Commentary: Emphasis on Wealth in Some Black Churches Costs in Spiritual Currency

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this commentary are neither the opinions of or its members it is just posted from Black America Web.  If you would like to contact the author of this commentary please utilize Black America Web to do so.  I posted this commentary because it was interesting. I’m just wondering why in the context of this commentary regarding mega churches only Bishop Long was singled out.

Date: Wednesday, May 17, 2006
By: Tonyaa Weathersbee,

It’s the kind of controversy that I pray will turn into a productive conversation among black people of faith.

Last weekend, James H. Cone, a prominent theologian who has used the teachings of compassion for the downtrodden espoused by Martin Luther King Jr. to shape a generation of black ministers, decided to sit out graduation ceremonies at the Interdenominational Theological Center after officials invited Bishop Eddie Long to speak at its commencement. A number of students had also threatened to boycott the ceremony as well.

Long is senior pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, an Atlanta church that boasts more than 25,000 members. Theologians such as Cone and others have begun to speak out against the teachings of many megachurch pastors because they tend to focus on worship as the path towards earning personal riches rather than as a tool to enrich the lives of people who grapple with injustice and oppression.

In other words, they preach—or rather, the message that many in their flock absorb—is that obedience to God is all about making their wallets fatter, not making the world a better place.

That trend troubles Cone. And it troubles me as well.

In a stark turnabout from the days in which King conjured the powers of the black church to fight segregation and other forms of injustice that sapped opportunities and esteem for black people, prosperity gospel has now made the quest for personal riches a spiritual rather than an earthly desire. Not long ago, for example, The Washington Post reported that heavy tithing—an offshoot of the prosperity gospel movement—had catapulted predominantly black Prince George’s County, Md., into the top five counties in the nation for charitable giving. It also reported that among all black people, nine out of 10 charitable dollars went to religious institutions.

Yet, none of the tithing people whom the Post quoted said a thing about giving in the hope that the Lord might bless Prince George’s—which struggles with bad schools and burgeoning crime—with a solution to those problems. All these people talked about was how their own financial situation or their personal blessings improved once they began giving.

In a way, there’s nothing wrong with that. Obviously, if someone’s personal finances improve, he or she is in a better situation to give money to help others or to make a difference. Yet, I rarely, if ever, hear regular church givers make that argument. All I hear them say is that by giving their 10 percent, they’ll get more blessings, i.e., money, in return.

To me, that makes worship more shallow than spiritual.

Now, I’m not one who believes that modest living ought to be the price of piety. I like being able to live well just like everyone else. But when I give to charities—and I give to charities regularly—I don’t give simply on the hope that I will be blessed with more stuff. I give because I want to see others blessed. When I give to Doctors Without Borders, for example, which goes into places like Haiti and the Congo to provide desperately-needed medical care, I do so in the hope that one less child will die from a preventable illness. The reward, for me, comes with the knowledge that I’ve done something to make a difference for those who don’t have the power to make a difference for themselves, not because I’ve contributed to building a new house of worship, or because I might get a new house or car.

Another problem that I have with an emphasis on giving as a means of getting back is that it further exacerbates the crass materialism that, in many ways, has hurt black communities. It feeds a culture that causes young black men to rationalize selling drugs as being business as usual. It also is the thing that drives rappers to have no qualms about thanking God when their profanity-filled, bitch-and-ho videos win awards. Because they see their prosperity as a blessing, they figure they must be doing something right.

That’s a shame.

So I hope that at some point, pastors such as Long and Cone begin a dialogue on the spiritual direction of black people, on how to harness our generosity and compassion so that more of us find our blessings in seeing unjust laws change and social justice realized—not in just getting a raise or a new Mercedes.

If that doesn’t happen, or if too many of us continue to equal material gain with godliness, we’ll be writing a prescription for spiritual death, not life.

Posted by loni on 05/17 at 08:42 AM in Religion / Sprituality

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