your church will experience wealth, while the facts show that your congregants are among the poorest and most desperate in the country, you have just been exposed. Further, when the national economy is in shambles, it should be criminal to continue to avoid taxes as a charity, yet earn immense amounts of capital on the promise of a better future. In the business world we call it a scam.

So why are we silent while this happens in every neighborhood in America?

Another concern raised by the Pew poll is the average profile of the victim. As Pentecostals tend to be the least well-educated group of believers they make a prime target for would-be millionaire pastors. In many ways, I am as green with jealousy as these prosperity preachers are with greed, in that the scammed believers have more faith in their little finger than I will probably ever know in my lifetime. They would give the shirt off their backs if they believed God wanted them to, and many of them have. These people have the purest of Christian hearts, trusting the intentions of their Shepherd as they’re led as lambs to the slaughter.

Bankrupt Prosperity

Imagine that there was a brand of theology in which people were taught that God has promised to give followers an additional arm, right from the center of their chest. Let’s say it taught that scripture had everywhere indicated that this was the case, and that by believing this “fuller” version of the gospel, you were opening up the as-of-yet closed off area of blessings that Christians have forgotten about (i.e. growing another appendage to better do God’s work).

Let’s imagine that after about 50 years the movement has spread worldwide, with followers numbering in the millions, and you look to see how many of these folks have in fact grown that “arm of the Lord.” Upon inspection you find that the vast majority of them have lost an arm, leaving them worse off and less able to serve than even those old two-armed folk. The irony would be overwhelming.

Despite the statistics, and the continued empirical evidence of devastated human lives (Pentecostals also have the most divorces), few if any Christians have plainly spoken against the Prosperity Gospel, or raised awareness that measures any merit. While high-level corruption and financial disarray are the soup du jour of recent weeks’ media cycles, this prominent and aberrant theology has been allowed to wreak destruction on a mass of people who are grasping at economic straws.

Prosperity Gospel theology is bankrupt. The debate raged for years about how much sense coveting money made in the context of biblical principles, but now the fruit has been borne and the numbers don’t lie: those who attend Prosperity Gospel churches are in fact worse off for it.

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24 thoughts on “Poor, Dumb And Pentecostal

  1. It occurred to me that this article could be a fake with the author’s name being ‘Pen Itent’.

    Definition of penitent: a person who confesses sin and submits to a penance.

    I wonder if this author used to be pentecostal? :)

  2. It s indeed an irony that many of the believers in prosperity aren’t prospering (except the ones receiving the tithes), while many who argue against prosperity have good jobs and businesses and are actually “prosperous”.

  3. I put up a link onto ‘Pew Foundation mega-poll’ so people can be directed to Pew Foundation Mega-poll’s site.

    I’d like to know where this article now got it’s figures from. I couldn’t find them on that site.

  4. specksandplanks,

    This report shows that Pentecostals/AOG earn the least compared to other protestants (look for sections ‘Income Level by Protestant Family’ and ‘Income Level by Protestant Denomination’)

    http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf

    This link shows that evangelical protestants earn the least among other religions (and among the entire US population)

    http://pewforum.org/Income-Distribution-Within-US-Religious-Groups.aspx

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  6. Great article on the ravages of poverty, following the footsteps of Orwell, who wrote on the subject.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14372195

    “Quarrels, and the desolate cries of street hawkers, and the shouts of children chasing-orange-peel over the cobbles, and at night loud singing and the sour reek of the refuse carts, made up the atmosphere of the street…. Poverty is what I’m writing about and I had my first contact with poverty in this slum.”

    The poor we will always have with us, but we can help raise their dignity through the gospel.

    However, we won’t do it by saying poverty is the lot of the believer.

    Read more from this article by Emma Jane Kirby…

    “Misfits
    What was it that Orwell said? “Change places and handy dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?”

    I am instantly struck by the civility of the meal time. A tattooed and very inebriated punk knocks over an elderly lady’s walking frame as he staggers to find a free seat. He apologises, asks if the seat beside her is taken and then appears to engage her in polite conversation. When he is served a plate of Mediterranean vegetable pasta by the charming French chef, he thanks her profusely and leaning towards the Polish man opposite him asks if he would kindly pass the salt?

