Quite soon I'll be giving the first of two stewardship messages, the first of which will be delivered on Halloween! How fitting is that, to talk about giving money on the scariest day of the year? With this season of budget planning and such, it's fitting that Martin Marty speaks to the issues of money, stewardship, prosperity gospels and more. I think you'll find this a good starting point for a discussion.
Money Making and Money Giving
- Martin E. Marty
Ungodly and godly money making and money giving are key topics while many Christian churches gear up for November as “stewardship month.” As they and others face “budget-setting time,” multiple items netted from the public press and the internet beckon for attention. Several focus on the more gross stories from some black church orbits. Even in the UK they drew notice, for example in a Financial Times story “Churches: Riches in This Life, Salvation in the Next,” on “the huge success of Pentecostalism.”
Shyamantha Asokan, a Financial Times reporter, turned to Nigeria for stories as she visited Lagos’s The Living Faith Church, “The Winners’ Chapel,” which seats 50,000 people in front of a wealth-flaunting pastor whose operation reaches 400 satellite churches. A Methodist teacher-trainer in Lagos speaks not out of envy but with realistic appraisal, “The economic life of the pastor is booming, while the economic life of the country is grinding to a halt.” The members of such churches are “like fickle customers,” says Asokan, always shopping for a church whose “Prosperity Gospel” may yield them a pastor-size fortune.
Meanwhile in the Wall Street Journal DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., a New Jersey Baptist pastor takes on the American expressions of the “Prosperity Gospel.” Not despising the good counsel, indeed, praising that which Non-Prosperity-Gospel black churches offer, he sees the Prosperity version to be a perversion of the Gospel.
One could adduce comparable examples of grossness in practice met by criticism from prophetic pulpits also in non-black churches, but I turn next to a headline in the New York Times, “Onward Christian Moguls.” There Maureen Dowd visits the semi-secular, semi-religious “Get Motivated!” seminar in Washington. It’s being staged in several cities, super-advertised—how can one evade the full-page ads?—wherein titans who need no money are out to make money off people who pay well to learn nothing new. Mike Ditka, Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Rather, and, alas! Colin Powell, offer bromides and bumper-sticker slogans, often with religious motifs to back them, or front for them. The story is written with irony and tinged in pathos.
Meanwhile, and you are allowed to cheer up, Forward is running an intelligent, fair, and revealing multiple-part story, in one case contrasting Jewish and Christian money-raising approaches. In the October 1 issue Josh Nathan-Kazis headlines “Synagogues Rarely Mention God in Appeals, Unlike Churches.” Synagogues, he writes, tend to rely on assessments and paying of annual dues, supplemented by appeals less to God and more to the responsibility of being in community. He contrasts this, while not judging either approach, with characteristic Christian appeals of the non-Prosperity Gospel style. This is the “stewardship” approach in mainstream and evangelical Protestantism. Nathan-Kazis quotes Lutheran Pastor Megan Torgerson: “Everything you have is God’s to begin with.” Believers are not to think of money as “mine, mine, mine,” but to “celebrate that this is a gift from God already” and ask “What can I do with it?”
Lisa Miller in Newsweek lauds “Bread for the World,” a largely church-based effort to feed the world, something this prosperous nation does not do well. The numbers of the poor and hungry also grow here. Pastor David Beckman, who heads BFTW, promotes stewardship, but does not shy away from connecting the cause with politics and cooperation with government. Get generous, he is saying, and get real.
Shyamantha Asokan, “Churches: Riches in This Life, Salvation in the Next,” Financial Times, September 30, 2010.
Maureen Dowd, “Onward Christian Moguls,” New York Times, October 6, 2010.
Lisa Miller, “Bread for the World,” Newsweek, October 11, 2010.
Josh Nathan-Kaxis, “Synagogues Rarely Mention God in Appeals, Unlike Churches,” Forward, September 22, 2010.
DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., “Black Churches and the Prosperity Gospel,” Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2010.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.