How Corporate America Invented Christian America

By Kevin M. Kruse, politico.com, April 16, 2015 http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/04/corporate-america-invented-religious-right-conservative-roosevelt-princeton-117030#ixzz3Xf5TduwY  Inside one reverend’s big business-backed 1940s crusade to make the country conservative again

Excerpt

In December 1940, as America was emerging from the Great Depression, more than 5,000 industrialists from across the nation made their yearly pilgrimage to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, convening for the annual meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers… Fifield delivered a passionate defense of the American system of free enterprise and a withering assault on its perceived enemies in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. Decrying the New Deal’s “encroachment upon our American freedoms,” the minister listed a litany of sins committed by the Democratic government, ranging from its devaluation of currency to its disrespect for the Supreme Court. Singling out the regulatory state for condemnation, he denounced “the multitude of federal agencies attached to the executive branch” and warned ominously of “the menace of autocracy approaching through bureaucracy.” …these titans of industry had been told, time and time again, that they were to blame for the nation’s downfall. Fifield, in contrast, insisted that they were the source of its salvation. They just needed to do one thing: Get religion. Fifield told the industrialists that clergymen would be crucial in regaining the upper hand in their war with Roosevelt. As men of God, ministers could voice the same conservative complaints as business leaders, but without any suspicion that they were motivated solely by self-interest. They could push back against claims, made often by Roosevelt and his allies, that business had somehow sinned and the welfare state was doing God’s work..It was a watershed moment—the beginning of a movement that would advance over the 1940s and early 1950s a new blend of conservative religion, economics and politics that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.” Fifield and like-minded ministers saw Christianity and capitalism as inextricably intertwined, and argued that spreading the gospel of one required spreading the gospel of the other… Christianity and capitalism were political soul mates, first and foremost. Before the New Deal, the government had never loomed quite so large over business and, as a result, it had never loomed large in Americans’ thinking about the relationship between Christianity and capitalism. But in Fifield’s vision, it now cast a long and ominous shadow. He and his colleagues devoted themselves to fighting the government forces they believed were threatening capitalism and, by extension, Christianity. And their activities helped build a foundation for a new vision of America in which businessmen would no longer suffer under the rule of Roosevelt but instead thrive—in a phrase they popularized—in a nation “under God.”For much of the 1930s, organizations such as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) had been searching in vain for ways to rehabilitate a public image that had been destroyed in the Great Depression and defamed by the New Deal..The organization rededicated itself to spreading the gospel of free enterprise,..the president shrewdly used spiritual language for political ends…probably no American politician has given so many speeches that were essentially sermons rather than statements of policy.”… When businessmen realized their economic arguments were no match for Roosevelt’s religious ones, they decided to beat him at his own game.

 Full text

In December 1940, as America was emerging from the Great Depression, more than 5,000 industrialists from across the nation made their yearly pilgrimage to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, convening for the annual meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers. The program promised an impressive slate of speakers: titans at General Motors, General Electric, Standard Oil, Mutual Life, and Sears, Roebuck; popular lecturers such as etiquette expert Emily Post and renowned philosopher-historian Will Durant; even FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Tucked away near the end of the program was a name few knew initially, but one everyone would be talking about by the convention’s end: Reverend James W. Fifield Jr.

Handsome, tall, and somewhat gangly, the 41-year-old Congregationalist minister bore more than a passing resemblance to Jimmy Stewart. Addressing the crowd of business leaders, Fifield delivered a passionate defense of the American system of free enterprise and a withering assault on its perceived enemies in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. Decrying the New Deal’s “encroachment upon our American freedoms,” the minister listed a litany of sins committed by the Democratic government, ranging from its devaluation of currency to its disrespect for the Supreme Court. Singling out the regulatory state for condemnation, he denounced “the multitude of federal agencies attached to the executive branch” and warned ominously of “the menace of autocracy approaching through bureaucracy.”

It all sounds familiar enough today, but Fifield’s audience of executives was stunned. Over the preceding decade, as America first descended into and then crawled its way out of the Great Depression, these titans of industry had been told, time and time again, that they were to blame for the nation’s downfall. Fifield, in contrast, insisted that they were the source of its salvation.

They just needed to do one thing: Get religion.

Fifield told the industrialists that clergymen would be crucial in regaining the upper hand in their war with Roosevelt. As men of God, ministers could voice the same conservative complaints as business leaders, but without any suspicion that they were motivated solely by self-interest. They could push back against claims, made often by Roosevelt and his allies, that business had somehow sinned and the welfare state was doing God’s work. The assembled industrialists gave a rousing amen. “When he had finished,” a journalist noted, “rumors report that the N.A.M. applause could be heard in Hoboken.”

It was a watershed moment—the beginning of a movement that would advance over the 1940s and early 1950s a new blend of conservative religion, economics and politics that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.” Fifield and like-minded ministers saw Christianity and capitalism as inextricably intertwined, and argued that spreading the gospel of one required spreading the gospel of the other. The two systems had been linked before, of course, but always in terms of their shared social characteristics. Fifield’s innovation was his insistence that Christianity and capitalism were political soul mates, first and foremost.

Before the New Deal, the government had never loomed quite so large over business and, as a result, it had never loomed large in Americans’ thinking about the relationship between Christianity and capitalism. But in Fifield’s vision, it now cast a long and ominous shadow. He and his colleagues devoted themselves to fighting the government forces they believed were threatening capitalism and, by extension, Christianity. And their activities helped build a foundation for a new vision of America in which businessmen would no longer suffer under the rule of Roosevelt but instead thrive—in a phrase they popularized—in a nation “under God.” In many ways, the marriage of corporate and Christian interests that has recently dominated the news—from the Hobby Lobby case to controversies over state-level versions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—is not that new at all.

***

For much of the 1930s, organizations such as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) had been searching in vain for ways to rehabilitate a public image that had been destroyed in the Great Depression and defamed by the New Deal. In 1934, a new generation of conservative industrialists took over NAM with a promise to “serve the purposes of business salvation.” The organization rededicated itself to spreading the gospel of free enterprise, vastly expanding its expenditures in the field. As late as 1934, NAM spent a paltry $36,000 on public relations. Three years later, it devoted $793,043 to the cause, more than half its total income. NAM now promoted capitalism through a wide array of films, radio programs, advertisements, direct mail, a speakers bureau and a press service that provided ready-made editorials and news stories for 7,500 local newspapers.

Ultimately, though, industry’s self-promotion was seen as precisely that. Jim Farley, chairman of the Democratic Party, joked that another group involved in this public relations campaign—the American Liberty League—really should have been called the “American Cellophane League.” “First, it’s a DuPont product,” Farley quipped, “And second, you can see right through it.” Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt took his shots. “It has been said that there are two great Commandments—one is to love God, and the other to love your neighbor,” he noted soon after the Liberty League’s creation. “The two particular tenets of this new organization say you shall love God and then forget your neighbor.” Off the record, he joked that the name of the god they worshiped seemed to be “Property.”

As Roosevelt’s quips made clear, the president shrewdly used spiritual language for political ends. In the judgment of his biographer James MacGregor Burns, “probably no American politician has given so many speeches that were essentially sermons rather than statements of policy.” His first inaugural address was so laden with references to Scripture that the National Bible Press published an extensive chart linking his text with the “Corresponding Biblical Quotations.” In a memorable passage, Roosevelt reassured the nation that “the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore the temple to the ancient truths.”

When Roosevelt launched the New Deal, politically liberal clergymen echoed his arguments, championing his proposal for a vast welfare state as simply the Christian thing to do. The head of the Federal Council of Churches, for instance, claimed the New Deal embodied basic Christian principles such as the “significance of daily bread, shelter, and security.” When businessmen realized their economic arguments were no match for Roosevelt’s religious ones, they decided to beat him at his own game.

 

Kevin M. Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton and the author, most recently, of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, from which this article has been adapted.

 

How Big Business Invented the Theology of ‘Christian Libertarianism’ and the Gospel of Free Markets

by Kevin Kruse, AlterNet, June 1, 2015

Excerpt

…During the Great Depression, big business needed rebranding.  Blamed for the crash, belittled in the press, and beset by the New Deal’s regulatory state, corporate leaders decided they had to improve their image, and soon. “The public does not understand industry,” an executive complained, “because industry itself has made no effort to tell its story; to show the people of this country that our high living standards have risen almost altogether from the civilization which industrial activity has set up.”

corporate leaders launched a public relations campaign for capitalism itself… received lavish financial support from corporate leaders… In a 1939 address to the US Chamber of Commerce, H.W. Prentis of the Armstrong Cork Company proposed the way forward. “Economic facts are important, but they will never check the virus of collectivism,” he warned; “the only antidote is a revival of American patriotism and religious faith.” … promoted heavily in the Wall Street Journal and broadcast live on both ABC and CBS radio, promised that business’s salvation lay in “a strengthening of the spiritual concept that underlies our American way of life.”

Accordingly, corporate America began marketing a new fusion of faith, freedom and free enterprise. These values had been conflated before, of course, but in the early 1940s they manifested in a decidedly new form. Previously, when Americans thought about the relationship between religion, politics and business, they gave little thought to the role of the national state, largely because it was so small it gave little thought to any of them.  But now that the federal government had grown so significantly, corporate leaders sought to convince Americans that the New Deal threatened not only the economic freedoms of business leaders, but the religious and political freedoms of ordinary citizens as well. They worked tirelessly throughout the 1940s and 1950s to advance a new ideology that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.”

business leaders should “enlist large numbers of clergymen” to “act as minutemen, carrying the message upon all proper occasions throughout their several communities.”

Over the second half of the 1940s, corporate leaders lavishly funded new organizations of ministers who would make their case for them…The Pew family’s contributions to the organization averaged more than $300,000 a year for twenty-five years.

With this generous funding, ministers in these organizations spread the arguments of Christian libertarianism. “I hold,” Reverend Fifield asserted, “that the blessings of capitalism come from God. A system that provides so much for the common good and happiness must flourish under the favor of the Almighty.” But concern for the “common good” was uncommon in their arguments, which tended instead to emphasize the values of individualism. In their telling, Christianity and capitalism were indistinguishable on this issue: both systems rested on the fundamental belief that an individual would rise or fall on his or her own merit alone. Just as the saintly ascended to Heaven and sinners fell to Hell, the worthy rose to riches while the wretched were resigned to the poorhouse.

Any political system that meddled with this divinely prescribed order of things was nothing less than a “pagan” abomination. Indeed, they argued, the welfare state stood in direct opposition to the Ten Commandments…The welfare state…violated the eighth and tenth commandments by encouraging the poor to covet what the wealthy had and “forcibly taking the wealth of the more enterprising citizens for distribution to others.” …they introduced tens of thousands of clergymen to the work of prominent libertarian thinkers including Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Percy Greaves, George Koether, Garet Garrett, Henry Hazlitt, Frank Chodorov and Clarence Manion, presenting their originally secular arguments in a new sanctified light. Spiritual Mobilization went further, proselytizing the general public over the radio. Corporate sponsors, such as Republic Steel, secured airtime for its weekly program “The Freedom Story” and spread its warnings about “creeping socialism” over more than 800 radio stations nationwide.

