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Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Theology of Prosperity in Theory and in Practice: Rhetorical and Theological Implications and Practical Sociocultural Effects

I.               Where Does the Prosperity Gospel Come From?

According to Duke University Divinity School Professor of the History of Christianity in North America Kate Bowler, it is possible to trace the prosperity gospel to Bethel Bible Institute founder Essek Kenyon [1867-1948]. Bowler writes that the Prosperity gospel sprung from the “New Thought” movement, more specifically the teaching of Unity Church founder Charles Fillmore [1854-1948].[1] Georgia College and State University Associate Professor of Sociology Bradley Koch traces its origins back further, to the “Great Awakening” of 1730.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor of Christian Ethics David Jones believes it is possible to trace the theological origins of the Prosperity Gospel further back still, to eighteenth century German philosopher and theologian Friederich Schleiermacher [1768-1834].[2] 
Koch further traces the specifics of the modern gospel of prosperity to Oral Roberts University founder Granville Roberts [1918-2009] and associates it with Kenneth Hagin [1917-2003], a disciple of Kenyon’s, “Father” of the Word of Faith Movement.  Harvard University Divinity School Professor of Divinity Harvey Cox writes that the Prosperity Gospel “owed much” to the “positive thinking” school of American Minister Norman Peale [1898-1993].[3]
Jones writes that Roberts is “regarded by many to be the father of the prosperity gospel movement”. Roberts claims that his ministry began when god miraculously led him to Verse Two of Chapter One of the Third Book of John: “Dear Friend, I pray that you may prosper in every way and be in good health physically just as you are spiritually”; which Roberts interpreted to mean that god wanted believers to “prosper in all things” and therefore as a revelation of the Prosperity Gospel. Professor Jones points out that the word translated as “prosperity” in the verse in question is the Greek word “eujodovw”, meaning “to grant an expedition and expeditious journey” and “be led along a good road” or “to lead by a direct and easy way”.
However, Roberts’ miraculous revelation set the trend for future Prosperity preachers. Koch points out that in the Prosperity theology “a preacher’s “calling” is seen as divine and his charisma as inspired and sufficient”, as a result of which Prosperity gospel preachers do not receive formal training.

II.             What Does the Prosperity Gospel Say?

Professor Koch summarizes the prosperity gospel thusly: “Adherents to the Prosperity Gospel believe that wealth is a sign of god’s blessing and the poor are poor because of a lack of faith.”[4] American Prosperity Gospel televangelist Robert Tilton described the theology of prosperity thusly:
I believe that it is the will of god for all to prosper because I see it in the word of god, not because it has worked mightily for someone else. I do not put my eyes on men, but on god who gives me the power to get wealth.”[5]

Faith;” writes Prosperity Preacher Kenneth Copeland; “Is a spiritual force, a spiritual energy, a spiritual power. It is this force of faith which makes the laws of the spirit world function.” “There are certain laws governing prosperity revealed in god’s word.” He explains. “Faith causes them to function.”[6]  True prosperity;” Copeland writes; “Is the ability to use God’s power to meet the needs of mankind in any realm of life.”[7]
If you make up your mind…that you are willing to live in divine prosperity and abundance…divine prosperity will come to pass in your life. You have exercised your faith.”[8]

According to Copeland, the theological basis for the Prosperity gospel is the Abrahamic Covenant in Chapters 12-28 of the Book of Genesis, writing “Since god’s covenant has been established and prosperity is a provision of this covenant, you need to realize that prosperity belongs to you now.”[9] The prophecy in question begins in Verse Seven of Chapter 12: “Then the lord appeared to Abram and said “I’m going to give this land to your descendants”.[10] It continues in Verses 14-16 of Chapter Thirteen:
And the lord said unto Abram after Lot separated himself from him, lift up now thine eyes and look from the place where thou art towards the Aquilon [the land of the north wind] and to the Negev [the south desert] and to the east and west; I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. I’ll make your descendants as plentiful as the specks of dust of the Earth, so that if one could count the specks of dust of the Earth, then your descendants could also be counted.”

