The prosperity gospel is quintessentially an American theology. It is 17th century Puritanism colliding with 19th century New Thought; a spiritual movement that included unconventional and nonconformist thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James.
This strange mix then gets hitched to capitalism with a generous sprinkle of hand raising, hallelujah happiness on top; a highly energetic spiritual movement emerging out of little old Topeka, Kansas, in 1901.
This is where the Pentecostal Movement began when a student named Agnes Ozman received the gift of tongues during a prayer meeting at Charles Fox Parham’s Bethel Bible College.
The prosperity gospel makes it alright to be rich. In fact, if you’re not rich, you are probably not a good Christian and probably going to Hell.
“The Lord is my banker; my credit is good”
This is Charles Fillmore’s reinterpretation of Psalm 23.
Fillmore founded Unity in 1889 in Kansas City, Missouri. He wrote, “Unity is a link in the great educational movement inaugurated by Jesus Christ; our objective is to discern the Truth in Christianity and prove it.”
It is one of the many religious movements towards the end of the 1800s coalescing and growing out of the New Thought movement.
Fillmore was known as an American mystic who was renowned for his spiritualist interpretations of Biblical Scripture.
His beliefs paved the way for even shinier and more fervent believers who felt God rewards those who are most deserving and faithful to him with money and wealth.
Laws of Prosperity
By the early 1900, the blending of the Puritan work ethic with New Thought was fully fermented into a very bubbly, verifiable, abiding religious zeal that would be enough to put any over-worked, poverty-stricken, overly anxious worker into a state of heavenly glory, at least for a little while, say the typical time of a religious revival promising wealth and prosperity to all of God’s law-abiding, hardworking sheep (Christian-speak for people of faith).
With earthquake-like economic disruptions caused by the Industrial Revolution, this refreshingly fervent religious pastime came just in time for greedy corporate capitalists who needed people to work hard, really hard, so they could make more money.
Add the Holy Fire of the Pentecostal church that believes spiritual gifts are the miraculous ways God works in the world today, and the bomb fire of the Prosperity Gospel Movement ignites into a big and growing spiritual fire of everlasting glory–Hallelujah…praise the Lord, our savior Jesus Christ!
One Baptist preacher, Russell H. Conwell, told his mostly-destitute congregation in 1915:
Never mind about deep structural inequalities built into capitalistic systems that are designed to elevate and reward individuals who hold the reigns of power while holding down and keeping poor people who are not born into such privilege.
Russell Conwell and other very charismatic ministers (such as Kenneth Hagin, Ken Copeland, Oral Roberts, and Jim Bakker) blame poverty on an individual’s failure to believe hard enough or to be good enough people who deserve to be rich or to not giving enough of what little money they have to the preacher man.
The idea that you have to give money to get money is a fundamental message preached in the Prosperity Gospel like a little money seed that might grow into a great big money tree one day.
Ken Copeland writes in his Laws of Prosperity:
"Do you want a hundredfold return on your money? Give and let God multiply it back to you. No bank in the world offers this kind of return! Praise the Lord!”
Trumpism Is the Prosperity Gospel Running Wild in American Politics
Since its beginnings in the early 1800s, the Prosperity Gospel has ebbed and flowed. It grew rampantly in the 1900s, then waned during the WW I and II years. It rallied again during the postwar boom of the 1950s, then waned only to return bigger and better than before with the big hair days of the ostentatious 80s.
The mega fall of mega church tele-evangelical preachers and power couples such as Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye or Becki and Jerry Falwell Jr. might have hinted at an incredible reservoir of hypocrisy bubbling underneath all the pretty God Loves You, hallelujahs, and Praise the Lord, but it wasn’t enough to inoculate the masses from the powerfully, tempting, very yummy Gospel of Prosperity.
Enter televangelist Joel Scott Osteen and his non-denominational very charismatic brand of christianity to save the day. He offers 40 powerful promises right from the mouth of God that he, little old Joel Osteen, can let you in on…if you buy his book, believe hard enough, and oh yeah, donated to his mega church in Lakewood, FL.
Jumping into the very big wake being made by Osteen and other mega-ministers who shepherd their ever growing flock of faithful followers with bigger, badder, ever better televangelism programming is the man with the yellow hair and permanent orange tan… and oh yeah, about half of the Republican Party who want to get in on all that fun and money!
And WOW-WE! Look how the Repubs are battling it out for who gets to have the biggest slice of followers! Looks like running down to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring on Trump’s orange hand after January 6, 2021 wasn’t enough to save you Kevin. God isn’t shining his spiritual gifts of prosperity on you today Kevin–that’s for darn sure!
But, I digress, let’s get back to Trump who makes a pretty simple political pitch that Jonathan Last sums up nicely in a piece he wrote after Trump whipped out a front page story about himself on February 6, 2020 at the 69th annual National Prayer Breakfast: Acquitted.