Spiritual Mobilization’s greatest success came in 1951, with a coordinated series of celebrations for the Fourth of July arranged by its Committee to Proclaim Liberty… they advanced a series of coast-to-coast celebrations on the new Christian libertarian slogan of “freedom under God.” In 1949, for instance, businessmen banded together to form the Freedoms Foundation… promoted “a better understanding of the American way of life” and the central role played by “the American free enterprise system” in making the nation great…While these corporate leaders and like-minded conservatives sat on the board, Dwight D. Eisenhower set the agenda… and even helped articulate its central arguments. “The Credo of the American Way of Life” … these political and economic rights rested on a pedestal of “Constitutional Government designed to Serve the People.” That, in turn, stood on a more substantial foundation: “Fundamental Belief in God.”

For the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life was more than a list of political and economic rights. It was rather, as its name indicated, a creed—a statement of religious belief and commitment to a sanctified cause. Organizers believed their work had transformed the nation. “Now,” one noted in 1951, “teachers, preachers, business men, citizens at work everywhere have the task of building an understanding of our free-market capitalistic system based on a fundamental belief in God, on Constitutional government designed to serve and not to rule the people, and on our indivisible bundle of political and economic rights, or surrender to statism.”

Beyond the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life played a prominent role in the presidential campaign of 1952…Eisenhower …the Republican nominee noted, would honor the American ideal of “permitting the creative spirit of man made in the image of his Maker to reach its highest aspirations.” … its message still spread widely in a massive get-out-the-vote campaign coordinated by the Freedoms Foundation and the Boy Scouts of America.  …the incoming president urged the crowd and the country to embrace spiritual renewal. In the key passage, he called their attention to the invocation of “the Creator” in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. He then insisted, in what quickly became a famous line, that “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”… appreciated the power of appeals to piety and patriotism heard Eisenhower talk about the foundational role of religion in American life, they believed Christian libertarianism had finally come into its own. The new Eisenhower administration, they assumed, would use that religious rhetoric to roll back the regulatory state. They were wrong.

When he took office, Eisenhower parted ways with his earlier allies. Although the president was personally sympathetic to their complaints, he concluded that “the mass of the people” disagreed. And so, to the consternation of Christian libertarians, Eisenhower gave a bipartisan stamp of approval to the New Deal and, indeed, even expanded its reach over his two terms in office…Eisenhower had incredible success with one of the goals he had shared with these supporters: promoting the politics of piety and patriotism. Uncoupling their religious rhetoric from its origins in the fight against the New Deal, he broadened its appeal considerably and helped usher in a national religious revival that was embraced across the political spectrum. He introduced new religious rituals to American politics, ranging from the ritual of prayers at Cabinet meetings, the State Department and Pentagon to annual rites like the National Prayer Breakfast. He inspired others throughout government to inaugurate new religious symbols and ceremonies of their own. Most significantly, Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and made “In God We Trust” the country’s first official motto in 1956.  

Unlike the Christian libertarians, who presented God and government as rivals, Eisenhower managed to fuse the two together into what the first National Prayer Breakfast hailed as a wholesome “government under God.” The American nation was now officially suffused with religion, and so it would remain.

Full text

 

The inside history of how Evangelical preachers were used to infuse society with the economic dogma that plagues us today.

During the Great Depression, big business needed rebranding.  Blamed for the crash, belittled in the press, and beset by the New Deal’s regulatory state, corporate leaders decided they had to improve their image, and soon. “The public does not understand industry,” an executive complained, “because industry itself has made no effort to tell its story; to show the people of this country that our high living standards have risen almost altogether from the civilization which industrial activity has set up.”

Accordingly, corporate leaders launched a public relations campaign for capitalism itself. In 1934, the National Association of Manufacturers hired its first public relations director in its four decades of existence, expanding its annual budget in that field from just $36,000 to nearly $800,000 three years later, a sum that represented half of its total budget. NAM marketed the miracles of “free enterprise” with a wide array of advertisements, direct mail, films, radio programs, a speakers’ bureau, and a press service that provided prefabricated editorials and news stories for 7500 newspapers. Ultimately, though, the organization’s efforts at self-promotion were generally dismissed as precisely that.

While old business lobbies like NAM couldn’t sell capitalism effectively, neither could new ones created especially for the cause. The American Liberty League, founded in 1934, originally seemed business’s best bet. It received lavish financial support from corporate leaders, notably at Du Pont and General Motors, but ultimately their prominence in the group crippled its effectiveness. Jim Farley, then head of the Democratic Party, famously joked that it ought to be called the “American Cellophane League” because “first, it’s a Du Pont product and second, you can see right through it.”

As the 1930s came to a close, corporate leaders looked over the returns on their investment and realized the millions spent had not swayed public opinion in the slightest. The image of big business still needed repackaging. In a 1939 address to the US Chamber of Commerce, H.W. Prentis of the Armstrong Cork Company proposed the way forward. “Economic facts are important, but they will never check the virus of collectivism,” he warned; “the only antidote is a revival of American patriotism and religious faith.” Prentis’ speech thrilled the Chamber and boardrooms across America. Soon propelled to NAM’s presidency, he continued to tell corporate leaders to get religion. His 1940 presidential address, promoted heavily in the Wall Street Journal and broadcast live on both ABC and CBS radio, promised that business’s salvation lay in “a strengthening of the spiritual concept that underlies our American way of life.”

Accordingly, corporate America began marketing a new fusion of faith, freedom and free enterprise. These values had been conflated before, of course, but in the early 1940s they manifested in a decidedly new form. Previously, when Americans thought about the relationship between religion, politics and business, they gave little thought to the role of the national state, largely because it was so small it gave little thought to any of them.  But now that the federal government had grown so significantly, corporate leaders sought to convince Americans that the New Deal threatened not only the economic freedoms of business leaders, but the religious and political freedoms of ordinary citizens as well. They worked tirelessly throughout the 1940s and 1950s to advance a new ideology that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.”

Initially, businessmen outsourced this campaign to an unlikely set of champions: ministers. Though this decision seemed unorthodox, the logic was laid out clearly in private.  “Recent polls indicate that America’s clergymen are a powerful influence in determining the thinking and acting of the people in the economic realm,” noted one organizer, and so business leaders should “enlist large numbers of clergymen” to “act as minutemen, carrying the message upon all proper occasions throughout their several communities.”

Over the second half of the 1940s, corporate leaders lavishly funded new organizations of ministers who would make their case for them.  Some of these groups secured donations from a broad array of businessmen. Reverend James W. Fifield’s Spiritual Mobilization, for instance, amassed millions in corporate and personal checks from leaders at companies such as General Motors, Chrysler, US Steel, Republic Steel, International Harvester, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Sun Oil, Gulf Oil, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Colgate-Palmolive-Peet and countless more.  Others leaned heavily on the generosity of a single patron. The Christian Freedom Foundation, created by Reverend Norman Vincent Peale and then led by layman Howard Kershner, was sustained almost single-handedly by Sun Oil President J. Howard Pew. The Pew family’s contributions to the organization averaged more than $300,000 a year for twenty-five years.

With this generous funding, ministers in these organizations spread the arguments of Christian libertarianism. “I hold,” Reverend Fifield asserted, “that the blessings of capitalism come from God. A system that provides so much for the common good and happiness must flourish under the favor of the Almighty.” But concern for the “common good” was uncommon in their arguments, which tended instead to emphasize the values of individualism. In their telling, Christianity and capitalism were indistinguishable on this issue: both systems rested on the fundamental belief that an individual would rise or fall on his or her own merit alone. Just as the saintly ascended to Heaven and sinners fell to Hell, the worthy rose to riches while the wretched were resigned to the poorhouse.

Any political system that meddled with this divinely prescribed order of things was nothing less than a “pagan” abomination. Indeed, they argued, the welfare state stood in direct opposition to the Ten Commandments. “We emphasize the interdependence of freedom and Christianity,” the Christian Freedom Foundation announced in its founding statement. “When the First Commandment ‘Thou shalt have no other Gods before me’ is violated and the state is exalted to take the place of God as the highest authority over the actions of man, freedom is suppressed.  Conversely, Christianity can thrive only where human beings live under a system of free institutions and government by the people.”  The welfare state, a CFF member argued elsewhere, violated the eighth and tenth commandments by encouraging the poor to covet what the wealthy had and “forcibly taking the wealth of the more enterprising citizens for distribution to others.”  And because it spread scurrilous rumors about the rich and made extravagant promises to the poor that it could never deliver, the New Deal violated the ninth commandment’s injunction against bearing false witness, too.

Armed with this framework, and the ample funding of their financial backers, these organizations spread the gospel of Christian libertarianism.  In publications like Faith and Freedom and Christian Economics, they introduced tens of thousands of clergymen to the work of prominent libertarian thinkers including Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Percy Greaves, George Koether, Garet Garrett, Henry Hazlitt, Frank Chodorov and Clarence Manion, presenting their originally secular arguments in a new sanctified light. Spiritual Mobilization went further, proselytizing the general public over the radio. Corporate sponsors, such as Republic Steel, secured airtime for its weekly program “The Freedom Story” and spread its warnings about “creeping socialism” over more than 800 radio stations nationwide.

Spiritual Mobilization’s greatest success came in 1951, with a coordinated series of celebrations for the Fourth of July arranged by its Committee to Proclaim Liberty.  Businessmen dominated the committee’s ranks, from household names like Harvey Firestone, Conrad Hilton, E.F. Hutton, James L. Kraft, Henry Luce, Fred Maytag, J.C. Penney, and J. Howard Pew, to lesser-known heads of major corporations like General Motors, Chrysler, US Steel, Republic Steel, Hughes Aircraft, Eastern Airlines, United Airlines, Gulf Oil, Marshall Field, and more. Leaders of the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce served, as did heads of free enterprise advocacy groups like the Foundation for Economic Education. Together, they advanced a series of coast-to-coast celebrations on the new Christian libertarian slogan of “freedom under God.” The 17,000 ministers who belonged to the group were encouraged to compete for prizes by making sermons on the theme, while governors and mayors issued proclamations calling on ordinary citizens to do so as well. On the Sunday before the Fourth, the group broadcast an all-star “Freedom Under God” spectacular on CBS’s national radio network. Organized by Cecil B. DeMille, it featured Hollywood stars like Jimmy Stewart, Bing Crosby and Gloria Swanson.

Although corporate leaders continued to outsource the Christian libertarian campaign to organizations such as Spiritual Mobilization, they encouraged its growth directly, too. In 1949, for instance, businessmen banded together to form the Freedoms Foundation. (Despite some similarities in its name and agenda, this new organization stood apart from the Christian Freedom Foundation.)  The Freedoms Foundation believed that those who promoted “a better understanding of the American way of life” and the central role played by “the American free enterprise system” in making the nation great should be singled out for prizes and praise.  Fittingly for an organization devoted to promoting big business, its president was Don Belding, head of a national advertising agency whose clients included Walt Disney and Howard Hughes.  The advertising legend was supported by an impressive board of directors drawn from the highest ranks of corporate America, including leaders of General Foods, General Motors, Maytag, Republic Steel, Sherwin Williams, Union Carbon & Carbide, US Rubber, as well as individuals such as Sid Richardson, an oilman who was one of the richest men in America.