The prophecy gets specific in Verse Eighteen of Chapter 15: “That very day the lord made this covenant with Abram: “I’m giving this land to your descendants, from the River of Egypt to the great Euphrates River”.[11] The prophecy get more or less specific in Verse Eight of Chapter 17: “I will give the whole land of Canaan—the land where you are now residing—to you and your descendants after you as a permanent possession”. The prophecy continues in Verse Seventeen of Chapter 22: “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore”.[12] This particular part of the prophecy is repeated in Verse Four of Chapter 26: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and give all these lands to your descendants.”[13] This is repeated again in Verse Fourteen of Chapter 28: “Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the Earth”.[14]
Needless to say, this prophecy went unfulfilled, on two levels:
·      Firstly on the prophesized Jewish population being greater than the number of stars and the number of grains of sand, according to Hebrew University of Jerusalem Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry Professor of Population Studies Sergio DellaPergola, the global Jewish population is around 14.2 million, or 1.42x10^7.[15] According to a December 2010 article in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature by Yale University Department of Astronomy Professor Pieter Dokkum and Harvard University Department of Astronomy Associate Professor Charlie Conroy, the number of stars in the observable universe is three septillion, or 3x10^24.[16] According to University of Western Australia International Center for Radio Astronomy Research Professor Simon Driver, the number of grains of sand on Earth’s beaches is seven sextillion, or 7x10^21.[17]
·      Secondly, on the land possessions prophesized in Chapter Fifteen of Genesis stretching from the Nile River to the Euphrates River, a distance of more than two thousand kilometers [1,263 miles], the territory promised to the Jews would encompass not only the modern borders of what is today the nation of Israel, but would contain most if not the entirety of what is now the modern nations of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Professor Jones writes that the Prosperity gospel is built upon a faulty understanding of the Abrahamic covenant” and that Prosperity theologians such as Copeland hold an “incorrect view of the inception of the Abrahamic covenant” and an “erroneous view concerning the application of the covenant.” In his 1987 book Our Covenant With God, Copeland summarized the inception of the Abrahamic covenant transactionally:  God offered Abram a proposition and Abram bought it.”[18]
According to Methodist Theological School of Ohio Dewire Professor of Christian Leadership Lisa Withrow:
What makes this gospel particularly dangerous is its propensity to claim innocence of any motive other than fulfilling god’s will for human beings… The only reason some people remain poor is because they do not exert enough effort to promote their own success. They are considered lazy, ineffectual or misdirected and therefore “unblessed”.[19]

Bethlehem College and Seminary Chancellor John Piper writes, “Prosperity preachers not only give the impression that they peddle god’s word and make godliness a means of gain but actually develop a bogus theology to justify their extravagant displays of wealth”.[20]
Professor Koch concurs: 
Poverty, far from being a blessing, is a sign of god’s disfavor; thus, Christians have a duty to deal only with the apparent lack of faith among the poor and not their poverty itself.”