    As I pour tea and coffee, an emaciated black man in a filthy sweatshirt shakes my hand warmly and asks me how I’m doing today? Society’s misfits, fitting in.

    Continue reading the main story

    Start Quote

    So that’s what you think is it? I’m just yet another homeless drunk? ”

    Grant
    It’s here I meet Stuart, who is currently on a methadone programme and who has serious mental health problems. Physically abused by his father, Stuart was put into care in the North East of England, where he claims he was then systematically sexually abused until he gathered the courage to run away to London at the age of 15.

    Aside from a brief respite of a year or two when he had a council flat, the London streets have been the only home he’s known. He is now 40. I ask him to tell me what he remembers about those early years sleeping rough.

    He doesn’t miss a beat before replying, “Crack, heroin, begging, robbing, stealing and mugging”. An entire life, reduced into just six words.

    Grant on the other hand can talk the hind legs off a donkey but he prefers to steer clear of personal details, claiming there are many people worse off than him.

    He zooms through his life story with a dismissive wave of his hand – adopted, never held down a relationship, used to work in social care, lost his job, lives in a hostel, spent a long time in hospital after being brutally attacked on the street.

    Orwell did the rounds of the night shelters and soup kitchens of London
    He leaves out the part about his fairly evident problems with alcohol and when, three weeks into our acquaintance, I ask him about that side of his life he snarls defensively, “So that’s what you think is it? I’m just yet another homeless drunk?”

    Grant is articulate and funny. He’s wary and prickly, yet sensitive and compassionate.

    He likes Orwell but prefers Jack London. When my questions become woolly, he pulls me up for being unfocused and he is constantly re-assessing and re-evaluating his own beliefs and opinions. Twice after our meetings he has sent me text messages, apologising for sounding grumpy. When we talk late in the evening, he suddenly checks his watch and becomes concerned about how I’m going to get home to the other side of London. When I ask what keeps him going in life, he gestures towards the volunteers who are clearing up the kitchen.

    “Belief in your fellow man’s goodness,” he says. “Because by and large people are good, aren’t they?””

    God’s answer to poverty is Jesus. He was sent to the poor, the broken hearted, the outcast, the downcast, the oppressed.

    What worse? Reaching out to the downtrodden, or keeping them downtrodden?

    At least the gospel of blessing and promise gives desperate people hope.

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  8. “The results show that Pentecostals have the most high school dropouts, the fewest college graduates, and the fewest post-graduates. But the most interesting thing is that they earn the least annual income of any other Christian tradition polled.”

    Maybe they don’t have enough faith….

    I wonder how the income of Pentecostal pastors compares with other ministers and their own congregations.

    I’d say someone is being blessed by the prosperity doctrine, just not the guy in the pew.

  9. zqudlyba wrote:
    “This link shows that evangelical protestants earn the least among other religions (and among the entire US population)
    http://pewforum.org/Income-Distribution-Within-US-Religious-Groups.aspx

    I’m glad it is so, since we all know, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man/woman to get into the kingdom of God. And evangelicals surely want to get into the kingdom, don’t they?

    Pen Itent wrote:
    “… few if any Christians have plainly spoken against the Prosperity Gospel, or raised awareness that measures any merit.”

    maybe her has not heard of John Piper?
    Or maybe he does not want to take notice of Piper?

    Since he now leads an emergent village cohort, he need not be afraid that his cohort is too poor to support him adequately even without him using exploitative tactics and tithing.

  10. @Kipling,

    “However, we won’t [raise the dignity of the poor] by saying poverty is the lot of the believer.”

    Dear, oh dear, oh dear! This particular straw man has been trotted out with monotonous regularity in Pentecostal circles; one fears that it is at the point of dropping dead from exhaustion.

    Just to make it clear: apart from deranged self-flagellating monks, very few people would agree that “poverty is the lot of the believer”. Those who espouse poverty as a necessity are ignorant of both the letter of the scriptures and also of their spirit and intent. (In fact, such theology is a lie from the pit of hell, and those who hold to it are commonly in the sway of religious demons).