While these corporate leaders and like-minded conservatives sat on the board, Dwight D. Eisenhower set the agenda. Eisenhower had enthusiastically supported Belding’s initial plans for the foundation and even helped articulate its central arguments. “The Credo of the American Way of Life” that he crafted appeared in Reader’s Digest in March 1949, and soon elsewhere. The Credo was usually depicted in graphic form, a soaring monument topped with two tablets etched with references to the Bill of Rights and other rights designed for business, including the “right to own private property,” the “right to engage in business, compete, make a profit,” the “right to bargain for goods and services in a free market,” the “right to contract about our affairs,” and, last but not least, the “right to freedom from arbitrary government regulation and control.” Together, these political and economic rights rested on a pedestal of “Constitutional Government designed to Serve the People.” That, in turn, stood on a more substantial foundation: “Fundamental Belief in God.”

For the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life was more than a list of political and economic rights. It was rather, as its name indicated, a creed—a statement of religious belief and commitment to a sanctified cause. As the organization repeatedly noted, faithfulness to the Credo would be “the sole basis” in determining the winners in its annual awards program. A major gathering for corporate and conservative leaders, the ceremonies took place at the foundation’s offices in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, a 54-acre property purchased by board member E.F. Hutton and leased to the foundation for a dollar a year. In the first ceremonies, in November 1949, Eisenhower granted honors and gold medals to a number of distinguished conservatives, including former president Herbert Hoover, conservative Republican Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, and his own future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In all, he doled out prizes totaling $84,000, which organizers emphasized was more money than either the Pulitzer or Nobel Prizes bestowed. Moreover, the general gave his blessing to the work done by the honorees. “Here in this spiritual temple of the greatest of all Americans,” he said, “you winners of these awards become marked as among America’s disciples.  You have issued your defiance to all who would destroy the American dream.”

With the prize pool steadily increasing, the competition was swamped with tens of thousands of nominations each year. Categories for awards steadily expanded, with prizes offered for the best expression of the Credo in everything from ad campaigns, radio programs, cartoons, editorials, television programs and films to sermons, speeches, employee publications, community programs, and commencement addresses, both college and high school. In only its second year, the foundation awarded nearly two dozen cash awards in each of 17 categories, with another 300 medals and 200 certificates distributed as well. Organizers believed their work had transformed the nation. “Now,” one noted in 1951, “teachers, preachers, business men, citizens at work everywhere have the task of building an understanding of our free-market capitalistic system based on a fundamental belief in God, on Constitutional government designed to serve and not to rule the people, and on our indivisible bundle of political and economic rights, or surrender to statism.”

Beyond the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life played a prominent role in the presidential campaign of 1952. Notably, Eisenhower led a drive that year to have a monument in its likeness erected in Washington, DC. Doing so, the Republican nominee noted, would honor the American ideal of “permitting the creative spirit of man made in the image of his Maker to reach its highest aspirations.” While the monument never manifested, its message still spread widely in a massive get-out-the-vote campaign coordinated by the Freedoms Foundation and the Boy Scouts of America.  Together, the two organizations put up a million posters in store windows and plastered another 90,000 cards on trains and buses. On the Saturday before the election, they placed over thirty million more pieces of literature on doorknobs across the country. Shaped like the Liberty Bell, these door hangers featured the Credo on one side and earnest-looking scouts asking recipients to “Think when you Vote” on the other.

Soon after his landslide victory, President-Elect Eisenhower made a triumphant return to the annual board meeting of the Freedoms Foundation at the Waldorf-Astoria. “These days I seem to have no trouble filling my calendar,” he told them. “But this is one engagement that I requested. I wanted to come and do my best to tell those people who are my friends, who are supporters of the idea that is represented in the foundation, how deeply I believe that they are serving America.” As reporters hastily took notes, the incoming president urged the crowd and the country to embrace spiritual renewal. In the key passage, he called their attention to the invocation of “the Creator” in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. He then insisted, in what quickly became a famous line, that “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

It was no accident that Eisenhower introduced this idea to the Freedoms Foundation. As he knew from his long association, the audience arrayed before him appreciated the power of appeals to piety and patriotism. Founder Don Belding was a close ally of Reverend Fifield, whom he personally praised as “Freedom’s Crusader” in a 1950 ceremony honoring the minister; the ad man had been active in Spiritual Mobilization and served as a founding member of the Committee to Proclaim Liberty. Not surprisingly, early recipients of his foundation’s awards included not just Reverend Fifield, but also Howard Kershner of the Christian Freedom Foundation, several regular contributors to Faith and Freedom and Christian Economics, producers of “The Freedom Story” radio program, and, lastly, all of Belding’s fellow members on the Committee to Proclaim Liberty, who were honored as a group and, in several instances, honored once again as individuals. As the Freedoms Foundation crowd heard Eisenhower talk about the foundational role of religion in American life, they believed Christian libertarianism had finally come into its own. The new Eisenhower administration, they assumed, would use that religious rhetoric to roll back the regulatory state. They were wrong.

When he took office, Eisenhower parted ways with his earlier allies. Although the president was personally sympathetic to their complaints, he concluded that “the mass of the people” disagreed. And so, to the consternation of Christian libertarians, Eisenhower gave a bipartisan stamp of approval to the New Deal and, indeed, even expanded its reach over his two terms in office. He significantly enlarged Social Security, increased federal education funding, and launched the greatest public works program of the postwar era: the interstate highway system. By the end of his administration, many libertarians would agree with Senator Barry Goldwater’s assessment that his presidency had been little more than a cheap imitation of the Democratic agenda. It was, he famously charged, “a dime-store New Deal.”

That said, Eisenhower had incredible success with one of the goals he had shared with these supporters: promoting the politics of piety and patriotism. Uncoupling their religious rhetoric from its origins in the fight against the New Deal, he broadened its appeal considerably and helped usher in a national religious revival that was embraced across the political spectrum. He introduced new religious rituals to American politics, ranging from the ritual of prayers at Cabinet meetings, the State Department and Pentagon to annual rites like the National Prayer Breakfast. He inspired others throughout government to inaugurate new religious symbols and ceremonies of their own. Most significantly, Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and made “In God We Trust” the country’s first official motto in 1956.  

Unlike the Christian libertarians, who presented God and government as rivals, Eisenhower managed to fuse the two together into what the first National Prayer Breakfast hailed as a wholesome “government under God.” The American nation was now officially suffused with religion, and so it would remain.

Kevin M. Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton and the author, most recently, of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (Basic Books, 2015).

http://www.alternet.org/belief/salvation-big-business-how-pr-industry-inspired-public-acts-faith?akid=13187.125622.gn9BkW&rd=1&src=newsletter1037505&t=3

How Christianity Became a Lucrative Brand

 By Sarah Banet-Weiser, New York Press, posted on Alternet.org, December 17, 2012  http://www.alternet.org/books/how-christianity-became-lucrative-brand – The following is an excerpt from Sarah Banet-Weiser’s book Authentic published by NYU Press.

Mini-excerpt

Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion…is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values….. A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness…. As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors… the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings…..a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state…

Excerpt

Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion… is often tied to Oral Roberts and other evangelists…historically related to faith healing… is related to the rise of Christian free enterprise in the mid-20th century and the interrelation between professional business and theologyChristian business schools (specifically in the midwestern US) emerged as places in which future evangelists could be trained to merge business skills with religious principles…provide a conservative and “moral” frameworkin the late 1970s. In the economic recession during this period, combined with residual countercultural fears…cultivated the individual entrepreneur as an important element to Christian free enterprise, which found a particularly rich home in small towns, farms, and local churches…the entrepreneur was cast as a special and rare type, not your typical bureaucratic businessman: “In this guise, the entrepreneur inherited the mantle of Jeffersonian virtue from the independent farmers and the Populist rebellion—a hero for the age of the mass office…. the Waltons, the founders of Wal-Mart, promoted Christian business schools and Christian free enterprise and free trade, which serve a vital function in the economic backdrop of advanced capitalism in the branding of religion Christian free enterprise is not simply the use of the marketplace to sell religion. It is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values. This not only is a necessary condition for the branding of particular religions but also changes the understanding of religion itself.

Indeed, the connection between Christian religious values and a kind of pro-corporate populism is crucial for branding Christianity because it offers the possibility of a wide audience for the brand. As Moreton points out, procorporate populism (which argues vehemently against government or state intervention) imbues the political economy with moral legitimacy, infusing it with the conservative values of a “rural white virtue.” … A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness.Prosperity Christianity. As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors. Prosperity Christianity cuts across denominational boundaries and is defined “as the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.” …found a welcome home in many megachurches across the US in the early 21st century this reimagined relationship between religion and the economy has become increasingly mainstream: a cover of Time magazine, in 2006, asked, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?”; a later cover, after the global economic collapse in the fall of 2008, asked a follow-up question: “Maybe We Should Blame God for the Subprime Mess?”

The Atlantic Monthly in 2009 asked a similar question: “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” ….The most popular evangelical in the US in the 21st century, Joel Osteen…Another popular Prosperity evangelist, T. D. Jakes…primarily African American church in Dallas, Texas… televangelists Kenneth Copeland and Gloria Copeland, founders of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries and authors of books such as The Laws of Prosperity and Prosperity: The Choice Is Yours, preach that the more money worshipers give to the church, the more they will receive in their own lives. sermons focus on the righteousness of acquiring individual wealth and material success, a pursuit that becomes its own sort of salvation.

Not only are religious messages packaged like other brands, through infomercials, merchandise, and sophisticated media distribution, but also the content of the message can only be understood within a brand context: materialism, consumption, capitalist exchange, and personal empowerment… megachurches and other contemporary religious institutions (including many religious websites) are strategically nondenominational or “postdenominational” in their religious messages and practices. Within branded religions such as Prosperity Christianity, vague references to a Christian tradition that are individualized, such as how to make one’s life better, are more lucrative than specific and community-oriented content, such as a mention of Jesus….In the 1980s, televangelists like Jerry Falwell, Billy Swaggart, and Jimmy Bakker used television to build huge congregations across the nation…evangelicals draw millions of followers by reimagining Christianity, and part of this reimagining has been enabled by the normalization of the entrepreneur… With weak or no denominational ties, they are ‘free agents’ who make their mark on contemporary American society.”… some evangelists to consider themselves “free agents” in a neoliberal marketplace…

 

In the vacuum that was left by the eradication of the safety net [public provisions], churches and other faith-based organizations became the provider of last resort. Their family values rendered care a private privilege awarded in defense of marriage, not a mutual social duty of citizens to one another.…the fundamentalism of Christian ideology works in concert with the fundamentalism of the market, so that “prosperity” preaching provides a space in which the contradictions of “free” enterprise are resolved…The branding of religion in contemporary capitalism also means that neoliberal ideologies of the individual, the “free” market, and a lessening of state intervention of any kind are increasingly part of religious ideologies….a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state…For the vast majority of televangelists, commitments to hyper-American patriotism, free-market capitalism, and patriarchal conceptions of the ordering of society are regularly transmitted through mass-mediated images and ‘Christian’ discourse.”