Martin Bucer European Theological Seminary and Research Institute Professor of Apologetics and Modern Theology Ron Kubsch writes that the theology “thus tends to victimize the poor by making them feel that their poverty is their own fault…while failing to address and denounce those whose greed inflicts poverty on others”.[21]  The logical extension of the Prosperity Gospel—sometimes explicit, sometimes not, depending on the preacher;” Argues University of London School of Oriental and African Studies Department of Religions and Philosophies Professor Paul Gifford; “Is that the poor are poor because of a lack of faith—that poverty is the fault of the poor themselves.”[22]
On the “Success in Life” program on the Christian-based Trinity Broadcasting Network [TBN], Tilton stated, “being poor is a sin”.[23] Copeland agrees, writing, “Poverty is under the curse of the law.”[24]While emphasizing various alleged spiritual or demonic causes of poverty;” Writes Kubsch; “Prosperity Teaching is not really about helping the poor at all and provides no sustainable answer to the real causes of poverty”.[25]
Koch points out the danger of the Prosperity Gospel in a nation with as great a disparity in wealth as America: “while income has no effect on adherence to the Prosperity Gospel, blacks, the “born again” and “evangelical” and those who are less educated are more likely to seek out Prosperity messages”. Indeed, Koch finds that being “born again” is second only to being African American in terms of the highest chances of being members of the Prosperity movement, and that “increasing levels of education have an indirect [i.e. inverse] relationship” with adherence to the theological tenets of the Prosperity gospel. [26] This trend led University of California—Davis African American and African Studies Associate Professor Milmon Harrison to write that the Prosperity Gospel “Might be seen, at least in part, as a type of poor people’s movement”.[27] Both Professor Gifford and Howard Elinson of the University of California—Los Angeles argue that the Prosperity gospel resonates with those of lower class by offering them a supplementary and supernatural “opiate” and “cathartic” of upward mobility that is otherwise lacking.[28]In the absence of natural opportunity”; Koch concludes; “The Prosperity Gospel offers a supernatural means to material advancement.” “Prosperity Teaching flourishes in contexts of terrible poverty;” Writes Kubsch; “For many people, it represents their only hope, in the face of constant frustration, the failure of politicians and NGOs, for a better future, or even for a more bearable present.”[29]
Conversely, Professor Gifford argues that the Prosperity Gospel offers an apology for wealth and “rationalizes the preexisting wealth of those who have been upwardly mobile” by providing an explanation and “divine justifications for their elevated status” and affluent lifestyles as being “spiritually derived and deserved”.[30]
Those who are highly educated have the human, social and cultural capital to more or less insure their upward mobility;” Koch argues; “While those with little education…must seek out other means to that mobility.”
Alternatively, Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion Associate Professor Robert Woodberry argues that adherence to the Prosperity Gospel “may facilitate movement of poor people into the middle class” by fostering changes in people’s lives, such as working harder and investing more, that result in upward mobility, suggesting that those who are poor and feel that it is a sign of God’s displeasure would work hard “to put themselves in God’s good graces”.[31] However, Koch finds that adherents “are not appreciably changing their financial behaviors”. “The changes induced by adhering to the Prosperity Gospel, such as waiting for god to make them prosperous rather than working toward it themselves” make upward mobility less likely, he explains, arguing that since adherents to the Prosperity Gospel “expect god alone to give them a prosperous life, they are less likely to be motivated to take actions themselves that would increase their likelihood of becoming wealthy.”
Dallas Theological Seminary Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Field Education Ken Sarles agrees, writing that the Prosperity Gospel “appeals to the poor and sick to put more faith in the ultimate fulfillment of their desires”.[32]  

III.           Is the Prosperity Gospel Christian?

Any theology that views faith solely as a means to material gain;” Professor Jones says; “Must be judged as faulty and inadequate.” “The Prosperity Gospel;” Jones argues; “Is constructed upon a faulty theology. Consequently, many of its doctrines, including the…Prosperity Gospel teachings regarding acquisition and accumulation of wealth are ethically incorrect.” Jones concludes by saying that the Prosperity gospel is a “wholly inadequate and unbiblical view of the relationship between god and man and the stewardship of wealth.” “The teachings of those who most vigorously promote the Prosperity Gospel are false and gravely distorting of the bible… Their practice is unethical and un-Christ-like;” Writes Kubsch; “It can be soberly described as a false gospel.”[33]
In his July 18, 1886 sermon entitled “The Heart of the Gospels”, English Particular Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon told what was then the largest congregation in Christendom at London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle, the largest non-conformist church of its day, that:
I believe that it is anti-Christian and unholy for any Christian to live with the object of accumulating wealth. You will say, “Are we not to strive all we can to get all the money we can?” You may do so. I cannot doubt but what, in so doing, you may do service to the cause of god. But what I said was that to live with the object of accumulating wealth is anti-Christian.”[34]
            On Copeland’s “Believer’s Voice of Victory” program on TBN, however, Word of Faith televangelist John Avanzini disagreed, claiming that Jesus “wore designer clothes”, “was handling big money” and “had a nice house, a big house”.[35]  The Prosperity Gospel interprets the New Testament as portraying Jesus as a rich figure who used his wealth to finance a costly itinerate ministry. It argues that adherents should model their lives after Jesus by living lavishly. The theological basis for such a belief among Prosperity Preachers is Verse Nine of Chapter Eight of the Second Book of Corinthians: “For ye know the grace of our lord Jesus Christ that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor that ye through his poverty might be enriched”.
Professor Cox summarizes Hagin’s Prosperity preaching as saying that  Through the crucifixion of Christ, Christians have inherited all the promises made to Abraham, and these include both spiritual and material well-being,”[36], arguing that the theological basis for this is Verse Fourteen of Chapter Three of the Book of Galatians: “Christ paid the price so that the blessing promised to Abram would come to all the people of the world through Jesus Christ and we would receive the promised spirit through faith”.[37]  
Professor Jones, however, writes that in the verse in Second Corinthians, Saint Saul the Apostle of Tarsus was “in no way teaching that Jesus died on the cross for the purposes of increasing anyone’s net worth materially.” Jones argues that the Apostle was teaching the Corinthians that they ought to  empty themselves of their riches in service”, pointing out that five verses later, the Saint urges them to give their wealth to the needy: “Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.”[38]
The concept of giving in Prosperity theology is substantively different, driven by what Tilton called a “Law of Compensation”.[39] Kenneth Copeland’s wife Gloria describes the “Law of Compensation” this way: “Give ten dollars and receive a thousand dollars; give a thousand dollars and receive a hundred thousand dollars.”[40] This, the theology of Prosperity preaches, leads to a cycle of ever-increasing prosperity. The theological basis for this “Law of Compensation” is Verses 29-30 of Chapter Ten of the Book of Mark:
I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the good news will receive not in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and property”.[41]

