(Please welcome Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters in the comments. As always, out of respect for our guest, please take comments on other subject back to the prior thread. Thanks! — jh)
This book was hard for me to read.
In God’s Profits, journalist Sarah Posner explores one of the less-well known branches of the conservative Christian movement in the US. If you’ve ever channel-surfed on a Sunday morning, you likely have seen the faces of the people this book explores. There’s Joel Osteen, the CEO-ish looking preacher of the "prosperity gospel," whom Posner describes as having a "cotton-candy, feel-good, self-help style of preaching;" Word of Faith movement leaders like Rod Parsley, Kenneth Copeland, Paul Crouch, and others who preach a message that says in essence "no one would want to be a Christian if Christians were poor, so it must be God’s will that Christians be rich;" and John Hagee and his "Christians United for Israel" [CUFI] crowd, who view supporting Israel as the way to bring about the second coming of Jesus. Throughout the preaching of these folks and others like them, there is the sense that if you just believe hard enough — and give generously enough — anything you wish for will come to you. Wealth, healing, victory over IslamoFascism . . . anything. And of course, if it doesn’t come to you . . . well, you must not have enough faith. You need to believe harder, give even more . . .
As I said, this was a hard book for me to read.
I kept wanting to argue, not with Posner, but with the preachers she describes. As a pastor myself who follows the Christian right, some of this was familiar, some was brand new, and almost all of it was disturbing. "Have you ever really read the Bible?" I wanted to ask them. As Posner notes [pp. 43-44],
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that God knows what you need before you ask for it. But the prosperity preachers, [critic Dan] McConnell charges, have distorted the word need to mean something beyond "necessity" and have failed to make "any distinction between a need and a want, and a want and a lust" for items such as new houses, fancy cars, and fine clothing. The fixation on wealth, McConnell argues, is "a carnal accomodation to the crass materialism of American culture." It serves not only to "rationalize the disparity between rich and poor. It actually degrades the poor, claiming that their poverty is a result of ‘dishonoring’ God."
Oh, I could go down that road for a long time taking on the preachers Posner describes. Where, in these ministries, is any of Jesus’ concern for the poor, the hungry, those in need, the outcasts, the strangers, the foreigners?
But I digress. That’s not why we’re here.
We’re here at the FDL Book Salon to talk with Sarah Posner, because of the other cast of characters that come in and out of the story she tells . . .
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of God’s Profits to me were the links between this segment of the Christian Right and the mainstream of the GOP. At times, the links are philosphical/theological: both focus on self-reliance, distrust of government, and extreme individualism. If someone is poor, the GOP views them as lazy while the Word of Faith crowd views them as faithless — but both think that the poor are only poor by choice: "if the poor would just work/believe harder, then they wouldn’t be poor." Both operate in a world of dualistic black-and-white choices: good or evil, with us or against us, secular and holy, etc. Both use the language of warfare to justify and promote their beliefs. Both operate with a hierarchical, Yertle-the-Turtle view of the world, in which those at the top are due unquestioning loyalty from those below. Leaders may be accountable to other leaders, but not to their followers and never to outsiders.
At other times, however, the links between the GOP and this branch of TheoCon preachers are quite specific and direct. The preachers try to bolster their prestige, their ministries, and their egos by flaunting their connections with and clout among political leaders in the GOP — and the GOP leaders try to tap the money and the voters that these preachers can bring to their political campaigns. For instance, says Posner [pp. 110-111]:
[In 2007] Republican officials and candidates are seeking Hagee’s ear. John McCain met Hagee for a private têtê-à-têtê in San Antonio, emerging with a virtual endorsement of his presidential candidacy and a $1000 contribution to his campaign. . . . Presidential hopefulls Sam Brownback and Duncan Hunter spoke at Nights to Honor Israel [a series of Hagee sponsored events] in South Carolina and Virginia. When Hagee was in Washington to deliver a well-received speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in March 2007, he met with House Republican Whip Roy Blunt and other members of the House Republican leadership. Gingrich also collaborated with Hagee, delivering the keynote address at CUFI’s 2007 Washington summit.
It’s a Sunday, in the midst of a contentious presidential primary season. Sounds like a good time to talk politics and religion, especially of the Word of Faith variety. Please help me welcome author Sarah Posner to the FDL Book Salon, for what promises to be an enlightening discussion of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters.