The past few years haven’t been too kind to the Black church. Once an integral part of the struggle for equality and the cornerstone of the African-American community, several scandals have rocked prominent Black churches causing many to eschew religion in favor of spirituality. While many have pinned the decay of the venerable institution on ministers who trumpet a “prosperity gospel,” African-Americans remain one of the most religious groups in the nation.
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Princeton professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr. asserts too many Christians now follow a “gospel of greed.”
“Inequality is deepening in our country. People are working harder for less, and unemployment is high,” he writes. “The result has been the privatization of social misery and a cultural mean-spiritedness that sanctions selfishness and greed.”
Though Christianity has traditionally advocated for caring about “the least of these,” Glaude argues the modern church is not speaking out against rampant inequality, but rather championing unfettered capitalism and equating being “blessed” with being wealthy.
One would think that this state of affairs contradicts a Christian vision of who we should be as children of God. But today we see throughout American Christendom, including in the black Christian community, a growing embrace of what has been called “prosperity gospel.” This view holds that God wills that those who are “born again” be materially wealthy and free of disease. Known also as the “Health and Wealth Gospel” or “Faith Message,” the theology connects a wide range of non-denominational and charismatic ministries based in what is known as the “Word of Faith Movement.”
We see its influence spreading, nationally and internationally, as televangelists and celebrity ministers with their megachurches preach its basic tenets. In black America, this theology overtakes calls for economic empowerment. Freedom dreams are supplanted by the aspiration to wealth, a theology that suits a vision of capitalism that is devastating our communities and country.
This gospel of wealth blunts criticism of durable inequality, precisely because wealth and the aspiration for upward mobility are tied to individual spiritual considerations. Wealth and poverty constitute evidence of God’s blessings or punishment. Conspicuous consumption becomes a critical part of the work of faith. Here Christians are “blessed entrepreneurs and consumers.”
Glaude warns that if churches continue down its current path it will trap parishioners in a “gilded cage,” where their lives will be “rooted in competition, selfishness, and greed,” and the Black church will cease to exist.