            In other words: Christians give generously because when they do, god gives back more in return. “Members are urged to borrow money, take out loans or open insurance policies;” writes Pan African Anthropological Association President Robert Akoko; “In order to give to the church; they are told that they thus qualify for supernatural monetary blessing”.[42] Another verse commonly cited as a biblical basis for the “Law of Compensation”, Verse Six of Chapter Nine of the Second Book of Corinthians, states that “the person who sows generously will also reap generously”. Professor Gifford writes that Prosperity Preachers such as Copeland “leverage the biblical image of sowing and reaping” to get adherents to bring their offerings of tithes, or as Prosperity preachers proclaim them to be: “instruments of prosperity”.[43]
            Professor Jones, however, objects to this by pointing out that in Verse 35 of Chapter Six of the Book of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples to “love your enemies and do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return and your reward shall be great and you shall be the children of the highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful”.[44] 
            One substantive difference in the concept of giving in the theology of Prosperity is that, as University of New York Assistant Professor of Sociology Stephen Hart writes, that the Prosperity Gospel emphasizes the “self-deterministic and voluntaristic dimension of Christian teaching” and thus adherents give generously to their churches but little to charities.[45] Koch found that 90% of adherents to the tenets of the theology of the Prosperity Gospel gave to their church, while only 74% of them gave to nonreligious charitable causes. “Since the Prosperity Gospel ultimately blames the poor for their own plight, ignoring social constraints;” He explains; “Nonreligious charitable giving is largely discouraged as, at best, wasteful.”[46] Copeland summarizes the Prosperity Theology’s lukewarm attitude toward giving to the poor:
You can feed a thief all day long, but all you will have is a thief full of food. The food won’t change him, but the word of god will transform him on the inside… I never give to the poor without telling them about Jesus. If they are to get my material goods, they will first have to listen to what I have to say about Jesus.”[47]

