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By David Van Biema
Has the so-called Prosperity gospel turned its followers into some of the most willing participants — and hence, victims — of the current financial crisis? That’s what a scholar of the fast-growing brand of Pentecostal Christianity believes. While researching a book on black televangelism, says Jonathan Walton, a religion professor at the University of California at Riverside, he realized that Prosperity’s central promise — that God will “make a way” for poor people to enjoy the better things in life — had developed an additional, dangerous expression during the subprime-lending boom. Walton says that this encouraged congregants who got dicey mortgages to believe “God caused the bank to ignore my credit score and blessed me with my first house.” The results, he says, “were disastrous, because they pretty much turned parishioners into prey for greedy brokers.”
Others think he may be right. Says Anthea Butler, an expert in Pentecostalism at the University of Rochester in New York: “The pastor’s not gonna say, ‘Go down to Wachovia and get a loan,’ but I have heard, ‘Even if you have a poor credit rating, God can still bless you — if you put some faith out there [that is, make a big donation to the church], you’ll get that house or that car or that apartment.’ ” Adds J. Lee Grady, editor of the magazine Charisma: “It definitely goes on, that a preacher might say, ‘If you give this offering, God will give you a house.’ And if they did get the house, people did think that it was an answer to prayer, when in fact it was really bad banking policy.” If so, the situation offers a look at how a native-born faith built partially on American economic optimism entered into a toxic symbiosis with a pathological market.
Although a type of Pentecostalism, Prosperity theology adds a distinctive layer of supernatural positive thinking. Adherents will reap rewards if they prove their faith to God by contributing heavily to their churches, remaining mentally and verbally upbeat and concentrating on divine promises of worldly bounty supposedly strewn throughout the Bible. Critics call it a thinly disguised pastor-enrichment scam. Other experts, like Walton, note that for all its faults, the theology can empower people who have been taught to see themselves as financially or even culturally useless to feel they are “worthy of having more and doing more and being more.” In some cases the philosophy has matured with its practitioners, encouraging good financial habits and entrepreneurship.
But Walton suggests that a decade’s worth of ever easier credit acted like a drug in Prosperity’s bloodstream. “The economic boom ’90s and financial overextensions of the new millennium contributed to the success of the Prosperity message,” he wrote recently. And not positively. “Narratives of how ‘God blessed me with my first house despite my credit’ were common. Sermons declaring ‘It’s your season to overflow’ supplanted messages of economic sobriety,” and “little attention was paid to … the dangers of using one’s home equity as an ATM to subsidize cars, clothes and vacations.”
With the bubble burst, Walton and Butler assume that Prosperity congregants have taken a disproportionate hit, and they are curious as to how their churches will respond. Butler thinks some of the flashier ministries will shrink along with their congregants’ fortunes. Says Walton: “You would think that the current economic conditions would undercut their theology.” But he predicts they will persevere, since God’s earthly largesse is just as attractive when one is behind the economic eight ball.
A recent publicly posted testimony by a congregant at the Brownsville Assembly of God, near Pensacola, Fla., seems to confirm his intuition. Brownsville is not even a classic Prosperity congregation — it relies more on the anointing of its pastors than on Scriptural promises of God. But the believer’s note to his minister illustrates how magical thinking can prevail even after the mortgage blade has dropped. “Last Sunday,” it read, “You said if anyone needed a miracle to come up. So I did. I was receiving foreclosure papers, so I asked you to anoint a picture of my home and you did and your wife joined with you in prayer as I cried. I went home feeling something good was going to happen. On Friday the 5th of September I got a phone call from my mortgage company and they came up with a new payment for the next 3 months of only $200. My mortgage is usually $1,020. Praise God for his Mercy & Grace.”
And pray that the credit market doesn’t tighten any further.
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – A 57-year-old man from Mississauga, Ont., has been charged with murder after his 16-year-old daughter died overnight.
Aqsa Parvez was rushed to hospital Monday morning in critical condition after a man made a 911 call in which he allegedly said he killed his daughter.
The teenager died in hospital late Monday night.
Peel Regional Police have charged her father, Muhammad Parvez, 57, with murder – a specific degree will be determined later.
He made a brief court appearance Tuesday morning and was remanded in custody pending another court appearance Wednesday.
Aqsa Parvez’s friends have said she had been arguing with her devout Muslim family for months over her reluctance to wear a hijab.
The faith based funding issue should have been about simple human rights. The U.N has already indicated that the practice of funding only Catholic schools in Ontario is unjust. John Tory hoped to address this issue by fixing the problem and allowing fairness. Fund all or fund none, and he opted to fund all. Unfortunately, reality occurred and we found out that Ontarians are actually a lot more racist, ignorant and bigoted then they like to believe. Not all Ontarians are like this, but based on call-in shows and the general mood of people, many are. In reality the question should have been “would you like Islamic schools to get public funding”. Many Ontarians have extreme stereotypes about Islam, to some no fault of their own. The images they see, and are bombarded with, tend to be on the extreme. On the radio comments, in regards to faith-based education, revolved around fundamentalist Islam elements and “terrorists”. I have even heard a voter say that they do not what terrorist schools to get funding. Now a lot of this is based on fear, since 9/11, but in essence we still extremely fearful and ignorant in Ontario. Now the question is, does that fear show how successful the media has been in planting the wrong image about Islam in the minds of Canadians? Because it’s absolutely amazing how clueless people are about various religions in Ontario. Rather than be properly educated about any group of people, we like to remain in our sheltered domain; ignorant to the facts around us.
What was really sad, and not becoming of an elected leader, is how Premier Dalton McGuinty used this situation to the advantage of the Liberal Party of Ontario. Dalton McGuinty, at one point, called the funding of religious schools “segregation”, along with others in the Liberal Party who called it divisive. This was one of the most irresponsible things for Dalton McGuinty and the party to do. Dalton McGuinty ignored that fact that he was educated in a Catholic school. His wife is a teacher in a Catholic school and his children attend one. Does Dalton McGuinty, and the Liberal Party, believe that Catholics and Catholicism are better then all other groups? Are other groups like Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims somehow not pure Canadians, or dare I say white or Anglo-Saxon Canadians? Are they not as enlightened somehow? What is amazing when asked by reporters Dalton “never” responds to the question with a “straight” answer. I assume that proper “political spin”, and his handlers, are making sure that he does not. Now another question to be asked is are the Liberals themselves only using this situation to play on the fears of Ontario voters? Regardless of how you feel in this election, this was an issue of fairness. The status quo was not good enough. Also, those who like to state that it only an issue of the constitution, hide in it. Tell me just because something was done years ago, does not make it right. With that fuzzy logic should a lot of old racists and ignorant laws should remain on the books; keeping the minority at bay.
To address the fears of Ontarians we must think deeply about the idea of funding faith-based schools. No fundamentalist Islamic or Christian school would accept funding or want to be under the umbrella of public education. It would require them to teach the curriculum, which may come in conflict with some of their essential beliefs. But for those who fear “terrorist schools”, they are probably already here. Even one Global TV reporter asked John Tory what he would do if Islamic schools wanted to “separate the boys from the girls”. This was an ignorant and, quite honestly, a stupid question. I have to believe that Global TV was obviously trying stir up trouble and play to the ignorance and fear of Ontarians also, seeing that Catholics already have some of their schools divided between boys and girls. I do not want to forget the element that legitimately, without the racist or ignorant feelings, have wanted to remove faith-based funding for years from Catholics. In the end this may be the only solution to the problem; however those who want this option, and can properly argue this point, are not the majority of enlighten and learned individuals. We must accept that there is still a lot of fear, ignorance and racists in the generally public. Let me be clear, not all are racist; but the element of it exists, however suttle. No sense trying to hop on the high ground on this issue. There is nothing wrong with those who fear, however they must face those fears and learn from them. Ignorance is unacceptable and racism should just not be tolerated. In the end, however ironic, it seems that the Liberals have used that fear and ignorance to their own advantage. For a party that claims to be for all, including the immigrants of Ontario it makes me wonder. What does Dalton McGuinty really believe? Is his only aim to get into power at whatever the cost? Playing to the fear of Ontarians is a low-ball strategy that will fail in the end. Do you want to live in a province based on fear, intolerance and ignorance? Liberals around Ontario should ask themselves if they truly want to continue down the Dalton McGuinty path. However I sense that they will wake up the next morning and wonder, what in the world did we just do?
By: Andy MJ
a.k.a “The GTA Patriot”
Mostly poor flock welcome minister living the good life as critics rally outside his church. Thousands of members of the embattled Prayer Palace congregation cheered on their pastor yesterday as he bragged about his suntan, the support of worshippers and the openness of his administration while one congregant warned, “The devil decided to mess with the wrong church.”
Outside, private security guards, church volunteers and a couple of police cruisers kept a close eye on a small group of demonstrators protesting the lavish lifestyle of senior pastor Paul Melnichuk, his twin sons, who are the church’s junior pastors, and the Prayer Palace’s dwindling contributions to charity.
The Prayer Palace and the Melnichuks were the subject of a recent Sunday Star investigation that found the church’s three pastors living in multi-million-dollar mansions and enjoying a lavish Florida hideaway while encouraging the largely poor congregation to tithe a percentage of their income.
“Money should be invested within the black community,” said protestor Jane Reid, pointedly observing that “after all, 90 per cent of the people who attend the church are black.”