Trump’s simple pitch is this:
"God wants you to have what you want! I should know, because I have it! Come get yours too, for a small contribution!"
It might be interesting to note that at this time, while Trump was at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 6, 2020, COVID-19 is already spreading in the United States.
Trump says nothing about COVID. Days and weeks after the prayer breakfast, Trump continues to gloat about his Acquittal but still fails to say much of anything about COVID.
He says nothing despite advisors warning him in December 2019 and in January 2020 and February and March of 2020 that COVID is coming!
Bob Woodward interviewed Trump during this time for his book Rage. Woodward repeatedly asked Trump about his response to COVID. Trump repeatedly played it down saying he didn’t want to cause a panic.
Rather than cause a panic, Trump turned commonsense ways of staying safe, such as wearing a mask, into a culture war.
As of this post, 1.1 million Americans have died of COVID-19.
The U.S. has one of the highest death rates from COVID since the beginning of the pandemic in 2019 and 2020. The vast majority of deaths occurred in 2020 while Trump was President and playing it down so he might get re-elected as President so he could make more money!
Personally, this doesn’t sound like a very good way to enjoy the fruits of the New Prosperity Gospel that Trump touts. Dying seems the very opposite of enjoying prosperity.
Wrapped & Tied in Knots of Powerful Positive Thoughts
Tara Isabella Burton sums it all up very well in her 2017 article published in VOX.
It’s difficult to say that the prosperity gospel itself led to Donald Trump’s inauguration. Again, only 17 percent of American Christians identify with it explicitly. It’s far more true, however, to say that the same cultural forces that led to the prosperity gospel’s proliferation in America — individualism, an affinity for ostentatious and charismatic leaders, the Protestant work ethic, and a cultural obsession with the power of “positive thinking” — shape how we, as a nation, approach politics.
Also see, Throughline’s very excellent episode, Capitalism: God Wants You To Be Rich, which aired July 8, 2021. Towards the end of this episode, they play a soundbite from an archived recording from a Trump rally.
TRUMP: You know, I said the other day - 'cause so many people, they carry around "The Art Of The Deal" because they're begging. They're begging their politicians, please, please read "The Art Of The Deal" when you negotiate with China and with Japan or with Mexico and with Vietnam.
One of the speakers in this episode unpacks what Trump is plugging into here.
BUTLER: And I think this is crucial for right now. It flows into a kind of Christian nationalism. It means that God is especially favoring, you know, the nation as a special place. And so the people who live in it, who follow after this particular kind of thing, are going to be more blessed than anybody else in the world.
And another speaker unpacks it a little further.
BOWLER: I think people crave - even if they might hate it, they crave a gospel where the responsibility always falls back on them. Because it's always the one thing we can control is ourselves. So if you preach an empowered individualism, you've got a gospel you can believe in, which is always us.
Also, check out How ‘Prosperity Gospel’ preachers bend the Bible’s words
The prosperity gospel goes by many names: Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It. This “different gospel” teaches that God provides rewards, including personal happiness, financial wealth and physical health, for believers who have sufficient faith. Prosperity theology developed in America in the last century and has been called a “baptized form of capitalism.”
The preachers associated with the movement — including Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, and Creflo Dollar — have some of the largest congregations and best-selling books in the country, and they host television programs that seem to air at all hours of the night (and are some of the most-watched programming around the world).
1. John 10:10 — “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The signature verse of the prosperity gospel, John 10:10 is used to suggest that God loves his followers and wants them to have every good thing. But interpreting this verse to promise physical gain neglects the depth suggested by its context.
The preceding verses illustrate the parable of the sheep and their good shepherd, Jesus, who calls them by name. The sheep know the good shepherd’s voice and follow. Verse 10 contrasts Jesus with false shepherds who steal and kill and destroy. The abundance of life suggested here has to do with knowing and being known by Jesus, not material things. The Tyndale Commentary explains, “He does not offer them an extension of physical life nor an increase of material possessions, but the possibility, nay the certainty, of a life lived as a higher level of obedience to God’s will and reflecting his glory.”
2. James 4:2 — “You do not have because you do not ask God.”
This verse is used to bolster the “name it and claim it” part of the prosperity gospel — if you don’t “have,” it’s because you haven’t prayed enough. This interpretation ignores the verse that follows, in which James says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Creflo Dollar says this of prayer: “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass.”
While prayer (including intercessory prayer) is crucial to the life of a Christian, using it to force God into appeasing the believer’s desires also goes against the very prayer Jesus prayed on the eve of his crucifixion: “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42
Feature Archetypal Animation
Music: Betty (Get Money) | Yung Gravy |  Betty (Get Money) 2:26
First Archetypal Animation
Music: Money so Big (Sped Up)| MADAX |  Money so Big (Sped Up) 0:43
Second Archetypal Image
Music: Ignorance (Deluxe Version) | The Weather Station |  Tried to Tell You 3:39