IV.           Case Study: Kenneth Copeland: All of the Problems with the Prosperity Gospel in Microcosm

In many ways, the real danger of the Word of Faith Movement’s Prosperity gospel stems from the ease with which its predatory preachers solicit money from the poor.
An example is Copeland. His 33-acre Kenneth Copeland Ministries complex in Fort Worth Texas, valued at more the twelve million dollars by the Tarrant County appraisal District, includes not only a lakeside villa for Kenneth and his Wife Gloria, valued at more than six million dollars,[48] but also the private Kenneth Copeland Airport for Copeland’s two private jets, a 47 foot long Cessna S550 Citation S/II/SP and a 72 foot long Cessna 750 Citation X+, each valued at twenty million dollars. The complex also includes Copeland’s daughter Terri Pearsons’ Eagle Mountain International Church, to which are registered five music and book companies, according to the Texas Secretary of State.[49] According to United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley [R-IA], Copeland’s Cessna 550 has been used for domestic travel including hunting trips to the private LaFonda exotic game-hunting ranch in Bracketteville, Texas; where Kenneth Copeland and his son John were photographed posing with a pair of dead Cheetal [Spotted Axis Deer] indigenous to Sri Lanka] and the Steamboat Springs Ski Resort in Routt County, Colorado in December 2006. Copeland’s Cessna 750 is used for international flights, including to Honolulu, Maui and Fiji in October 2006. Kenneth Copeland Ministries responded by claiming that theses were “for preaching”, with Copeland telling a news report of the airplane that “This is a preaching machine… It will never, ever be used as long as it is in our care, for anything other than what is becoming to [Jesus]”. Copeland claimed that the two days in Maui were a “layover” on the way to a seven-day evangelical seminar in Australia, after which the three days in Honolulu were “for eating and rest” and “allowing the pilot to rest”.[50] 
Those with a prosperity orientation;” Koch adds in his 2009 paper; “tend to have voted for Bush in the year 2004 and identify as Republican.” He argues that the tenets of the theology of Prosperity, “specifically its teachings about the accumulation of material wealth and the conspicuous consumption of that wealth” encourages adherent to support issues such as lowered taxes, “decreased governmental regulation of the market and government economic intervention overall”. Indeed, in an October 19, 2016 Eagle Mountain Church television program, “Faith for Our Nation”, Copeland stated that Christians would be “guilty of murder” and “guilty of an abomination to god” if they did not vote for Republican Nominee Donald Trump in the November 8, 2016 Presidential election. Trump had named Copeland to his “Evangelical Executive Advisory Board” on June 21, 2016.[51] The use of Kenneth Copeland Ministries’ facilities by the 2008 Presidential campaign of Governor Michael Huckabee [R-AR] prompted Senator Grassley to Chair a three-year-long investigation by the Committee on Finance, on which he was the ranking member,[52] into the tax-exempt status of religious organizations under Title 26 Subtitle A, Chapter 1 Subchapter F, Part 1 Section 501 Subsection C, Paragraph 3 of the Code of Laws of the United States [USC 501C3].  501C explicitly limits its exemption to any organization:
Organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific…literary or educational purposes” and which “does not participate in or intervene in [including the publishing or distributing of statements] any political campaign on behalf of [or in opposition to] any candidate for public office.”

            As documented by former Daily Show correspondent John Oliver on HBO’s Last Week Tonight on August 16, 2015, the dangers of predatory Prosperity preaching go beyond wealth and into health. Oliver recounts the story of Bonnie Parker of Winnsboro, Louisiana. According to her daughter, Kristy Beach, after she was diagnosed with cancer Parker, a watcher every Sunday morning of Kenneth Copeland’s “Believers’ Voice of Victory”, donated money to Copeland that Beach says reached in to the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Parker also spent still more money on lottery tickets, with the intention of giving the money to Copeland should she win.
            As Oliver explains, this is “not an unreasonable interpretation” of Copeland’s preaching. Copeland, like many Prosperity Preachers, specifically cites Verse One of Chapter Eleven of the Book of Ecclesiastes: “Send your grain across the seas and in time, profits will flow back to you”.[53]
We know what’s wrong with you: You’ve got cancer.” Kenneth Copeland’s wife Gloria says in the Kenneth Copeland ministries series “Healing Faith”. “The bad news is we don’t know what to do about it except give you some poison that will make you sicker.”
Now which do you want to do: Do you want to do that or do you want to sit here on Saturday morning, hear the word of god and let faith come into your heart and be healed?”

