In this morning’s paper, there was an AP story about the inquiry, instigated by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, into the financial records of several Christian ministries that preach the so-called “prosperity doctrine.”
I had heard this story a while back, but I didn’t think it was going anywhere. To me, it is clearly none of the government’s business what kind of cars are driven or houses lived in by religious leaders, or what doctrines they preach.
But being none of the government’s business has never gotten in the way of the government doing something stupid, so why start now?
I am going to take a look at this on a few different levels: political, practical, personal, and religious.
First, the political. I think it is a big mistake for the government to start meddling in the affairs of religious groups. And for Congress to go after a particular sect because of its biblical interpretation treads into dangerous constitutional waters.
These ministries are fully allowed by law to hold a tax-exempt status.
I think that the tax-exempt status is absolutely crucial for small and start-up ministries, and it should not be abolished. However, if there is a concern that wealthy ministries should be contributing to the government, then there should be a conversation about whether or not ministries that are bringing in a certain level of funds should be made to pay taxes. Perhaps it is their civic duty to do so. (This would, of course, have to apply to non-religious non-profits, as well.)
Let’s have that conversation, but let’s not have the government debating the merits of certain interpretations of the Bible.
From a practical standpoint, the woman featured in the article is an example of badly applied advice. That does not mean that the advice is bad. I challenge anyone to show me someone who is preaching that one should take out payday loans in order to be able to continue funding a ministry, and that God will reward that with riches.
I am not a fan of the prosperity doctrine. I think that is gives a false impression of what following Christ will reap in this life and, when the cost of following includes physical discomfort in this world, it can lead to a real crisis of faith. There is no shortage of examples of people in the Bible who are faithful, yet do not reap prosperity in this life.
It includes: Not using credit, living within your means, paying off your debts (and not acquiring new debts), and, yes, tithing.
I have never heard Joyce Meyer say that the blessings will come pouring in, in the form of money or material goods, right away, or that there wouldn’t be tough times. In fact, I have heard her tell stories of her own financial struggles in the past. The faith that she speaks of is faith that God will provide for our needs. And that someday, we will get to a place where money is not a struggle, though that last point I disagree is guaranteed in this life.
The point that Meyer makes is that we need to be good stewards of what God has given us and we will be blessed with more. Taking out payday loans does not fit under the definition of good stewardship.
I am a big fan of much of Joyce Meyer’s work, especially her work in the area of spiritual warfare. I own a couple of her books on that topic. And we have personally put her financial advice, which is the same as any Biblical-based financial plan, into practice and are less than 2 months away from being 100% free of consumer debt.
At the same time, we never send our tithes to Joyce Meyer Ministries because I am personally not comfortable supporting her lavish lifestyle, despite the fact that the ministry does help a lot pf people. We simply choose to support other, less extravagant, ministries.
From a religious perspective, the whole prosperity thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I think that it is a poor representation of the Gospel and it causes followers to view God as their own cosmic vending machine, one that will dispense whatever earthly riches their hearts desire, leaving them angry at God when He does not deliver.
Even Joyce Meyer made a statement, quoted in the AP article, saying that a prosperity gospel “that solely equates blessing with financial gain is out of balance and could damage a person’s walk with God.”
The fact remains, it is not the job of Congress to determine which is the proper Gospel to preach.