by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
News reports are surfacing of more fraudulent financial advisors operating from the pulpits of black and white prosperity gospel megachurches. Federal lawmen are investigating, corporate news reporters and commentators bloviating. But are they asking the real questions, or missing the real story?
The Black Church: How Corporate Media & the Prosperity Gospel Make Legions of Ready Dupes
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
“Why are prosperity gospel churches such a fertile ground for retail financial fraud?”
Corporate media like ABC's Nightline this week briefly focused on an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission of a shady character that prosperity gospel churches foisted upon their credulous members as a “financial advisor” on a ministry that was called the “Building Wealth Tour.” In an all too common story, the so-called “wealth-building ministry” was a Ponzi scheme, a Bernie Madoff swindle in miniature..
The Nightline news report consisted of interviews with a couple of families who entrusted the financial advisor with their life savings, and saw them disappear. It included footage of the charlatan's employee, who recounted how he locked his office doors and hid from the church people whose money he took, and finally a statement from the crook's lawyer, interspersed with clips of complicit black and white prosperity gospel mega-preachers Joel Osteen and Bishop Eddie Long. The case is much mentioned too, in what pass for black sites on the internet, but the focus on Creflo Dollar style flashy pimp preachers and the rotating cast of crooks they allow to access their pulpits fails to ask what ought to be the real questions of the hour.
Why are prosperity gospel churches such a fertile ground for retail financial fraud? Why doesn't this kind of thing happen more often in non-prosperity gospel churches, or in other self-governing organizations like community groups, sororities or labor unions?
“As long as our media, our leaders and our preachers educate us to be sheep, we will be preyed on by wolves...”
The obvious answer is that the peculiar kind of magical thinking embraced by these kinds of churches, and in lots of other places, like in the universe of Oprah, constantly maintains and manufacture a vast and ready supply of credulous marks and hopeful dupes, wooly headed little sheep eager to be sheared. Millions of us have been instructed, and now teach each other to “visualize” wealth, happiness and material comfort and that the power of this visualization will make them real, will bring them into being. Preachers of the prosperity gospel contrive various ways to award divine sanction to this nonsense, while advocates of the Oprah-style “secret” take their superstition straight with no chaser.
And that's the real story. Bernie Madoff was able to steal tens of billions over 20 years because investors and the general public all believed that financial magicians made profits out of hot air. Bernie Madoff is gone now, but there are still millions who still have faith in the magic, faith reinforced by the teachings of corporate media hucksters like Oprah, and shored up every Sunday by prosperity gospel preachers, black and white, across the country.
The African American church, which likes to imagine and promote itself as the leading institution in black America, is deeply infested with the disease of the prosperity gospel. As long as our media, our leaders and our preachers educate us to be sheep, we will be preyed on by wolves. It's really that simple.
For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He lives and works in Marietta GA, and is a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via this web site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.