            According to Parker’s diaries found by Beach, the Copeland’s words convinced her to refuse to see a doctor. “If she went to a doctor, it was a sin.” Beach explained to the Associated Press. “You didn’t believe enough if you did. She just wrote “God heal me. God heal me. God heal me.” The cancer advanced rapidly and according to her husband Alvin, Bonnie Parker died in 2004 believing she had not donated enough money to Copeland and always believing that if she continued to donate, her health would improve.
            Amy Arden, a former member of Eagle Mountain International Church, echoed Parker’s sentiment. “We were terrified to have any sort of fear. And anything that wasn’t faith in god was fear.” Said Arden, who attended Eagle Mountain Church from 1997 to 2003 and worked for three years for Kenneth Copeland Ministries. “To get a vaccine would have been viewed by me and my friends and my peers as an act of fear; that you doubted god would keep you safe, you doubted god would keep you healthy. We simply didn’t do it.” The vaccine Arden was referring to was for measles. In 2013, 21 members of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries were diagnosed with measles. Of the sixteen from Tarrant County, nine of them were children—including a four-month old child—at a day care center at Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas.  According to the church, all of the school-aged children infected were home-schooled. The measles vaccine is recommended at 12 months of age and again at age four to six, but of those same sixteen people, aged 4 months to 44 years, at least twelve of them—a majority of the 21 infected—were not fully immunized and had not received all of the recommended vaccinations and the rest had no record of being vaccinated or no documentation to verify their vaccination history, which 98 percent of the citizens of the county do, according to Texas State epidemiologist Russell Jones.[54] Arden, who by 2013 lived in New York City, said that her daughter was eleven months old and up to date on her immunization when she joined Eagle Mountain Church in 1997, but did not get any others until after they left the church in 2003.
The pastor of the church is Copeland’s daughter Terri Pearsons, who with her husband George, had preached about the potential of the measles vaccine to cause autism. “This is a sadly misinformed religious leader.” Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Professor William Schaffner told USA Today.[55] On “Believers’ Voice of Victory” in August 2010, Kenneth Copeland himself called the process of immunization “downright criminal”.[56]I got to looking into that and some of it is criminal.” Copeland said of having his first grandchild and being alarmed at the number of vaccinations the child was supposed to be given. “You don’t take the word of the guy that’s trying to give the shot about what’s good and what isn’t…. Because I’m telling you, it’s very dangerous the things that are happening around us all the time.”[57]

V.             Why The Theology of Prosperity is Particularly a Problem for Disparity and Sociological Inequality in the United States Today

            With the wealthiest one tenth of all Americans holding more than three quarters of all of the wealth in America[58] and the wealthiest 0.1% having the net worth of the lower 90% put together combined,[59] the United States of America has the highest income inequity in the developed world and ranks fourth among nations with the greatest wealth inequality, trailing only Lebanon, Russia and Ukraine. The United States also spends more than ten thousand dollars per capita[60] on healthcare, more than twice the average for developed countries.[61]  In spite of this, Americans are less healthy and have a lower life expectancy than in other high-income nations.[62] These things are not, as it turns out, as entirely unrelated as one might like to think, since not only is there convincing evidence that income inequity detrimentally affects human health,[63] but there is also an ever-increasingly persuasive case to be made that America’s economic inequalities are actually being fueled at least in part by its exorbitant healthcare costs.[64]
Given all of these various statistics—that the poor are poorer and the sick are sicker in America than in any other developed country in the world, it is not difficult for one to envision how the observed and documented predatory behavior of Prosperity Gospel preachers such as the Copeland family, by convincing poor people to send them money that they do not have and sick people to refuse medical care for diseases that they do have—or that they acquired through refusal of preventative precautions, could quite easily and understandably exacerbate very nearly each and every aspect of inequalities in America.

VI. Conclusion: Prosperity Theology; Faith? Or Fraud?

What sets the preachers of the prosperity gospel apart from other gospel preachers as particularly predatory is the immediacy of the consequences thereof.
No one in the known written recorded history of civilization has ever been able to in any way empirically verify the existence of any afterlife of any kind. As such, it has never been and perhaps can never be known with any reasonable degree of surety whether or not the promises of reward or threats of punishment preached by most Christian clergy to their church congregations have ever been or will ever be fulfilled. However, the Prosperity gospel sets itself apart by promising its adherents that their faith, in the form of material monetary “tithing”, will be rewarded within this lifetime. While it may never be knowable whether those who devoted their lives to the church in hopes of receiving eternal salvation in the afterlife were right or whether they were wrong to do so, the immediacy of the promises made by Prosperity Gospel preachers such as the Copeland’s makes the judging of the efficacy of their message an elementary matter of empirical observation.
If, as John Lennon imagined, there is no heaven and no hell, then it could be said that many if not all preachers, not only of Christianity but all Abrahamic faiths, throughout the history of those traditions had potentially, perhaps unknowingly, been defrauding their congregants, and doing so for generation, for hundreds if not thousands of years. But such accusations must remain without proof—in all cases except one: The Prosperity Gospel. To say that predatory Prosperity preachers such as Kenneth Copeland defraud those like Bonnie Parker who donate to them by promising rewards they will never be in any position to deliver on and never have any intention of delivering on takes no supposition whatsoever.

