Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Paula White, the Prosperity Gospel and the Evangelical's Faustian Bargain

by Nomad

Since somebody had to do it, I have been reading- ok, skimming- through Omarosa's book, Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House. I won't go through a full review of the book but there was one scene from the transition period that caught my eye.

The days following Trump's election victory were characterized by a lack of direction- (Trump apparently wanted to keep campaigning) confusion at all levels and the beginnings of vicious turf wars.
It's no wonder.
Like every rotten management, the hiring was never based on experience or merit but on the quality of one's relationship with the boss. And, according to the book, Trump constantly told Omarosa how much she was respected, beloved and appreciated.

So, with the brass ring just out of her reach, Omarosa's heart was set on the heading the Office of Public Liaison (OPL). Being responsible for communicating and interacting with various interest groups, there's no question that it is a power position.
And Omarosa wouldn't rest- or let anybody else relax- until it was hers.

However, Reince Priebus, as White House Chief of Staff, seemed to be stonewalling her, while she "continued to chip away at my workload, commuting, setting things up, putting out fires." Every day there were announcements about other positions, but for poor, poor Omarosa, there was nothing but vague promises.
When Reince next called, it was to say that someone had placed a strong objection to my being put in charge of the OPL.
“Who?” I asked.
Paula White,” he said. “She wants you to go into some other position.”
“What are you talking about? What does Paula White have to do with staffing decisions?”
“Exactly!” he said.
Omarosa was enraged. (There's a lot of enragement in this book.)
Why would she feel she had the authority to tell Reince not to hire me in that position?
Why, indeed.

White's Supremacy

Pastor Paula White's name might not be familiar to you. The 52-year-old Mississipi-born televangelist is the senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center, in Apopka, Florida, a non-denominational, multicultural megachurch.
She also hosts her own TV show, "Paula White Today," which I imagine is a kind of an Oprah for white Christian women.

The thrice-married grandmother became a personal minister to Donald Trump since he began watching her TV show decades ago.  Later, Trump often invited her Atlantic City "for private Bible studies."
(That's a teaser for filthy minds if ever there was one.)

Back in 2011, Ms. White was one of six televangelists investigated by the Senate Committee on Finance for possible violations of IRS rules that bar excessive compensation for leaders of religious nonprofits. As reported at the time,
The report released by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley raises questions about the personal use of church-owned airplanes, luxury homes and credit cards by pastors and their families, and expresses concern about the lack of oversight of finances by boards often packed with the televangelists' relatives and friends.
Federal tax law prohibits religious leaders, as the heads of tax-exempt nonprofit institutions, from earning "unreasonable compensation."
Like the others, White expressly refused to cooperate with the investigation. Several right-wing Christian groups came to the evangelists' defense and charged the Grassley investigation with "oversight overstep."
Clearly, Republican committee members backed down, fearing a religious liberty backlash. Four years of Congressional investigations came to nothing.

One of White's fans is James Dobson, the president of Focus on the Family, which has an extensive agenda. It promotes abstinence-only sexual education; creationism;  adoption by married, opposite-sex parents;  school prayer; and traditional gender roles. It opposes abortion; divorce; gambling; LGBT rights, particularly LGBT adoption and same-sex marriage;   pornography; pre-marital sex; and substance abuse.

Dobson credited White with bringing the notorious sinner Trump to Jesus. A kind of religious honey-pot operation, perhaps. Dobson added that the stakes were much too high to look too deeply into Trump's heart.
And, if Christians stay home because he isn't a better candidate, Hillary will run the world for perhaps eight years. The very thought of that haunts my nights and days. One thing is sure: we need to be in prayer for our nation at this time of crisis."

Prosperity Gospel

Besides possible IRS violations, there was one common link between all of the ministries that fell under the Senate investigation spotlight. Each of the six televangelists promoted some form of a doctrine known as the "prosperity gospel."

According to that doctrine, Christians who are living their lives according to certain Biblical rules—as well as giving generously to the church—will receive financial blessings. God's love is measured by how much money you have in your bank account and how much you give to the church.
This also means- at least, by inference- that if you are destitute, God is not pleased with your lifestyle, the friends you hang with or the way you keep house.

Ministers in this tradition often hold up their own wealth- Paula White reportedly has a net worth of $5 million-  as evidence that the teaching works. In some respects, it is much more like a Ponzi scheme than religious teaching.

Detractors- and there are plenty- argue that the prosperity gospel is merely a way that the super-wealthy can justify their lavish lifestyle and still pretend to be Christian. In much the same way, Antebellum era preachers in the South provided slave-owner a Biblical rationalization for slavery and a balm for their troubled consciences.   

When it comes to Christianity, there is, however, a major problem with the doctrine. The prosperity gospel runs contrary to the doctrine which states that a Christian can not serve two masters, God and Mammon.(Mammon is a word in Hebrew ממון and it means "money")

In the Gospel of Matthew, (19:16-22) there is a more direct message about how Jesus felt about hoarding superfluous wealth. A young well-to-do man seeking guidance, asks Jesus how he can get to heaven. Christ runs down the usual checklist, no murder, no stealing, no adultery. The young man says that he has not done any those things.