    Surely only the naive or the intellectually dishonest would attempt to smear the opponents of prosperity doctrine by resorting to what is essentially a back-handed ad hominem. You don’t appear to fit into either of those categories, so your attitude is puzzling.

  11. Re: “…deranged self-flagellating monks…”
    .
    .

    Wonderful imagery there. Ah, the ol dark ages.
    .
    .

    By contemporary western values, Jesus was dirt poor and lived in poverty. Someone to be pitied.

    Yet it appears to be the case that He did not consider Himself or His disciples to be poor, and neither did people consider them poor, at that time, in that culture.

    http://ianvincent.wordpress.com/

  12. Hello Ian,

    “By contemporary western values, Jesus was dirt poor and lived in poverty.”

    Quite so. He provided an object lesson regarding the meaninglessness of earthly riches; he was the epitome of a truly wealthy man.

    “Someone to be pitied.”

    Certainly by the “Jesus-wants-you-to-be-fabulously-wealthy” crowd.

    “Yet it appears to be the case that He did not consider Himself or His disciples to be poor […]”

    And that’s the nub of the matter. He was poor in the way the world (and mega-churches) would measure it, but rich in the Spirit. He did not in the least need to suffer the condescension of those who wished to “raise his dignity”, because He possessed the true dignity that comes from living a life of sinless perfection and the consequent fullness of the Holy Spirit.

  13. If wealth is only to be measured as a spiritual quality, how is it defined?

    If you have the Spirit, can you measure whether you are rich in the Spirit or poor in the Spirit? How, since the Spirit is full and abundant? Can the Spirit of God ever be said to be poor? In poverty of any kind?

    Surely, if you have the Spirit you can only be spiritually rich, but, if you don’t have the Spirit you can only be spiritually poor.

    So, then, ‘poverty’ becomes a useless word, redundant in terms of the Spirit, because the only outcome is to be spiritually rich if you have him in your life.

    So what does scripture mean when it says that Jesus became poor so that we could become rich?

    Speaking, contextually, of the giving of finances:

    2 Corinthians 8
    6* So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well.
    7* But as you abound in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us–see that you abound in this grace also.
    8* I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others.
    9* For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.

    The Corinthians are told to abound in ‘this grace also’. Which grace? The grace of giving finance to a cause. The subject is finance.

    The context is finance, so the part about Jesus becoming poor so we could be made rich must follow the thread of the argument, which continues right through chapter nine in the same vein, speaking of financial giving and reward.

    So, did Jesus, when he walked the earth, become spiritually poor?

    No, because we are told that he had the Spirit without measure. He had the fullness of the Spirit.

    Is the Spirit in any way poor? Impossible, since he is in all through all and with all. Did the Spirit leave glory when Jesus left glory to be humbled as a man? No, he remains the fulness of the glory of God. He is not poor.

    Therefore it could not be said that Jesus became spiritually poor so that we could become spiritually rich.

    What kind of poverty did Jesus experience, then? Poverty of the soul? No, because, although he was tempted in every way we are, he did not sin. So his soul was righteous, and holy, and therefore as rich as a soul could be, since the soul is not material.

    How was Jesus poor, then?

    He humbled himself and became as a man. He left glory. He became like us. The Word made flesh. His poverty was, first, to leave the glory of the Father to come int the earth as a man.

    His poverty was to own nothing of the earth, although we know that all things were his anyway, since he is the Word who is God who created all for the pleasure of the Father. So he has nothing, yet he commands the wind and the waves and walks on water.

    The devil offers him everything he has usurped, and he says it is better to worship the Father. He needs nothing of this earth because he made it all, and had the power to relinquish all and retrieve all.

    He commands sickness to leave and it does, demons to go and they do.

    He breaks a small amount of bread and fish and feeds a multitude – twice.

    He is clothed in a seamless tunic. He is buried in a rich man’s tomb. He is ministered to materially by women of substance. he has a purse held by a treasurer. He has no place to lay his head.

    He dies in poverty on a cross.