[1] Bowler, Kate. “Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me”, New York Times, February 13, 2016:
[2] Jones, David. “The Bankruptcy of the Prosperity gospel: An Exercise in Biblical and Theological Ethics”. Faith and Mission, Volume 16, Issue 1. Fall 1998. Pages 79-87:
[3] Cox, Harvey. Fire From Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the 21st Century. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. September 30, 1994.  Page 272.
[4] Koch, Bradley. “The Prosperity Gospel and Economic Prosperity: Race, Class, Giving and Voting”. Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Department of Sociology. July 20, 2009:
[5] Tilton, Robert. God’s Word About Prosperity. Word of Faith Publications. 1983. Page 6. 
[6] Copeland, Kenneth. The Laws of Prosperity. Kenneth Copeland Publications. 1974. “Spiritual and Physical Law”. Page 14:
[7] Copeland. Laws of Prosperity. 1974. “Prosperity: The World v. God”. Page 21.
[8] Copeland. Laws of Prosperity. 1974. Page 41.
[9] Copeland.  Laws of Prosperity. 1974. “Poverty vs. Prosperity”. Page 44.
[10]Genesis 12:7”. God’s Word to the Nations Society Translation. Baker Publishing Group. 1995.  
[11]Genesis 15:18”. International Standard Version Foundation. 2011.
[12] New English Translation Bible.  Biblical Studies Press. 2005.
[13]Genesis 26:4”.  God’s Word to the Nations Society Translation. Baker Publishing Group. 1995.
[14]Genesis 28:14”. New Living Translation. Kenneth N. Tyndale House Foundation. 1996.
[15] Taylor, Adam. “Has the Global Jewish Population Finally Rebounded from the Holocaust? Not Exactly.” Washington Post. July 2, 2015:
[16] Conroy, Charlie and Dokkum, Pieter. “A Substantial Population of Low-Mass Stars in Luminous Elliptical Galaxies”. Nature, Volume 468, Issue 7326. December 16, 2010. Pages 940-942:
[17] Driver, Simon. “Are there More Stars in the Universe Than Grains of Sand on Earth?” Australian Broadcasting Corporation. August 19, 2015:
[18] Copeland, Kenneth. Our Covenant With God. Kenneth Copeland Publications. 1987. Page 11.
[19] Withrow, Lisa. “Success and the Prosperity Gospel: From Commodification to Transformation”. Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies. 2007:
[20] Piper, John. “Prosperity Preaching: Deceitful and Deadly”. February 14, 2007:
[21] Kubsch, Ron, ed. “A Statement on Prosperity Teaching”. Lausanne Theology Working Group. 2010:
[22] Gifford, Paul. ”Prosperity: A New and Foreign Element in African Christianity”. Religion, Volume 20, Issue 4. October 1990. Pages 373-388.
[23] Hanegraff, Hank. Christianity in Crisis: The 21st Century. Harvest House Publishers. July 1, 1992. Page 186
[24] Copeland.  Laws of Prosperity. 1974. “Poverty vs. Prosperity”. Page 43.
[25] Kubsch, ed. “Statement on Prosperity Teaching”. 2010.
[26] Koch. “The Prosperity Gospel and Economic Prosperity“. Purdue University. 2009. Page 41
[27] Harrison, Milmon. Righteous Riches: The word of Faith Movement In Contemporary African American Religion. Oxford University Press. March 3, 2005.
[28] Elinson, Howard. “The Implications of Pentecostal Religion for Intellectualism, Politics and Race Relations”. American Journal of Sociology, Volume 70. January 1965. Pages 403-415:
[29] Kubsch, ed. “Statement on Prosperity Teaching”. 2010.
[30] Gifford, Paul. African Christianity: It’s Public Role. Indiana University Press. 1998.
[31] Woodberry, Robert. “The Economic Consequences of Pentecostal Belief”. Society, Volume 44. November 2006. Page 29-35:
