I don’t often write about my religious beliefs other than tangentially, because, you know, the internet. It’s not exactly the best space to hold reasoned and respectful discourse about personal belief systems. Also, I seldom refer to these beliefs because they are so formative to my being that they are just part of who I am, and talking or writing about them often would be somewhat akin to referring repeatedly to my status as a human rather than a mule. It’s just a part of who I am; it is formative rather than informative.
But today is a little different because “Preachers of L.A.” is now a thing and a reality show premiering on Oxygen this Fall. The show will center on the lives of six pastors of mega-churches in Southern California and features people who say things like, “P. Diddy, Jay-Z — they’re not the only ones who should be driving Ferraris and living in large houses.” It also focuses on people who have lavish homes in Malibu and who believe that first and foremost, God will make you rich!
If this provides fodder to an already-existent hatred of Christianity/organized religion/Christians, well, that’s understandable. It angers me too. A theology that focuses on material prosperity and that tries to convince its followers that Christ really wants you to be wealthy is lame and problematic for several reasons.
Firstly, it ignores/consciously denies and forgets the amount of suffering endemic to this present world. I’ve had these “prosperity Gospel” types tell me personally that if I just had a little more “faith,” God would heal my thyroid disease/pull me out of my depression/pay my rent/other ridiculous things. The God that I trust in, though, doesn’t have this sort of quid-pro-quo relationship with humans where if we give Him something, He gives us something back in return. The God of the Bible does not work this way, and we have only to look to the story of Job to know this.
Secondly, even if you don’t allow anything else to Christianity, I think a prosperity Gospel with a focus on materialism limits the deep, thick beauty of the Church’s artistic and musical tradition and instead installs a cheaply-made religion in its place.
This is not an attempt to point fingers. I don’t know these men and I don’t know the producers and I don’t know anyone’s intentions. This is not limited to a TV show on Oxygen, either (Joel Osteen, anyone?). There are plenty of areas in my own life that are such that if someone wanted to point and call “hypocrite!” on me, they would be right. I’m no better than anyone else. But I am haunted by Christ’s words to a rich young ruler to go and sell everything and give to the poor in Mark 10. And I am aware of the contrast that this admonishment makes when placed against the lives of people who claim Christ and their Ferraris at the same time.
As far as I can tell, having not seen the show yet, “Preachers of L.A.” and the prosperity Gospel it honors are not representative of orthodox Christianity, and I think it high time that this distinction be made. We’re not all like that, you know.
Previously from Laura Creel:
♦ The Problem With Aaron Hernandez’s Disappearing Act
♦ President George H.W. Bush Shaves Head, Makes Us All Tear Up
♦ A Summer of Surveillance and Banquet of Consequences
♦ Worse Than the Worst: Flesh-Eating Maggots
♦ On Never Getting to be Tina Fey, and Why That’s Alright