"But" Jesus says, "there's one more thing you have to do. Go, sell what you have and give to the poor. You'll have your treasure in the afterlife. Come and follow me."
But the man was saddened by these words and went away in sorrow, because he had great wealth." 
And that's the last we hear of him.

Pedigree of a Heresy

The origins of the movement are attributed to Oral Roberts ("Don't wait for the pie in the sky by-and-by when you die. Get yours now with ice cream and a cherry on top!" ) and Kenneth Hagin, Jr. Hagin spawned a whole generation of wealth-worshipping preachers from his Oklahoma Bible college before turning around and chastising them for "manipulating the Bible to support what he viewed as greed and selfish indulgence."

However, it was Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, known as Reverend Ike, who popularized it, especially among African-American Christians.
One of Reverend Ike's critics called the doctrine "an inverted gospel that despises the poor and exalts the rich."
Rev. Ike used to preach in front of wall-sized blow-ups of [$1,000 bill], wiping the sweat from his brow with handkerchiefs that cost more than what most of his parishioners made in a day. Clearly, money was the only denomination he truly respected.
This, then, is the pedigree of Paula White's faith.

Calling White "a Christian nationalist," Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, senior pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church noted:
Their values stem not from Christ, but from cash; theirs is the gospel of greed, not grace...We have to stop pretending that these men and women are leaders in the Christian church. By supporting Trump, they contradict Jesus directly when he said: "As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me." Why should we listen when they p-r-a-y in public and p-r-e-y on the people in private?
In a tweet, Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore went further:
“Paula White is a charlatan and recognized as a heretic by every orthodox Christian, of whatever tribe.”

Trump and God

Still, it is very logical that Paula White-with her un-Christian prosperity gospel- should appeal to a man like Donald Trump. This is the man who, despite finding God with Paula White's assistance, proudly boasted of his greed. 
My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy. I’ve grabbed all the money I could get. I’m so greedy. But now I want to be greedy for the United States. I want to grab all that money. I’m going to be greedy for the United States.
And in turn, Paula White has promoted the presidency of Trump as some form of divine blessing.

On her show, she recently interviewed  Jimmy Bakker, that disgraced televangelist who served time in prison and whose scandal involved paying hush money paid to Bakker's secretary, Jessica Hahn, for alleged rape.
During that show, White told her audience:
“They say about our president, ‘Well, he is not presidential.’ Thank goodness. Thank goodness. Thank goodness.“And I mean that with all due respect. Because in other words, he is not a polished politician. In other words, he is authentically – whether people like it or not – has been raised up by God. Because God says that he raises up and places all people in places of authority. It is God who raises up a king. It is God that sets one down. When you fight against the plan of God, you are fighting against the hand of God.” 
So like the hive-minded Borg, resistance is futile.
Still, those of us who remain un-assimilated must ask Ms. White: did God also raise up and place in power other figures like Benito Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin?

Faustian bargain

In reward for her promotion of Trump's agenda, White was amply rewarded. During his campaign, White became part of Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board, composed of 25 politically powerful right-wing Christian leaders. They were charged with giving the president spiritual advice on all subjects.

Here's a partial list of other members:
As Omarosa found out the hard way, the unelected members of the board reviewed and advised the president on appointments and policy going into office.

Here they are, laying hands on the president and asking the Lord to bless the Commander-in-Chief. This is what a Faustian bargain looks like in real life.

White was also one of six religious leaders that provided the invocation prayer during Trump's inauguration ceremony. In her speech, White asked the American people to pray for our president and vice president:
We ask that you would bestow upon our president the wisdom necessary to lead this great nation, the grace to unify us, and the strength to stand for what is honorable and right in your sight.
The strength to stand for honorable things, the grace to unify and wisdom to lead the nation never materialized. Within 24 hours of being sworn in, President Trump was in dither over the size of the inauguration crowd.

At a private dinner for evangelical leaders on the eve of the National Day of Prayer, she took a seat next to the president. She is reportedly consulted on Supreme Court nominations and has held Oval Office prayer circles with Trump.

But in her own mind, Paula White's rise to dizzying heights and astonishing power must be taken as approval that God is on her side. To the rest of the world, it looks much more like an insatiable lust for power.

By supporting Donald Trump, whose entire has been one big Christian no-no, people like Paula White have given their religious stamp of approval, defending the sincerity of his faith to fellow Christians, And for that, they all have a lot to answer for.

When all other demographics show a decline in support, white evangelical support of Donald Trump is at an all-time high. A poll conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in March found that a full 75 percent of white evangelicals surveyed had a positive opinion of Donald Trump, compared to just 22 percent holding an unfavorable view. Among white evangelical men, that number is even higher — 81 percent — while 71 percent of white evangelical women also view Trump favorably. 

By ignoring the fundamental tenets of Christianity and backing Trump, evangelicals have reduced their faith into nothing more than a cult of blind obedience.