[32] Sarles, Ken. “A Theological Evaluation of the Prosperity Gospel”. Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 143, Issue 572. October 1986. Pages 329-339.
[33] Kubsch, ed. “Statement on Prosperity Teaching”. 2010.
[34] Jones, David and Woodbridge, Russell. Health, Wealth and Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ? Kregel Publications. December 17, 2010. Introduction, Page 14.
[35] Hanegraff. Christianity in Crisis. 1992. Page 381
[36] Cox. Fire From Heaven. 1994. Page 271.
[37]Galatians 3:14”. God’s Word to the Nations Society Translation. Baker Publishing Group. 1995.
[38]2 Corinthians 8:14”. New Living Translation. Kenneth N. Tyndale House Foundation. 1996.
[39]The Law of Compensation is the bedrock of the prosperity movement.” Sarles.  “Theological Evaluation of the Prosperity Gospel”. Bibliotheca Sacra. 1986. 329-339.
[40] Copeland, Gloria. God’s Will Is Prosperity. Kenneth Copeland Publications. 1973. Page 54.
[41]Mark 10:29-30”. New Living Translation. Kenneth N. Tyndale House Foundation. 1996.
[42] Akoko, Robert. Ask and You Shall Be Given”: Pentecostalism and the Economic Crisis in Cameroon. African Studies Center. 2007. Page 5:
[43] Gifford. Paul. “Expecting Miracles: The Prosperity Gospel in Africa”. Christian Century. July 10, 2007:
[44]Luke 6:35”. 21st Century King James Version. Deuel Enterprises, South Dakota. 1994.
[45] Hart, Stephen. “What does the Lord Require? How American Christians Think About Economic Justice”. Rutgers University Press. 1992:
[46] Koch. “The Prosperity Gospel and Economic Prosperity“. Purdue University. 2009. Pages 55-59
[47] Copeland.  Laws of Prosperity. 1974. “Giving to the Poor”. Pages 75-76.
[48] Reilly, Peter. “About that Kenneth Copeland Mansion You Saw on John Oliver”. Forbes Magazine. August 25, 2015:
[49] Burnett, John. “Can a Television Network Be a Church? The IRS Says Yes”, National Public Radio. April 1, 2014: 
[50] Shipp, Brett. “Senate Audit Critical of TV Preacher Kenneth Copeland”. WFAA. August 19, 2015:
[51] Wing, Nick. “Donald Trump’s New Evangelical Advisor Was Sure God Had chosen Ted Cruz to Be President”. Huffington Post. June 21, 2016:
[52] Strickler, Laura. “Senate Panel Probes 6 Top Televangelists”. CBS News. November 6, 2007:
[53] “Ecclesiastes 11:1”. New Living Translation. Kenneth N. Tyndale House Foundation. 1996.
[54] Aleccia, Jonel. “Measles Outbreak Tied to Texas Mega church Sickens 21”. NBC News. August 27, 2013:
[55] Szabo, Liz. “Texas Measles Outbreak Linked to Church”. USA Today. August 25, 2013:
[56] Neporent, Liz. “Texas Church Tied to Measles Outbreak Preaching Vaccinations”. ABC News. August 26, 2013:
[57] Stengle, Jamie. “Measles Cases Put Texas Mega church Under Scrutiny”. Associated Press. August 31, 2013.
[58] Sahadi, Jeanne. “The Richest 10% Hold 76% of the Wealth”. CNN. August 18, 2016:
[59] Monaghan, Angela. “US Wealth Inequality—Top 0.1% Worth As Much As the Bottom 90%”. The Guardian. Thursday November 13, 2014:
[60] Alonso-Zladivar, Ricardo. “$10,345 Per Person: U.S. Health Care Spending Reaches New Peak”. Associated Press. July 13, 2016:
[61] Rugy, Veronique. “US Health Care Spending More Than Twice the Average for Developed Countries”. George Mason University Mercatus Center:
[62] Fox, Maggie. “We’re Unhealthier Than Everyone Else—And It’s Our Own Fault”. NBC News. January 9, 2013:
[63] Szalavitz, Maia. “How Economic Inequality is [Literally] Making Us Sick”. TIME Magazine. October 19, 2011:
[64] Blumenthal, David and Squires, David. “Do Health Care costs Fuel Economic Inequality in the United States?” The Commonwealth Fund. Tuesday September 9, 2014: