The Story: A new survey finds that black and Hispanic evangelicals are more likely than white evangelicals to say they have a favorable view of “prosperity gospel” preachers, believe wealth is a sign of God’s favor, and believe that prayer can improve their wealth.
On the question, “Do you believe that prayer can make you wealthier?” 15 percent of whites, 42 percent of blacks, and 25 percent of Hispanics answered “yes.”
On the question, “Is wealth a sign of God’s favor?” 9 percent of white, 34 percent of blacks, and 24 percent of Hispanics said “definitely” or “probably.”
When it comes to black prosperity gospel preachers, black evangelicals were much more likely to have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion than either Hispanic or white evangelicals. Seventy percent of blacks had a favorable opinion of T.D. Jakes compared to 10 percent for whites and 24 percent for Hispanics. (Most whites and Hispanics answered “not sure”—71 and 64 percent, compared to 15 percent for blacks.)
The results were much lower for Creflo Dollar: 28 percent of black evangelicals held a favorable view compared to 3 percent for whites and 8 percent for Hispanics. (Most whites and Hispanics answered “not sure”—72 and 78 percent, compared to 26 percent for blacks.)
However, black evangelicals even held more favorable opinions of prosperity preachers who were not black. They were more likely to have a “very” or “somewhat” favorable view of: Joel Osteen (51 percent, compared to 22 percent for whites and 39 percent for Hispanics), Pat Robertson (41 percent, compared to 17 percent for whites and 14 percent for Hispanics), Benny Hinn (23 percent, compared to 4 percent for whites and 12 percent for Hispanics), and Kenneth Copeland (34 percent, compared to 8 percent for whites and 12 percent for Hispanics).
Additionally, one in four black and Hispanic evangelicals believe it is acceptable for a religious leader to become wealthy through their religious work compared to one in seven white evangelicals.
Why It Matters: Why are black and Hispanic evangelical more likely to have a favorable view of prosperity gospel preachers and their “health and wealth” beliefs? We might assume that the prosperity gospel appeals to the poor, and since minorities tend to be poorer than white Americans, the racial distinctions are merely correlated with socioeconomic status.
But the survey data shows that the difference in answers based on household income is either negligible or non-existent. For example, of those whose household income was under $50,000 19 percent said prayer can make you wealthier, compared to 18 percent for those with incomes between $50,000-100,000 and 19 percent for households with incomes of more than $100,000. In other words, economic status doesn’t explain the difference.
In fact, no other factor in the survey—gender, age, political party identification, or geographic region—was as predictive as race and ethnicity. So why are there such stark differences between racial and ethnic groups? I certainly don’t have the answer, though I suspect it has to do with variations in church cultures.
Since the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, many white evangelicals of almost every persuasion (e.g., liberal and conservative) and traditions have made a concerted effort to distance themselves from prosperity gospel preachers. Even white churches that tend to avoid preaching against controversial topics frequently take a hardline against health-and-wealth teachings.
In many Christian circles—especially on evangelical social media—for a white Christian to express a favorable opinion of Osteen, Jakes, Robertson, or Hinn would be an immediate cause for concern about their commitment to orthodoxy (if not their salvation). There is a significant degree of social pressure for white evangelicals to expressly condemn anything associated with the prosperity gospel.
Does the same hold true for black and Hispanic Christians?
While it’s difficult to make a broad generalization, it’s probably fair to say that the bulk of the condemnation of the prosperity gospel from black and Hispanic circles comes from evangelicals associated with the Reformed movement. Pastors associated with TGC have been quite vocal in criticisms of this false gospel. And few Christians have been more straightforward than Reformed rapper Shai Linne, who calls out 12 prosperity pastors—including Creflo, Osteen, Hinn, Jakes, and Copland—on his track “False Teachers.”
I point this out not to praise my Reformed brothers and sisters (though they deserve such commendations) but because the Reformed movement is still a very small part of black and Hispanic churches. Because the movement is not as influential, we need to find a way to get other faith traditions that are rooted in minority communities to join in cautioning against this destructive, perverted gospel. The dangers of the prosperity gospel are too great for the warnings to come only from black and Hispanic evangelicals in the Reformed camp. We can’t do it on our own; we must find a way to recruit more allies for the fight against this heresy.
See also: Prosperity Gospel Born in the USA