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This week an Inside Edition video interviewing Kenneth Copeland went viral as part of a disturbing investigation of televangelists living upscale lifestyles. Copeland, and others, are part of a movement from decades ago, preaching a prosperity “gospel,” offering false teachings, and thus, false promises, which have caused many followers heartache mentally, financially, and in their faith.
We hear stories and jokes all of the time about the crazy cat lady that leaves the entirety of her estate to one of these ministries (see, this clip from the 1997 movie The Rainmaker). However, there is a scary truth to this example, in that the message is solely that prosperity is the only way to God, and if one is suffering, that means Satan is in charge.
This is a very skewed view of traditional Christianity and a twisting of the Gospel itself. Of course, one is only prosperous if they give, right? These so-called megachurches run by Copeland, Joel Osteen, and the like seem to pressure their followers into giving to an extreme extent, yet who is it actually helping? It merely seems to be funding (tax-exempt) mansions as “parsonages,” private jets for travel, lavish hotels, etc., and not needy families in the congregation, the homeless in the local community, or feeding children in third-world countries.
I have had my own personal struggle with this, and it challenged my faith immensely, when I attended a megachurch in Los Angeles about ten years ago. At first, it was great; I was volunteering twice a month, attending classes and events, and making friends. My husband (then fiancé) was skeptical, but agreed to attend a service with me — that felt more like we sat through a timeshare presentation, except for donations.
My husband saw this as a red flag, but I continued attending, thinking it was an “off day.” The services, however, kept turning from messages pertaining to real-life issues into constant pressure for money. A very uncomfortable moment happened during this time: a friend sitting next to me openly handed me a check for an amount more than my rent to put in the container. Not only was I shocked at the amount itself (at the time we were scraping by), but also the act of giving me the check made me feel as if she wanted me to see how much she was giving.
Soon after, I stopped volunteering, lost friends, and after a few more weeks stopped attending altogether. Heartbroken and disillusioned, I went to a Christmas service with the idea of possibly returning, but again felt I was witnessing what seemed more like commercialization instead of church.
Because of this experience, I “lost my way” for some time. I made terrible choices, fell into a crowd that drank excessively, became severely depressed, and almost lost my marriage (on probably more than one occasion) … all because I desperately wanted to “fit in” somewhere, now that there was a void in my heart.
There were some times when I started looking for a local church again … and was faced with the same things: Overproduced “worship concerts,” advertisements of “the best coffee in town,” sermons poised towards millennials that used false teachings and gave false promises … and of course, pressuring for cash. It all seemed artificial to me. I gave up until just a few weeks ago when I was hurting, angry, and had just quit my job; a friend invited me to an event at their church that brought me to an intense emotional moment, changed me, and brought me back (thank you).
Copeland, et al.’s idea of being prosperous is not to say God does not want us to be — clearly He does! In fact, today at service, the pastor discussed Isaiah 58, and the difference between conditional and unconditional covenants, concluding with the thought that we shall not be mere “containers” of blessings. Instead, we should selflessly worship, not to make ourselves feel good, but to genuinely help others. Simply put, if you’re following God’s clear instructions without pursuing your own interests, you’ll prosper. Sounds very different than what these televangelists are peddling, doesn’t it?