Does God want you to be rich? Certainly! If you believe Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, preaching their form of Prosperity Theology. They are the focus of an August 15 article at the New York Times. (H/T BCC)
Known also as Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, or Name it and Claim it; Prosperity Theology is moving from Pentecostal congregations and mega-churches into more mainstream denominations. It is a theology colored with American materialism and Tony Robbins positivism, and it motivates one not simply for the good life, but a good life ordained of God.
And why not? After all, since God is a loving and doting father, is it any wonder that he wishes to spoil us? It’s only our faith that keeps us from prosperity. This world was designed for us, and as Mrs. Copeland preaches, ““God knows where the money is, and he knows how to get the money to you.”
I wish he’d send a little more my way.
So, seriously, what about us, as Mormons? Are we susceptible to this prosperity theology? I think so. Certainly not in such an overt or conspicuous way, but our brand of prosperity theology takes many of the same scriptures as a foundation. When was the last time you heard Malachi quoted?
Prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
While we certainly talk of blessings aside from material wealth, we also assure one another through anecdotes and testimonies that the tithes and offerings presented will be offset in some metaphysical and miraculous way.
And what about the subtle comments, teachings, and social pressures faced within the wards. Witness a few weeks ago, in a youth primary class studying 1 Kings and the promise to Solomon, when a young boy raised his hand and asked, “If we keep the commandments, will we be rich?” The instructor hesitated for a moment, then said simply, “Yes.”
Or witness the growth and popularity, especially in Utah County, of Multi-Level Marketing and get rich quick schemes that prey upon relationships among trusting family and ward members, callously calling such prospects a “warm pool”. Just last week on my commute I passed a very nice white sedan with faux gold accents sporting an RULDS2 sticker right next to the personalized license plate of a popular MLM company. No doubt this brother was sitting atop a nice pyramid organization and reaping the benefits of the Health and Wealth craze. But at whose expense?
And need I link to all of the recent investment scams proliferating through the LDS communities? Where con-artists prey upon ward relationships and trusting members? “But he is Mormon!” Indeed.
Are those who have riches and prosperity granted such by God? Does God care? We talk about the desire to have money in order to do more good – a noble and praiseworthy goal. But does such a desire followed by attaining the wealth to accomplish that desire necessarily mean that God has bestowed the wealth? I don’t think so. In fact, I argue strongly against any correlation at all. Granted, for those who use money and wealth to do good, I trust God smiles upon their efforts. But I dispute the notion that God grants such wealth, or that He removes it or prevents one from obtaining it.
Such a belief, even if privately held, is insidious. It destroys community and eliminates any hope of Zion, resulting in subtle judgements about the worthiness and standing of other members or visitors based on their dress, their car, their home or apartment. Good luck with that Zion concept.
I’m simply not interested in worshipping a God that capriciously grants wealth and comfort to a select few, while allowing pious and worthy people from all over to suffer and die in poverty.
We are incredibly inconsistent, for while we do not blame God for temporal disasters and we wouldn’t dare attribute the horrible and devastating events we witness each day to him, we are quick to thank him for micro-managing our day to day affairs and for granting us the wonderful blessings. Why are we quick to thank God for the safe return of a missing child, and then silently weep for those who never come home? Why did God smile upon one family, but turn his face away from so many, many others? Either he has his hands in everything, or his hand set the course in motion and he has stepped back to allow the temporal world to act in a natural manner.
Now I’m certainly not going to forgo any financial windfalls that may be lurking around the next corner, but Mormon teachings inspire me to celebrate the nature of this world and muddle through. The idea that we are co-eternal, that we agreed to come here knowing that it would be hellish, and the idea that this is simply a temporal existence placed within our eternal selves – that we will be okay, these teachings inspire me to a belief in a loving God that trusts us and allows us to grow.
But in allowing us to grow, he also must give us space. My concept of God, my personal theology, is that he loves us, but he is distant. He gives us room, and he knows/trusts/hopes that we will do that which furthers his plan. Sometimes we won’t. Sometimes things get ugly. But his plan is such that, on the whole and collectively, we step forward more than we step back, and in the process he grows and learns with us and through us.
The ramifications of this belief are sobering, but they are also inspiring. The concept of being co-eternal and growing to become like God places serious responsibility squarely upon our shoulders. What we do matters – it matters to us, and it matters in God’s plan. Our progression is dependent upon our internalizing Christ’s teachings and reflecting them in our life – not only for our own soul, but for future generations as well. Our actions matter to us, to our family, to our community, and to this world. It is a theology that is both empowering and frightening, for we cannot simply sit back and trust that the course is determined, rather we must acknowledge that we affect the course of this world each day.
I am not interested in acting out my life upon a stage for the amusement of a capricious creator. I am not interested in thanking God for bumping me from economy class to business class – I don’t think he gives a flip about how I travel. But I do thank him and honor him for setting this world in motion, for stepping back, for trusting us, for gently guiding us, and for allowing us the room to grow. Yes, it can be painful. Yes, it gets ugly. But this was the existence we agreed to, the one we celebrated, the grand opportunity.
I wouldn’t want it any other way.