  14. Probably worth noting that blacks in the US have low income and education levels, and a disproportionate number of them belong to pentecostal churches. Few Catholics, Presbyterians, Anglicans, but many in the large pentecostal denominations – Church of God etc.

    So the figures aren’t really surprising.

  15. Good one, Todd. That’s the bottom-line.

    Hearken, my beloved brethren,

    **Has not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, **

    and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to them that love him? But you have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judges? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by which you are called?
    (James 2:5-7)
    .
    .

    **Has not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, **

    How does that work, Kenneth, Creflo?

    …………………………………………………………………………….

    1Tim 6:9 But

    ** they that desire to be rich**

    fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which plunge men into destruction and perdition.
    .
    .
    So, don’t desire to be rich.

    ………………………………………………………………………………….

    Charge them that are rich in this present age, that they be not haughty, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to share; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
    (1Tim 6:17-19)

    So, God has made a minority of believers rich. They either inherited their money, or got business ideas etc…

    But they didn’t get rich by being PARASITES off other Christians.

    http://ianvincent.wordpress.com/

  16. @Kipling,

    “Surely, if you have the Spirit you can only be spiritually rich, but, if you don’t have the Spirit you can only be spiritually poor.”

    You must have an I.T. background, because it seems that you can’t get past binary: have the spirit and are rich, or don’t have the spirit and are poor. This echoes an earlier contention of yours – that there were no degrees of closeness to God – and thus betrays a pattern of faulty reasoning based on poor observation and lack of discernment.

    Remember that what we have with God is a relationship, and just like human relationships, things are never black and white; there are many, many shades of grey. Consider the ten lepers whom Jesus healed – all had been blessed by God, and yet only one had a heart for Him: the one who returned to give thanks. It was the one who really appreciated what God had wrought, and who gave Him glory, who was rich in spirit; the other nine not so much.

    Today we can see some pastors who teach such heresies as the prosperity doctrine, and yet may nonetheless be saved (that is, they have the Spirit). These men typically see themselves as spiritually rich (often on the basis of a bums-on-seats measurement of Godly success), and they are also seen as such by many others. However, they are in reality not spiritually rich at all, because if they knew God, and they knew His heart, they wouldn’t defame Him by preaching lies. So when it comes to being spiritually rich, there are certainly degrees – and the difference between rich and poor is not always as it may appear. (Incidentally, the fact that there are degrees of spiritual richness is the reason why there are rewards of varying degree in heaven).

  17. Jesus was rich because he needed to have a treasurer, and the Apostle Paul was the CEO of a huge tent making enterprise that perhaps employed hundreds according to some people.

    Oh and Jesus handed over the huge carpentering business he inherited from Joseph to John at the cross.

    Because Paul and Jesus were Jewish and Jewish people always think big in business, it is inconceivable that they were small time sole traders.

    Amazing viewpoints I have come across recently.

  18. CCCer…
    ‘You must have an I.T. background, because it seems that you can’t get past binary: have the spirit and are rich, or don’t have the spirit and are poor. This echoes an earlier contention of yours – that there were no degrees of closeness to God – and thus betrays a pattern of faulty reasoning based on poor observation and lack of discernment.’

    ??????

    I don’t recall have any such earlier contention. Perhaps you could point it out for me. You speak complete blather in your response and answer nothing.

    Answer the question, please.

    Is the Spirit of God poor in any way?

    Was Jesus spiritually poor?

    He would have to have been spiritually poor to have made us spiritually rich according to the 2 Corinthians 8 passage.

    Since it was speaking of finances, the only conclusion is that Paul is speaking of finances when he says Jesus was made poor so we could be made rich.

    How do you explain this?

    I put it to you that the Spirit of God could never be said to be poor. If so, when any of us has the Spirit in us we are not spiritually poor.

    There is nothing binary about it, although, I agree, it is a very simple thing for the normal person to grasp.

    Was Jesus made spiritually poor so we could be made spiritually rich?

  19. Religion , The most successful scam ever. It just blows my mind how many people are willfully ignorant in the name of RELIGION.

    You people are an embarrassment to humanity .

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