Five inconvenient truths megachurch prosperity preachers (MP) rather not talk about.
1) Being rich in God is not the same as being rich in the world. If I get a dollar every time a MP tells me that God wants to bless me with material wealth and unlimited success, I will have retired rich and living large before I hit 40 (and I am 46 now). Billy Graham once teased that the checkbook (cheque book) is a theological document, and it will tell you who and what you worship. Indeed, money has a powerful hold on religion just as it has on other aspects of public life. The corruption that money invites doesn’t just start with the love of it – most times, it comes with the over-exposure to it. In today’s money-driven religious world, serving two masters are no longer mutually exclusive. The promises of prosperity is the carrot that many MP use to spellbind their congregation and it is much easier to believe in a rich and faithful believer than a poor and faithful one. MP thus owes their congregation the pastoral obligation to present the full gospel of Christ here. Ours is not a one-dimensional gospel of success. It is much more than that. It is essentially the gospel of overcoming. More importantly, being rich in God is more about possessing those values which money cannot buy. A peace of mind, a spirit of resilience, a soul finding contentment, a fleshly desire subdued at times of temptation, and an enduring hope beyond this world are the first and last fruits of a rich believer in God.
2) They (MP) don’t know everything. That’s the spoiler alert for their members. You see, MP may come up with books, DVDs, audio-recordings, and online sermons, all of which boast about their ability to explain all things, but there are still things or phenomena that escape them. Although no one expects them to know everything, the issue here is not that. On the contrary, it is about the image they project to their members. Every Sunday, standing before the crowd, the impression given is that there is an explanation for every unanswered prayer, every premature death or terminal illness, every unexpected misfortune, every undeserved crisis and every emotional betrayal. They will tell or hint to you that the problem is you, your lack of faith, your lack of belief, your lack of trust, your lack of love, your lack of truth, even your lack of bible knowledge. Well, there may be a little truth there I admit, but the point again is not that. The point is that the MP never falls short of making presumptuous explanations that seek to elevate their know-it-all status so as to preserve that superficial arm’s length respectability between them and their members. Somehow, being a leader, these MP feel that it is their sacred job to offer an explanation for everything. Alas, the last thing they want to disclose to their members is their ignorance. Yet, that is also in my view the main obstacle they face towards being an humble and respected leader.
3) The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty. This third truth ties in with the 2nd one above. And because ignorance is to be avoided at all costs, the MP demonizes doubts as a stumbling block of faith. For them, the expression of doubt is the admission of defeat. But the truth is that having doubt is part and parcel of being a believer because we are human after all. However, doubts need not drive us away from the faith. Where doubts flourish is when we apply it to question self-serving and misleading beliefs. Like faith, doubt compels us to seek the truth. Although we now only see the glass dimly, we are called to defend our faith with understanding of the gospel – and not with self-conceited presumptions. The search for biblical truths is a lifetime endeavor and having doubt can drive us to probe, dig and go deeper.
4) There is a simple logic why most MP are wealthy. You seldom catch them in second-hand cars, living in average houses or traveling in economy class. Some even have private jets, large estate and mansions, and earthly investment in the millions. They are rich because they sit on top of the pyramid of devotion with a broad base of eager givers below. And the broader the base, the wealthier the MP gets. Imagine the money collected every week, every month and every year. Idling cash stashed aside for a rainy day. In their organization, they directly or indirectly control the offerings and tithes offered by members. They largely decide on what to do with it. Most of them amass the funds and remunerate themselves rather generously. Personal prosperity inevitably comes with the territory. That is just how it works. It is what they deserve or are entitled to – at least that is how their members and staff strongly feel. The reality is that they don’t preach for free. Neither do they write books nor appear on worldwide broadcasts for free. However, I see two issues here. First, the socioeconomic gap between the congregation and the leadership widens as the latter’s pocket deepens. And second, at some point, there is always a risk that they may cross that invidious threshold where their faith becomes more aligned to their cheque book balances than to their first love or calling. And alas, even if some of them have crossed that threshold, they are scarce to admit to it, or at all, because it is just too much of an inconvenient truth to face before their devoted, if not already besotted, members.
5) They are human after all. After all is said and done, whether I offer five inconvenient truths here or two, the fact remains that they (MPs) are human – flaws and all. They may like to think that they are special, a spiritual cut above the rest, the one who has the favor and listening ear of the divine, or the one who knows, interprets and conducts themselves better than all, if not most. But the raw reality is that they are not. No doubt credit should be given where credit is due and some of them are amazing on stage, eloquent and delightful to watch, and some are flashy with charisma galore, but I believe they stand equal with all in the temptations they face, the emotional struggles they are embroiled in, and the distractions of the heart that seek to derail them. The reflective ones will not disagree with me on this. And if the many transgressions of MP past are anything to go by, with their fall from grace coming close at the heels of a self-driven pursuit for recognition or a belief in their own invulnerability, then MPs are no different from individuals (like you and me) struggling with their own humanity. Alas, some of these struggles are made complicated by the immense power, adoration and wealth they hold, wield or demand. And the other struggles come about as a result of their own belief that this time, it will be different – that is, this time, they are different. Cheerz.