If branding in its contemporary form emerges from a kind of fundamentalism of the free market, then this connects to (though does not always neatly map onto) a particular fundamentalism within religion. “Fundamentalism” here indicates not merely a strict adherence to religious doctrine as the truth but also a powerful belief in the set of neoliberal principles that structure contemporary cultural, political, and economic life. The fundamentalism of the free market, in turn, implies not only a strict adherence to capitalist doctrine as the truth (though it is about this kind of observance) but also a loyalty to capitalist logic as structuring principles for everyday life.

…Sarah Palin has efficiently built a self-brand as a religious American woman... The collapse of conservative ideologies into affective, indeed nostalgic, sentiments, especially those of a neoliberal definition of morality, is achieved through the use of conservative women as spokes- people for the nation. This collapse is also the crux of religious brand culture, which retools capitalist strategies and logics into cultural norms.

Full text

Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion, is largely a North American religious movement, connected to Pentecostal Christianity and Word of Faith teachings, and is often tied to Oral Roberts and other evangelists who became well known in the 1980s and 1990s. However, Prosperity Christianity is also historically related to faith healing; in the early 20th century, evangelicals focused on physical well-being as the therapeutic ethos of culture became normative and activities like the “mind cure,” which stressed the power of positive thinking as a cure for disease, became popular. Additionally, Prosperity Christianity is related to the rise of Christian free enterprise in the mid-20th century and the interrelation between professional business and theology. For instance, business schools began to attract religious individuals as both students and administrators by midcentury, and as business schools began to take a more prominent role in higher education, Christian business schools (specifically in the midwestern US) emerged as places in which future evangelists could be trained to merge business skills with religious principles.

In the later half of the 20th century, schools such as the University of Arkansas, the University of Ozarks, Southern Methodist University, and others developed business schools as a response to a variety of factors, including national market concerns, postwar inflation and debt, an increasing national demand for vocational business instruction, and a growing desire for whitecollar workers in the US. Christian business schools, however, could provide a conservative and “moral” framework for this kind of education. In her careful history of the global corporation Wal-Mart, Bethany Moreton argues that the figure of the contemporary religious entrepreneur became important to the rise of business programs at schools and universities around the US in the late 1970s. In the economic recession during this period, combined with residual countercultural fears of big business and bureaucratic businessmen, small-business enterprises and business schools cultivated the individual entrepreneur as an important element to Christian free enterprise, which found a particularly rich home in small towns, farms, and local churches. Outside the crowded, competitive urban industrial landscape, the emphasis on religion and American heritage that often characterized rural areas in the 1970s provided a welcoming context for the emergence of Christian free enterprise. These cultural spaces, as Moreton argues, “provided the cultural resources to enable a massive shift of economic possibility.”

In the small business schools that cropped up along the Sunbelt in the late 1970s, courses were offered in entrepreneurship, where, as Moreton states, the entrepreneur was cast as a special and rare type, not your typical bureaucratic businessman: “In this guise, the entrepreneur inherited the mantle of Jeffersonian virtue from the independent farmers and the Populist rebellion—a hero for the age of the mass office, a foil to sissified bureaucrats and the distant Shylocks of Wall Street.” As Moreton points out, the Waltons, the founders of Wal-Mart, promoted Christian business schools and Christian free enterprise and free trade, which serve a vital function in the economic backdrop of advanced capitalism in the branding of religion.

The commodification of religion had been a practice for centuries, but the use of the commercial marketplace to “sell” religion to reluctant, hard-to-reach, or otherwise inaccessible potential congregations proved successful in making religion “relevant” to an increasingly modern and pro-corporate population. But Christian free enterprise is not simply the use of the marketplace to sell religion. It is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values. This not only is a necessary condition for the branding of particular religions but also changes the understanding of religion itself.

Indeed, the connection between Christian religious values and a kind of pro-corporate populism is crucial for branding Christianity because it offers the possibility of a wide audience for the brand. As Moreton points out, procorporate populism (which argues vehemently against government or state intervention) imbues the political economy with moral legitimacy, infusing it with the conservative values of a “rural white virtue.” In the contemporary moment, the merging of Christian values with capitalist entrepreneurship takes the form of megachurches and charismatic evangelist leaders. A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness. As Moreton argues, the wedding of conservative corporate ideologies to not simply Christian enterprise but Christian education in the formation of private Christian business schools created a context in which these two discourses were completely compatible, each informing the other: “The southwestern Christian college and the new mass white-collar workplace were just beginning a quietly historic partnership, and the terms of the bargain were clear enough.”

In the advanced capitalism of the later 20th century, the terms of the bargain find purchase in Prosperity Christianity. As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors. Prosperity Christianity cuts across denominational boundaries and is defined “as the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.” Prosperity preaching has found a welcome home in many megachurches across the US in the early 21st century, spaces in which an evangelist preaches to hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals, as well as offering services to even larger audiences through live streams online. While there are certainly many religious detractors from Prosperity Christianity—indeed, Christianity Today describes it as “false gospel,” “unethical and unChristlike,” and “spiritually unhealthy”—it has garnered attention from thousands of followers, its message of gaining material wealth through prayer and commitment to one’s own congregation especially powerful since the global recession of 2008.

Recent headlines tell us something about how this reimagined relationship between religion and the economy has become increasingly mainstream: a cover of Time magazine, in 2006, asked, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?”; a later cover, after the global economic collapse in the fall of 2008, asked a follow-up question: “Maybe We Should Blame God for the Subprime Mess?”

The Atlantic Monthly in 2009 asked a similar question: “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” Christian blogs have taken up the issue of merging money talk with scripture in sermons (alternately defined as Prosperity Christianity or “Christianity Lite”), with vehement defenders on both sides of the debate. The most popular evangelical in the US in the 21st century, Joel Osteen, whose Prosperity megachurch in Houston boasts more than 40,000 weekly worshipers, writes in his best-selling book Your Best Life Now, “Telling yourself you are poor, or broke, or stuck in a dead-end job is a form of sin and invites more negativity into your life.” Another popular Prosperity evangelist, T. D. Jakes, emphasizes personal achievement in his role as pastor of Potter’s House, a 28,000-member, primarily African American church in Dallas, Texas. As Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke Sinitiere point out, Jakes “argues that his ministries provide African-Americans with the life skills, emotional health, and psychological well-being to be successful.” They continue: “[Jakes’s] brand of personal empowerment promotes the bourgeois conservatism of the new black church.” In yet another example of Prosperity preachers, televangelists Kenneth Copeland and Gloria Copeland, founders of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries and authors of books such as The Laws of Prosperity and Prosperity: The Choice Is Yours, preach that the more money worshipers give to the church, the more they will receive in their own lives. 

The focus of evangelicals on personal empowerment and individuals (and, in this case, individual wealth) has reached a heightened significance in the early 21st century. Prosperity Christianity has become an important non- or postdenomination for many contemporary evangelical preachers, where sermons focus on the righteousness of acquiring individual wealth and material success, a pursuit that becomes its own sort of salvation.

Not only are religious messages packaged like other brands, through infomercials, merchandise, and sophisticated media distribution, but also the content of the message can only be understood within a brand context: materialism, consumption, capitalist exchange, and personal empowerment. As Einstein says about Prosperity preaching, “In order to draw in the masses, preachers must include what will attract the largest number of people—ideas about how their lives will be better, more prosperous, more fulfilling—and exclude those things that will lead viewers to reach for the remote control—mentions of Jesus, requests for contributions, suggestions that they are going to hell.”

A mention of Jesus is a turnoff for Christians? If Jesus is not an appropriate focus for spiritual leaders, the question then becomes: How does a spiritual leader become a valuable brand in a rapidly changing society? Evangelists now need to self-brand but another element obviously has to do not only with how particular individuals are skilled at making religion “relevant” to a contemporary culture (through communication technologies, social media, and so on) but with what identities are particularly brandable. That is, a lack of specificity in religious branding is important in order to reach a broad audience of religious consumers, so that megachurches and other contemporary religious institutions (including many religious websites) are strategically nondenominational or “postdenominational” in their religious messages and practices. Within branded religions such as Prosperity Christianity, vague references to a Christian tradition that are individualized, such as how to make one’s life better, are more lucrative than specific and community-oriented content, such as a mention of Jesus.

Contemporary evangelists, including Prosperity preachers, are the latest in a long history, dating back to the 18th century, of successful evangelists in the US. George Whitefield, who came to the US in 1738, was arguably the first successful evangelist; he was also an early marketer of religious ephemera.

The most successful early evangelists were skilled orators and entrepreneurs who were particularly savvy at using communication technologies to publicize their messages. Radio was a very useful medium for early 20th-century evangelists (as well as for advertisers and politicians). Religious leaders such as Aimee Semple McPherson, Charles Fuller, and Charles Coughlin became expert at using mass media to spread religious messages. In the 1930s, Coughlin’s weekly broadcasts reached more than 30 million listeners. In the 1980s, televangelists like Jerry Falwell, Billy Swaggart, and Jimmy Bakker used television to build huge congregations across the nation.

Today, as Lee and Sinitiere point out, evangelicals draw millions of followers by reimagining Christianity, and part of this reimagining has been enabled by the normalization of the entrepreneur: “Through the power of their appeal, rather than the authority of ecclesiastical positioning, [contemporary evangelists] assemble multi-million-dollar ministries and worldwide renown. With weak or no denominational ties, they are ‘free agents’ who make their mark on contemporary American society.” One way contemporary evangelicals “make their mark” is through the efficient use of new communication technologies to distribute their messages, from live streaming online videos of their services, to selling books and DVDs on iTunes, to Facebook pages. Self-branding, for some contemporary evangelists, has become an effective way to promote both themselves and the religious teachings they provide. Since, as I have argued elsewhere, self-branding is becoming a more normative practice in contemporary US culture as a way to craft personal identity, it makes sense for some evangelists to consider themselves “free agents” in a neoliberal marketplace. In other words, it is not simply more sophisticated media technologies, or a shifting capitalist system, or new understandings of individual subjectivities that authorize the emergence of the new evangelists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It is all of these elements, along with a more general cultural ethos of promotion, which suggests that branding is an aspect of new media logic that is altering even seemingly unconnected domains (such as religion).

The mass white-collar workplace Moreton details as emerging in the mid-20th-century US is precisely the demographic on which 21st-century advanced capitalism depends, both as a source of labor (itinerant labor, antiunion) and as the locus of racialized fears about immigrant labor (outsourcing, denial of immigration rights). Historically, the church has been an advocate of some state intervention and support—social gospelers, for instance, worked with New Deal policies in the early 20th century. Additionally, various Christian denominations have been community oriented rather than individually oriented. But rather than challenge neoliberal economic practices of “free enterprises” and work toward reestablishing state and federal public policies and practices, Christian “free” enterprise and individual entrepreneurship provide solutions to increased alienation (an alienation that ostensibly is caused partly by a multiracial and multicultural workforce and widening income gaps). The church becomes a site of refuge:

In the vacuum that was left by the eradication of the safety net [public provisions], churches and other faith-based organizations became the pro- vider of last resort. Their family values rendered care a private privilege awarded in defense of marriage, not a mutual social duty of citizens to one another. The irony was that both the corporations and the churches were already public-private partnerships by definition, built with public subsidy and dependent on state nurturance.

Advanced capitalist doctrine is expert in circumnavigating this kind of irony, where the emergence of the private, individual entrepreneur is validated by the state and public-private partnerships. In the context of the religious, individual entrepreneur, this irony manifests not only in the public- private partnerships of the church but also in the practice of spiritual leaders of simultaneously disavowing of capitalism and embracing of its logic. For instance, an immensely popular evangelist, Rick Warren, with an impressive megachurch of his own (the Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, currently the eighth-largest church in the US, averaging 22,000 weekly attendees) strongly disagrees with emphasizing a relationship between God and personal financial success.

As he says, “This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth.”  Warren’s comments are another example of how religious leaders purport to use the strategy of capitalism in the name of faith, without capitulating to capitalism’s system of value. This double mobilization maintains authenticity for such leaders; Warren’s statement that Prosperity teaching is “baloney” is another way to articulate it as inauthentic. Yet Warren has also been described being “as much Bill Gates as he is Billy Graham.” Forbes magazine “called Warren a ‘spiritual entrepreneur’” and stated that if Warren’s ministry were a business, it “would be compared with Dell, Google, or Starbucks.” Of course, Warren’s ministry is a business, so it makes perfect sense to situate it alongside Google or Starbucks. His book The Purpose Driven Life is a New York Times best seller and offers a personal guide for individuals to figure out their purpose in life (and despite the first line of the book, which answers this question with “It’s not about you,” it clearly is about you, and buying the book, and following his “Purpose Driven” philosophy).

Warren gave the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration in 2008, and Time magazine named him one of “15 World Leaders Who Mattered Most in 2004” and in 2005 one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.” Also, in 2005 U.S. News & World Report named him one of “America’s 25 Best Leaders.” So while Warren may preach against Prosperity Christianity, he is nonetheless part of a broader pattern of branding Christianity.

Warren and other contemporary evangelists like him, even when not expressing Prosperity Christianity explicitly, demonstrate the various ways in which religion is increasingly understood through the language of the brand. As Linda Kintz argues in her work Between Jesus and the Market, the fundamentalism of Christian ideology works in concert with the fundamentalism of the market, so that “prosperity” preaching provides a space in which the contradictions of “free” enterprise are resolved. That is to say, the practice of branding religion does not merely indicate that religious doctrine is simply communicated and experienced in an economic context. The branding of religion in contemporary capitalism also means that neoliberal ideologies of the individual, the “free” market, and a lessening of state intervention of any kind are increasingly part of religious ideologies. For example, the Prosperity leader Benny Hinn preaches about the specific ways in which God “wants” people to become wealthy. In one of his articles on his website, “Your Supernatural Wealth Transfer Is Coming,” Hinn cites Psalm 35:27: “Yea, let them say continually, Let the Lord be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.” Hinn interprets this as “It is God’s will that you prosper!” In this article, Hinn lists six “wealth transfers” that have happened throughout history, offering narratives of biblical figures such as Abraham and Isaac as benefiting materially from God’s will. The seventh person on Hinn’s list in line for a “wealth transfer” is, not surprisingly, “you” (“Next in line for a great wealth transfer is you!”). The key to becoming rich, Hinn tells his congregation, is to pray and spread the word of the gospel.63 Alongside tabs on his website like “spiritual life” and “healing,” Hinn features “financial freedom,” where he gives advice on money management, tithing, and God’s prosperity.

Hinn, like Osteen and other Prosperity preachers, is committed to an ideology of free-market capitalism and has found ways to imbricate this ideology into religious practice. Indeed, as Jonathan Walton points out, too little attention has been paid by religious scholars to evangelists as proselytizers of a particular Christian identity, “an identity defined, for the most part, by theological, cultural and political neoconservatism.” While neoconservatism cannot be collapsed with neoliberal culture, they share similar tenets in terms of a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state—and the way all of these discourses form a national- ist sensibility. As Walton continues, “For the vast majority of televangelists, commitments to hyper-American patriotism, free-market capitalism, and patriarchal conceptions of the ordering of society are regularly transmitted through mass-mediated images and ‘Christian’ discourse.”

If branding in its contemporary form emerges from a kind of fundamentalism of the free market, then this connects to (though does not always neatly map onto) a particular fundamentalism within religion. “Fundamentalism” here indicates not merely a strict adherence to religious doctrine as the truth but also a powerful belief in the set of neoliberal principles that structure contemporary cultural, political, and economic life. The fundamentalism of the free market, in turn, implies not only a strict adherence to capitalist doctrine as the truth (though it is about this kind of observance) but also a loyalty to capitalist logic as structuring principles for everyday life.

As Kintz argues, part of this fundamentalism has been the use of women as spokespeople for a kind of Christianity. Women have helped move fundamentalist religious concerns, once thought to be on the extreme margins, to the mainstream by collapsing these concerns into affective feelings about family, home, and domesticity: “That collapse has also paradoxically helped establish a symbolic framework that returns manliness to the center of culture.” A brief glance at US politics in the first decade of the 21st century demonstrates this, as former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin has efficiently built a self-brand as a religious American woman. In all her roles, as running mate to Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a political pundit for conservative news network Fox News, a spokesperson of the Tea Party, and a reality television star, Palin has clearly proselytized that the moral principles of the right wing in US politics and those of a masculinized religious sentiment can be merged—and merged most effectively in a feminine, preferably maternal, body. The collapse of conservative ideologies into affective, indeed nostalgic, sentiments, especially those of a neoliberal definition of morality, is achieved through the use of conservative women as spokes- people for the nation. This collapse is also the crux of religious brand culture, which retools capitalist strategies and logics into cultural norms.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/books/how-christianity-became-lucrative-brand

Links:
[1] http://nypress.com/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/sarah-banet-weiser
[3] https://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookid=5999
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mormons
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/christianity
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/propserity-gospel
[7] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Paul Crouch, Architect of Prosperity Gospel Televangelism, Dead at 79

by Sarah Posner, ReligionDispatches.com, December 1, 2013

Paul Crouch, the founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network and an architect of global prosperity gospel televangelism, died yesterday at the age of 79.

Crouch built the network from one station in the 1970s to a global empire featuring a 24-hour menu of health and wealth gospel, preying on the gullible to turn their money over to televangelists to receive God’s blessing.

The network has purchased property all over the world to spread its message to Christians and non-Christians alike. Last year, when the network acquired studio space in Jerusalem, Crouch said on his Behind the Scenes program, “the harvest is coming in so fast. People, the messianic congregations are growing like you can’t believe.” Crouch maintained the purchase was of a “prophetic” significance, claiming that it would reach both the Jewish and Arab residents of the city.

Crouch’s son Matthew, speaking from a Jersualem balcony with his father, added, “what is the message of the Gospel, if it isn’t for the Jew first?”

Best known for his controversially extravagant spending, with his wife and business partner Jan, Paul Crouch survived many a media exposé. He and his wife built their network, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, using tax-exempt donor funds, frequently, former insiders have charged, for their own enrichment.

In 2004, the conservative Christian financial watchdog Ministry Watch issued a scathing report on the network, charging that its “huge cash stockpile” should be spent on charitable works, rather than on the Crouches’ personal luxuries. That same year, the Los Angeles Times ran a damning three-part exposé of the family’s mansions, luxury cars, and private airplane. But perhaps the most damaging revelation was the claim by Crouch’s former chauffeur, Lonnie Ford, that Crouch had paid him $425,000 in hush money to keep silent, Ford claimed, about how he was forced to have sex with Crouch to keep his job. On the air, Crouch called the story a “pack of lies right out of the pit of hell.” Other prosperity televangelists closed ranks around Crouch; the enemy, after all, was the secular media.

More recently, in 2012, Brittany Koper, the Crouches’ granddaughter and daughter of their son Paul, Jr., sued the network. She described to the New York Times “company-paid luxuries that she said appeared to violate the Internal Revenue Service’s ban on ‘excess compensation’ by nonprofit organizations as well as possibly state and federal laws on false bookkeeping and self-dealing.” The luxuries included a “former Conway Twitty estate in Tennessee, corporate jets valued at $8 million and $49 million each and thousand-dollar dinners with fine wines, paid with tax-exempt money.” The network has repeatedly denied Koper’s allegations, and has claimed it was Koper who stole money from the network.

Koper’s sister, Carra Crouch, also sued the network, claiming her family covered up her rape by a TBN employee when she was 13 years old.

The Orange County Register reported last year that Koper’s husband, Michael, filed documents in her lawsuit alleging that Jan and her son Matthew were celebrating that the elder Crouch—thought then to be on his deathbed—had signed a letter leaving them, not Paul Jr., in charge of the network.

The Register, which closely follows the lawsuit against the network based in Santa Ana, also reported that Paul and Matthew Crouch suggested that God might punish TBN’s adversaries with death. “God help anyone who would try to get in the way of TBN, which was God’s plan,” Crouch said. “I have attended the funeral of at least two people who tried.”

Frequently overlooked amid the Crouches’ family feuds, financial and sexual scandals, prosperity preaching, faith healing claims, revelation, prophecy, and apocalyptic outlook was the role Crouch played in the development of Republican evangelical outreach in presidential campaigns. The Times obituary today notes that Crouch interviewed Rick Santorum last year; that’s a tradition, though, that dates back to the George H.W. Bush era, when Bush’s evangelical outreach guru Doug Wead brokered an interview for the Yankee Episcopalian to reach TBN’s audience.

Wead, who developed an extensive list of influential evangelicals with whom he wanted 1988 Bush presidential primary campaign to connect, had first-hand knowledge of the Crouches’ world. Yet he recognized the potential downside of Bush being seen with Crouch, whom he described as an “exaggeration of the most bizarre manifestation of the peculiar evangelical subculture.” He advised the vice-president not to appear for a televised interview with Crouch. But he staged such an interview himself, using the tagline “correspondent Doug Wead,” coaxing Bush to exhibit his faith in Jesus Christ for the TBN audience.

When George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, Wead helped push for Crouch’s support without Bush appearing on the network. John McCain, however, had no such luck: he submitted to a 2007 interview with Crouch’s son, Paul, Jr.

To outsiders, the Crouches are comical, Elmer Gantry-esque caricatures of themselves, he with his prophecies and flamboyant fawning over the televangelists he helped turn into stars, she with her pink hair piled high on her head, garish make-up, high-pitched voice, and gaudy clothes. But as Wead recognized, they have an audience (one worth cultivating for votes, at least), in a subculture not only unfamiliar but probably outright incredible to many Americans.

When I was writing my book, I attended one of those notorious TBN “Praise-A-Thons” at the network’s suburban Atlanta studio. (For more on what happened that night, see this post on prosperity gospel and foreclosure.) The studio audience is nothing more than a prop. While the audience is asked to deliver money to an altar ready-made for the cameras, the real money comes pouring in from those at home.

The people in the studio audience, some bussed there in church vans, are true believers. They were willing to stay in their seats during crucial camera pans so television viewers could feel the anointing, too. They spoke in tongues and were slain in the spirit, but not too much if it wouldn’t play well on TV. The sad genius of it all was the orchestration to make the audience feel like a crucial part of something huge, something God wanted, something that God was going to bless many times over with miraculous riches and good health.

Jan Crouch was there, without Paul. The audience heard of her healing from colon cancer, “no radiation, no chemo, just Jesus!” she exclaimed.

After the healing story, Jan Crouch really got down to business. “The gift of the anointing for prosperity is flowing on this Praise-a-thon,” she said. The Praise-a-thon (which raises millions for the network that even conservative Christian critics charge lacks transparency and accountability) “is not about TBN,” said Crouch. “It’s about you.”

Paul Crouch managed to survive scandal after scandal, even those that tore apart his own family. For his supporters, he was a prophet, or at least a lucrative patron and ally. For anyone shocked by the excesses and abuses of prosperity preaching and exploitation of tax-exempt status, though, Crouch was a heretic and a charlatan. For both, his imprint will long survive him: he leaves not only a legacy of scandal, but a legacy of forever altering the landscape of American and global Christianity.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/sarahposner/7422/paul_crouch__architect_of_prosperity_gospel_televangelism__dead_at_79

Does God Want You To Be Rich?

By DAVID VAN BIEMA and JEFF CHU, Time Magazine, Sunday, Sep. 10, 2006

When George Adams lost his job at an Ohio tile factory last October, the most practical thing he did, he thinks, was go to a new church, even though he had to move his wife and four preteen boys to Conroe, a suburb of Houston, to do it. Conroe, you see, is not far from Lakewood, the home church of megapastor and best-selling author Joel Osteen.

Osteen’s relentlessly upbeat television sermons had helped Adams, 49, get through the hard times, and now Adams was expecting the smiling, Texas-twanged 43-year-old to help boost him back toward success. And Osteen did. Inspired by the preacher’s insistence that one of God’s top priorities is to shower blessings on Christians in this lifetime–and by the corollary assumption that one of the worst things a person can do is to expect anything less–Adams marched into Gullo Ford in Conroe looking for work. He didn’t have entry-level aspirations: “God has showed me that he doesn’t want me to be a run-of-the-mill person,” he explains. He demanded to know what the dealership’s top salesmen made–and got the job. Banishing all doubt–”You can’t sell a $40,000-to-$50,000 car with menial thoughts”–Adams took four days to retail his first vehicle, a Ford F-150 Lariat with leather interior. He knew that many fellow salesmen don’t notch their first score until their second week. “Right now, I’m above average!” he exclaims. “It’s a new day God has given me! I’m on my way to a six-figure income!” The sales commission will help with this month’s rent, but Adams hates renting. Once that six-figure income has been rolling in for a while, he will buy his dream house: “Twenty-five acres,” he says. “And three bedrooms. We’re going to have a schoolhouse (his children are home schooled). We want horses and ponies for the boys, so a horse barn. And a pond. And maybe some cattle.”

“I’m dreaming big–because all of heaven is dreaming big,” Adams continues. “Jesus died for our sins. That was the best gift God could give us,” he says. “But we have something else. Because I want to follow Jesus and do what he ordained, God wants to support us. It’s Joel Osteen’s ministry that told me. Why would an awesome and mighty God want anything less for his children?”

In three of the Gospels, Jesus warns that each of his disciples may have to “deny himself” and even “take up his Cross.” In support of this alarming prediction, he forcefully contrasts the fleeting pleasures of today with the promise of eternity: “For what profit is it to a man,” he asks, “if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” It is one of the New Testament’s hardest teachings, yet generations of churchgoers have understood that being Christian, on some level, means being ready to sacrifice–money, autonomy or even their lives.

But for a growing number of Christians like George Adams, the question is better restated, “Why not gain the whole world plus my soul?” For several decades, a philosophy has been percolating in the 10 million–strong Pentecostal wing of Christianity that seems to turn the Gospels’ passage on its head: certainly, it allows, Christians should keep one eye on heaven. But the new good news is that God doesn’t want us to wait. Known (or vilified) under a variety of names–Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, Prosperity Theology–its emphasis is on God’s promised generosity in this life and the ability of believers to claim it for themselves. In a nutshell, it suggests that a God who loves you does not want you to be broke. Its signature verse could be John 10: 10: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” In a TIME poll, 17% of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61% believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31%–a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America–agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money.

“Prosperity” first blazed to public attention as the driveshaft in the moneymaking machine that was 1980s televangelism and faded from mainstream view with the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals. But now, after some key modifications (which have inspired some to redub it Prosperity Lite), it has not only recovered but is booming. Of the four biggest megachurches in the country, three–Osteen’s Lakewood in Houston; T.D. Jakes’ Potter’s House in south Dallas; and Creflo Dollar’s World Changers near Atlanta–are Prosperity or Prosperity Lite pulpits (although Jakes’ ministry has many more facets). While they don’t exclusively teach that God’s riches want to be in believers’ wallets, it is a key part of their doctrine. And propelled by Osteen’s 4 million–selling book, Your Best Life Now, the belief has swept beyond its Pentecostal base into more buttoned-down evangelical churches, and even into congregations in the more liberal Mainline. It is taught in hundreds of non-Pentecostal Bible studies. One Pennsylvania Lutheran pastor even made it the basis for a sermon series for Lent, when Christians usually meditate on why Jesus was having His Worst Life Then. Says the Rev. Chappell Temple, a Methodist minister with the dubious distinction of pastoring Houston’s other Lakewood Church (Lakewood United Methodist), an hour north of Osteen’s: “Prosperity Lite is everywhere in Christian culture. Go into any Christian bookstore, and see what they’re offering.”

The movement’s renaissance has infuriated a number of prominent pastors, theologians and commentators. Fellow megapastor Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Life has outsold Osteen’s by a ratio of 7 to 1, finds the very basis of Prosperity laughable. “This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?”, he snorts. “There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn’t everyone in the church a millionaire?”

The brickbats–both theological and practical (who really gets rich from this?)–come especially thick from Evangelicals like Warren. Evangelicalism is more prominent and influential than ever before. Yet the movement, which has never had a robust theology of money, finds an aggressive philosophy advancing within its ranks that many of its leaders regard as simplistic, possibly heretical and certainly embarrassing.

Prosperity’s defenders claim to be able to match their critics chapter and verse. They caution against broad-brushing a wide spectrum that ranges from pastors who crassly solicit sky’s-the-limit financial offerings from their congregations to those whose services tend more toward God-fueled self-help. Advocates note Prosperity’s racial diversity–a welcome exception to the American norm–and point out that some Prosperity churches engage in significant charity. And they see in it a happy corrective for Christians who are more used to being chastened for their sins than celebrated as God’s children. “Who would want to get in on something where you’re miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven?” asks Joyce Meyer, a popular television preacher and author often lumped in the Prosperity Lite camp. “I believe God wants to give us nice things.” If nothing else, Meyer and other new-breed preachers broach a neglected topic that should really be a staple of Sunday messages: Does God want you to be rich?

As with almost any important religious question, the first response of most Christians (especially Protestants) is to ask how Scripture treats the topic. But Scripture is not definitive when it comes to faith and income. Deuteronomy commands believers to “remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth”, and the rest of the Old Testament is dotted with celebrations of God’s bestowal of the good life. On at least one occasion–the so-called parable of the talents (a type of coin)–Jesus holds up savvy business practice (investing rather than saving) as a metaphor for spiritual practice. Yet he spent far more time among the poor than the rich, and a majority of scholars quote two of his most direct comments on wealth: the passage in the Sermon on the Mount in which he warns, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth … but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven”; and his encounter with the “rich young ruler” who cannot bring himself to part with his money, after which Jesus famously comments, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Both statements can be read as more nuanced than they at first may seem. In each case it is not wealth itself that disqualifies but the inability to understand its relative worthlessness compared with the riches of heaven. The same thing applies to Paul’s famous line, “Money is the root of all evil,” in his first letter to Timothy. The actual quote is, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

So the Bible leaves plenty of room for a discussion on the role, positive or negative, that money should play in the lives of believers. But it’s not a discussion that many pastors are willing to have. “Jesus’ words about money don’t make us very comfortable, and people don’t want to hear about it,” notes Collin Hansen, an editor at the evangelical monthly Christianity Today. Pastors are happy to discuss from the pulpit hot-button topics like sex and even politics. But the relative absence of sermons about money–which the Bible mentions several thousand times–is one of the more stunning omissions in American religion, especially among its white middle-class precincts. Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow says much of the U.S. church “talks about giving but does not talk about the broader financial concerns people have, or the pressures at work. There has long been a taboo on talking candidly about money.”

In addition to personal finances, a lot of evangelical churches have also avoided any pulpit talk about social inequality. When conservative Christianity split from the Mainline in the early 20th century, the latter pursued their commitment to the “social gospel” by working on poverty and other causes such as civil rights and the Vietnam-era peace movement. Evangelicals went the other way: they largely concentrated on issues of individual piety. “We took on personal salvation–we need our sins redeemed, and we need our Saviour,” says Warren. But “some people tended to go too individualistic, and justice and righteousness issues were overlooked.”

A recent Sunday at Lakewood gives some idea of the emphasis on worldly gain that disturbs Warren. Several hundred stage lights flash on, and Osteen, his gigawatt smile matching them, strides onto the stage of what used to be the Compaq Center sports arena but is now his church. “Let’s just celebrate the goodness of the Lord!” Osteen yells. His wife Victoria says, “Our Daddy God is the strongest! He’s the mightiest!”

And so it goes, before 14,000 attendees, a nonstop declaration of God’s love and his intent to show it in the here and now, sometimes verging on the language of an annual report. During prayer, Osteen thanks God for “your unprecedented favor. We believe that 2006 will be our best year so far. We declare it by faith.” Today’s sermon is about how gratitude can “save a marriage, save your job [and] get you a promotion.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever preached a sermon about money,” he says a few hours later. He and Victoria meet with TIME in their pastoral suite, once the Houston Rockets’ locker and shower area but now a zone of overstuffed sofas and imposing oak bookcases. “Does God want us to be rich?” he asks. “When I hear that word rich, I think people say, ‘Well, he’s preaching that everybody’s going to be a millionaire.’ I don’t think that’s it.” Rather, he explains, “I preach that anybody can improve their lives. I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy. To me, you need to have money to pay your bills. I think God wants us to send our kids to college. I think he wants us to be a blessing to other people. But I don’t think I’d say God wants us to be rich. It’s all relative, isn’t it?” The room’s warm lamplight reflects softly off his crocodile shoes.

Osteen is a second-generation Prosperity teacher. His father John Osteen started out Baptist but in 1959 withdrew from that fellowship to found a church in one of Houston’s poorer neighborhoods and explore a new philosophy developing among Pentecostals. If the rest of Protestantism ignored finances, Prosperity placed them center stage, marrying Pentecostalism’s ebullient notion of God’s gifts with an older tradition that stressed the power of positive thinking. Practically, it emphasized hard work and good home economics. But the real heat was in its spiritual premise: that if a believer could establish, through word and deed (usually donation), that he or she was “in Jesus Christ,” then Jesus’ father would respond with paternal gifts of health and wealth in this life. A favorite verse is from Malachi: “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse … and try Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘If I will not for you open the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.’” (See boxes.)

It is a peculiarly American theology but turbocharged. If Puritanism valued wealth and Benjamin Franklin wrote about doing well by doing good, hard-core Prosperity doctrine, still extremely popular in the hands of pastors like Atlanta megachurch minister Creflo Dollar, reads those Bible verses as a spiritual contract. God will pay back a multiple (often a hundredfold) on offerings by the congregation. “Poor people like Prosperity,” says Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University. “They hear it as aspirant. They hear, ‘You can make it too–buy a car, get a job, get wealthy.’ It can function as a form of liberation.” It can also be exploitative. Outsiders, observes Milmon Harrison of the University of California at Davis, author of the book Righteous Riches, often see it as “another form of the church abusing people so ministers could make money.”

In the past decade, however, the new generation of preachers, like Osteen, Meyer and Houston’s Methodist megapastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, who gave the benediction at both of George W. Bush’s Inaugurals, have repackaged the doctrine. Gone are the divine profit-to-earnings ratios, the requests for offerings far above a normal 10% tithe (although many of the new breed continue to insist that congregants tithe on their pretax rather than their net income). What remains is a materialism framed in a kind of Tony Robbins positivism. No one exemplifies this better than Osteen, who ran his father’s television-production department until John died in 1999. “Joel has learned from his dad, but he has toned it back and tapped into basic, everyday folks’ ways of talking,” says Ben Phillips, a theology professor at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. That language is reflected in Your Best Life Now, an extraordinarily accessible exhortation to this-world empowerment through God. “To live your best life now,” it opens, to see “your business taking off. See your marriage restored. See your family prospering. See your dreams come to pass …” you must “start looking at life through eyes of faith.” Jesus is front and center but not his Crucifixion, Resurrection or Atonement. There are chapters on overcoming trauma and a late chapter on emulating God’s generosity. (And indeed, Osteen’s church gave more than $1 million in relief money after Hurricane Katrina.) But there are many more illustrations of how the Prosperity doctrine has produced personal gain, most memorably, perhaps, for the Osteen family: how Victoria’s “speaking words of faith and victory” eventually brought the couple their dream house; how Joel discerned God’s favor in being bumped from economy to business class.

Confronting such stories, certain more doctrinally traditional Christians go ballistic. Last March, Ben Witherington, an influential evangelical theologian at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, thundered that “we need to renounce the false gospel of wealth and health–it is a disease of our American culture; it is not a solution or answer to life’s problems.” Respected blogger Michael Spencer–known as the Internet Monk–asked, “How many young people are going to be pointed to Osteen as a true shepherd of Jesus Christ? He’s not. He’s not one of us.” Osteen is an irresistible target for experts from right to left on the Christian spectrum who–beyond worrying that he is living too high or inflating the hopes of people with real money problems–think he is dragging people down with a heavy interlocked chain of theological and ethical errors that could amount to heresy.

Most start out by saying that Osteen and his ilk have it “half right”: that God’s goodness is biblical, as is the idea that he means us to enjoy the material world. But while Prosperity claims to be celebrating that goodness, the critics see it as treating God as a celestial ATM. “God becomes a means to an end, not the end in himself,” says Southwestern Baptist’s Phillips. Others are more upset about what it de-emphasizes. “[Prosperity] wants the positive but not the negative,” says another Southern Baptist, Alan Branch of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. “Problem is, we live on this side of Eden. We’re fallen.” That is, Prosperity soft-pedals the consequences of Adam’s fall–sin, pain and death–and their New Testament antidote: Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and the importance of repentance. And social liberals express a related frustration that preachers like Osteen show little interest in battling the ills of society at large. Perhaps appropriately so, since, as Prosperity scholar Harrison explains, “philosophically, their main way of helping the poor is encouraging people not to be one of them.”

Most unnerving for Osteen’s critics is the suspicion that they are fighting not just one idiosyncratic misreading of the gospel but something more daunting: the latest lurch in Protestantism’s ongoing descent into full-blown American materialism. After the eclipse of Calvinist Puritanism, whose respect for money was counterbalanced by a horror of worldliness, much of Protestantism quietly adopted the idea that “you don’t have to give up the American Dream. You just see it as a sign of God’s blessing,” says Edith Blumhofer, director of Wheaton College’s Center for the Study of American Evangelicals. Indeed, a last-gasp resistance to this embrace of wealth and comfort can be observed in the current evangelical brawl over whether comfortable megachurches (like Osteen’s and Warren’s) with pumped-up day-care centers and high-tech amenities represent a slide from glorifying an all-powerful God to asking what custom color you would prefer he paint your pews. “The tragedy is that Christianity has become a yes-man for the culture,” says Boston University’s Prothero.

Non-prosperity parties from both conservative and more progressive evangelical camps recently have been trying to reverse the trend. Eastern University professor Ron Sider’s book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, a fringe classic after its publication in 1977, is selling far more copies now, and some young people are even acting on its rather radical prescriptions: a sprinkling of Protestant groups known loosely as the New Monastics is experimenting with the kind of communal living among the poor that had previously been the province of Catholic orders. Jim Wallis, longtime leader of one such community in Washington and the editor of Sojourners magazine, has achieved immense exposure lately with his pleas that Evangelicals engage in more political activism on behalf of the poor.

And then there is Warren himself, who by virtue of his energy, hypereloquence and example (he’s working in Rwanda with government, business and church sectors) has become a spokesman for church activism. “The church is the largest network in the world,” he says. “If you have 2.3 billion people who claim to be followers of Christ, that’s bigger than China.”

And despite Warren’s disdain for Prosperity’s theological claims, some Prosperity churches have become players in the very faith-based antipoverty world he inhabits, even while maintaining their distinctive theology. Kirbyjon Caldwell, who pastors Windsor Village, the largest (15,000) United Methodist church in the country, can sound as Prosperity as the next pastor: “Jesus did not die and get up off the Cross so we could live lives full of despair and disappointment,” he says. He quotes the “abundant life” verse with all earnestness, even giving it a real estate gloss: “It is unscriptural not to own land,” he announces. But he’s doing more than talk about it. He recently oversaw the building of Corinthian Pointe, a 452-unit affordable-housing project that he claims is the largest residential subdivision ever built by a nonprofit. Most of its inhabitants, he says, are not members of his church.

Caldwell knows that prosperity is a loaded term in evangelical circles. But he insists that “it depends on how you define prosperity. I am not a proponent of saying the Lord’s name three times, clicking your heels and then you get what you ask for. But you cannot give what you do not have. We are fighting what we call the social demons. If I am going to help someone, I am going to have to have something with which to help.”

Caldwell knows that the theology behind this preacherly rhetoric will never be acceptable to Warren or Sider or Witherington. But the man they all follow said, “By their fruits you will know them,” and for some, Corinthian Pointe is a very convincing sort of fruit. Hard-line Prosperity theology may always seem alien to those with enough money to imagine making more without engaging God in a kind of spiritual quid pro quo. And Osteen’s version, while it abandons part of that magical thinking, may strike some as self-centered rather than God centered. But American Protestantism is a dynamic faith. Caldwell’s version reminds us that there is no reason a giving God could not invest even an awkward and needy creed with a mature and generous heart. If God does want us to be rich in this life, no doubt it’s this richness in spirit that he is most eager for us to acquire.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1533448,00.html

Mitt Romney’s Prosperity Gospel

By Peter Laarman, October 29, 2012

The presidential candidate as televangelist

Mitt Romney’s endorsement by various televangelists obscures the more important ways in which the candidate himself now projects the essence of televangelism. As the campaign enters the final days, Candidate Romney increasingly exhorts his audiences to dare to have faith in the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” (Hebrews 11.1), to dare to imagine a whole new life for themselves under this very rich man’s care, to dare to believe in the Gospel of Wealth, and to be saved, finally, from real-world lives that are going nowhere in the $10/hour economy

Watching Romney’s preacherly side take the stage in the second debate, I mistakenly feared for a time that he was having the better evening because of his way with a microphone and his remarkable capacity to modulate his voice (not to mention outing himself as LDS pastor and bishop). But it was Billy Graham’s endorsement, splashed into our faces via an expensive full-page Sunday New York Times ad, that triggered my flat-out recognition: the 94-year-old daddy of all televangelists is laying his bony patriarchal hands upon a fellow preacher who shares his hawk-like profile, and that man is not Franklin Graham.

Romney wants us to turn away from the false gospel of an impostor, a usurper, a false messiah, who happens to be the sitting president. Pretty much every Romney speech tells the story of how this imposter’s hope proved to be a false hope. Romney is clearly trying to plead for the souls of those who voted for Obama the first time. Romney’s message: “It’s okay, I understand the seduction: they don’t call Satan the ‘Father of Lies’ for nothing.”

But far more potent than the trashing of Obama in the new Romney pitch is the miracle-cure element (and the part that makes Obama people go nuts). To wit: “C’mon, folks! Just walk through these waters and watch that dropsy vanish, watch those deficits just disappear, watch those good American jobs fall like manna from Heaven.” He joins this with a very effective appeal to a still-Puritanical American need to avoid indebtedness and accept austerity as the price of redemption.

This is what Romney means when he refers to “big things” that need to be resolved. The biggest thing of all, for his purposes, is recovering the will and the capacity to believe. This very much includes believing that some should suffer (working people, “takers,” not plutocrats) in order to achieve national redemption. As Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Jeff Madrick, and many others are quick to say, imposing austerity on workers is the worst possible remedy. But this doesn’t mean that many middle-class and working-class Americans, including many who consider themselves free of any residual Puritanism, don’t buy into the new austerity.

Obama’s response so far to Romney’s Austerity/Prosperity Gospel: “Do the math.” The professor’s answer to the preacher.

But Mr. President, with respect: Your own Education Department will affirm my suggestion that we are no longer the world’s most mathematically-inclined nation. We’re a scratch-to-win nation. We’re a roll-the-dice people. And our god is that God: the one who makes water flow from the rock (Numbers 20:11); who surprises us all the time by blessing us in the least likely circumstances. Mr. President: You need to understand this. You need to work with this, but very, very carefully.

Because, like it or not, the endgame in this election is going to be about which candidate does religion better, I fervently wish that Mr. Obama would say a bit more about the problem of cheap grace. Reminding us that people who work very hard for very little are not the abusers of cheap grace, but that others in well-feathered nests who are preaching sacrifice might be in real trouble on the cheap grace front.

Obama cannot and should not condemn those in the electorate who buy into Romney’s “there will be showers of blessing” message, but he probably does need to get his preacher voice on to remind folks that all covenant promises are conditional. That is, he should tell us in a religiously-resonant way that expecting God’s favor without loving mercy and doing justice is an utter impossibility. And (this is trickier) that God’s prescribed path of blessing is identical to the path of a bottom-up recovery, which necessarily means casting the rich down from their thrones (Luke 1:51-53—and the proof-texting business here is all mine: God knows that Obama should not be doing this except by implication).

It is not the least bit difficult to see why the Austerity/Prosperity Gospel claims so many Americans: it’s God and Mammon gift-wrapped together with a big shiny bow. It’s likewise not hard to see how a residual Puritanism and the Prosperity Gospel can reinforce each other.

I don’t expect the president to counter all of this through a few well-chosen words. But with so much at stake, we need a bit more than “do the math.” We need a bit more evocation of the most important part of Winthrop’s “shining city” sermon, which is the part about bearing one another’s burdens and prospering by way of ethical community. And also just a bit about how to recognize the false prophets of any age. That would be those who cry “peace!” when there is no peace, and those who pronounce God’s blessing upon an oppressive status quo.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/6553/mitt_romney%27s_prosperity_gospel

Jesus Hates Taxes: Biblical Capitalism Created Fertile Anti-Union Soil

By Peter Montgomery, Religion Dispatches, March 14, 2011

Excerpt

While the assault on unions by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other GOP governors and legislators seems driven mostly by the billionaire Koch brothers and corporate-funded groups, religious right leaders and activists have spent decades creating fertile soil for anti-union campaigns through the promotion of “biblical capitalism,” which researcher Rachel Tabachnick describes as “the belief that unregulated capitalism is biblically mandated.”
Pseudo-historian David Barton, a frequent guest of broadcaster Glenn Beck, is using his newly enlarged audience to promote American exceptionalism (America was created by its divinely-inspired founders as a country of, by, and for Christians) and Tea Party-on-steroids economics (Jesus and the Bible oppose progressive taxes, capital gains taxes, estate taxes, and minimum wage laws). The Religious Right has a long practice of claiming divine mandate for its policy agenda as it makes for an exceptionally potent political argument: if God supports radically limited government, then progressive policies are not only wrong but evil, and supporters of liberal policies are not only political opponents but enemies of God.
Two days after the November 2010 elections, Barton, Newt Gingrich, and Jim Garlow (who runs Gingrich’s Renewing American Leadership group), held a conference call with pastors to celebrate conservative political gains. On the call, Garlow and Barton asserted a biblical underpinning for far-right economic policies: Taxation and deficit spending, they said, amount to theft, a violation of the Ten Commandments. The estate tax, Barton said, is “absolutely condemned” by the Bible as the “most immoral” of taxes. Jesus, he said, had “teachings” condemning the capital gains tax and minimum wage.
Barton also enlists Jesus in the war against unions and collective bargaining…and went on to explain why the Bible is anti-union…
It’s clear that the attempt to once again “break the spine of labor” is meant to cripple any opposition to the vision of a country in which corporations are given free rein to maximize profits without concern for workers’ safety, community well-being, and environmental protection. The seeds of that vision were first planted by Christian Reconstructionists and The Family and today’s conservative Christian leaders are only too eager to take advantage of the fruits of those labors to make the case that Jesus opposes efforts to ensure a living wage to workers, and that workers should accept as good slaves whatever treatment their employers dish out.

Full text

While the assault on unions by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other GOP governors and legislators seems driven mostly by the billionaire Koch brothers and corporate-funded groups, religious right leaders and activists have spent decades creating fertile soil for anti-union campaigns through the promotion of “biblical capitalism,” which researcher Rachel Tabachnick describes as “the belief that unregulated capitalism is biblically mandated.”

Pseudo-historian David Barton, a frequent guest of broadcaster Glenn Beck, is using his newly enlarged audience to promote American exceptionalism (America was created by its divinely-inspired founders as a country of, by, and for Christians) and Tea Party-on-steroids economics (Jesus and the Bible oppose progressive taxes, capital gains taxes, estate taxes, and minimum wage laws). The religious right has a long practice of claiming divine mandate for its policy agenda as it makes for an exceptionally potent political argument: if God supports radically limited government, then progressive policies are not only wrong but evil, and supporters of liberal policies are not only political opponents but enemies of God.

Two days after the November 2010 elections, Barton, Newt Gingrich, and Jim Garlow (who runs Gingrich’s Renewing American Leadership group), held a conference call with pastors to celebrate conservative political gains. On the call, Garlow and Barton asserted a biblical underpinning for far-right economic policies: Taxation and deficit spending, they said, amount to theft, a violation of the Ten Commandments. The estate tax, Barton said, is “absolutely condemned” by the Bible as the “most immoral” of taxes. Jesus, he said, had “teachings” condemning the capital gains tax and minimum wage.

Barton also enlists Jesus in the war against unions and collective bargaining. Two years ago Barton devoted his Wallbuilders Live radio show to celebrating a Supreme Court decision that upheld anIdaho law ending state withholding of public employee union political funds. Barton’s co-host Rick Green called for activists to “spark a fire” and encourage other states to take up the effort to disrupt unions’ political activities. Barton called the Supreme Court’s decision “the right historical position and the right biblical position,” and went on to explain why the Bible is anti-union.

According to Barton, a parable from the 20th chapter of the book of Matthew about the owner of a vineyard making different arrangements with workers was about “the right of private contract”—in other words, the right of employers to come to individual agreements with each employee. Jesus’ parable, he said, is “anti-minimum wage” and “anti-socialist-union kind of stuff.” (This is just one of the parables of Jesus cited by Barton and others in support of laissez-faire economic policies.)

The religious right’s anti-union roots are long and deep. Researchers have traced them through the teachings of R.J. Rushdoony, an intellectual godfather of sorts for much of the increasingly dominionist religious right; Gary North, a leading Christian Reconstructionist; and through fundamentalist textbooks used by homeschoolers and Christian schools. The roots of the Family, as Peter Laarman notes in his examination of religious indifference to the decades-long war on workers’ rights, are in anti-unionism. Back in 1942, according to Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power:

[T]he National Association of Manufacturers staked [Family founder Abraham Vereide] to a meeting of congressmen who would become students of his spiritual politics, among themVirginiasenator Absalom Willis Robertson—Pat Robertson’s father. Vereide returned the manufacturers’ favor by telling his new congressional followers that God wanted them to break the spine of organized labor. They did.

One of the most striking examples of this theory reaching into the political realm is found in an early Christian Coalition Leadership Manual, co-authored by Coalition founder Ralph Reed in 1990. A section titled “God’s Delegated Authority in the World,” which argues that “God established His pattern for work as well as in the family and in the church,” cites four Bible passages instructing slaves to be obedient to their masters, including 1 Peter 2:18-19:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.

And then, the astonishing lesson drawn by Christian Coalition leaders from these slaves-obey-your-masters passages:

Of course, slavery was abolished in this country many years ago, so we must apply these principles to the way Americans work today, to employees and employers: Christians have a responsibility to submit to the authority of their employers, since they are designated as part of God’s plan for the exercise of authority on the earth by man.

Slavery also makes an appearance in “Indivisible,” a booklet of essays being aggressively promoted by the Heritage Foundation as part of its campaign to assert that genuine fiscal conservatism cannot be separated from social conservatism. In one essay, anti-gay activist Bishop Harry Jackson writes that minimum wage laws “[remind] me of slavery.”

There’s no reason to believe that religious right and anti-union forces won’t continue to join forces. Later this month, the anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation will join anti-gay activists, anti-immigrant groups, and other groups primarily associated with social conservatism, at a gathering in Iowaconvened by religious right favorite Rep. Steve King to discuss “American Exceptionalism.” National Right to Work promotes a guide for employees with religious objections to joining a union:

To determine whether your beliefs are religious instead of political or philosophical, ask yourself whether your beliefs are based upon your obligations to God. Do you simply dislike unions or hate this particular union’s politics? Or, does your desire to stand apart from the union arise from your relationship to God? If your beliefs arise from your decision to obey God, they are religious.

And in April, religious right and Republican leaders will gather for the second year in a row at LibertyUniversityat the invitation of the Freedom Federation, a collection of religious right groups launched in 2009 with a Declaration of American Values, which added opposition to progressive taxation to the religious right’s usual issue agenda. While the Freedom Federation refers to itself as a federation of faith-based organizations, its founding members also include Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded group that has funded attacks on Democratic lawmakers and mobilized Tea Party activists on behalf of right-wing candidates.

Just last week, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins tweeted his support for the Wisconsin Republicans’ union-busting: “Pro-family voters should celebrate WI victory b/c public & private sector union bosses have marched lock-step w/ liberal social agenda.”

It’s clear that the attempt to once again “break the spine of labor” is meant to cripple any opposition to the vision of a country in which corporations are given free rein to maximize profits without concern for workers’ safety, community well-being, and environmental protection. The seeds of that vision were first planted by Christian Reconstructionists and The Family and today’s conservative Christian leaders are only too eager to take advantage of the fruits of those labors to make the case that Jesus opposes efforts to ensure a living wage to workers, and that workers should accept as good slaves whatever treatment their employers dish out.

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/4366/jesus_hates_taxes%3A_biblical_capitalism_created_fertile_anti-union_soil

The Debt Ceiling Crisis and Biblical Economics

by Julie Ingersoll, Religion Dispatches, July 14, 2011

Excerpt

An interesting week for biblical economics: the longstanding voice in the wilderness Ron Paul…In many ways prompted by tea party ideological intransigence, Paul has brought what were once considered extreme, fringe, even “crackpot” economic views to bear on the American economy and potentially the global economic system…his ties to the Reconstructionists…
The new GOP coalition, built on tea party support, is breaking down over the debt limit crisis…
now tea partiers like Michele Bachmann are saying they won’t vote to raise the limit at all and are claiming that the administration is exaggerating the impact a default will have. Moreover, they’re so sure about the tea party members staying in line on a vote, they’re going after Republicans who want to cut a deal….
rooted in what I described at a “theocratic reading of the Bible…
It’s much harder to make something happen (eliminating the Federal Reserve) than it is to keep something from happening (raising the debt limit)…
for proponents of biblical economics, there’s a much deeper motive. As I explained in the November 2010 piece on the Fed:
North’s overarching schema is that there is an impending social collapse which will provide the opportunity for biblically-based Christians to exercise dominion by replacing existing humanistic institutions with biblical ones…
“people will at last decide that they have had enough moral and legal compromise. They will at last decide to adopt a simple system of honest money, along with competitive free market principles throughout the economy.”…
For North, default of the U.S. economy is inevitable; he argues that it has already begun.
We know who he thinks will pick up the pieces.

Full text

An interesting week for biblical economics: the longstanding voice in the wilderness Ron Paul announced he is retiring from Congress to focus on a presidential bid and the crisis over the debt ceiling. In many ways prompted by tea party ideological intransigence, Paul has brought what were once considered extreme, fringe, even “crackpot” economic views to bear on the American economy and potentially the global economic system.

At Slate, David Weigel wrote about Paul’s retirement, noting that he was leaving behind a Republican Party that had “finally learned to love him.” But in his affectionate send-off, he wrote only about Paul’s ties to the Austrian school of economics and said nothing about his ties to the Reconstructionists.

While the tea partiers love Paul, the affection within the GOP itself may be short lived, as Aaron Blake at the Washington Post argues. The new GOP coalition, built on tea party support, is breaking down over the debt limit crisis.

A couple of months back Republicans (acting like Republicans) were demanding that, in exchange for the debt ceiling increase, there be substantial budget cuts and a strategy to reduce the debt.

But now tea partiers like Michele Bachmann are saying they won’t vote to raise the limit at all and are claiming that the administration is exaggerating the impact a default will have. Moreover, they’re so sure about the tea party members staying in line on a vote, they’re going after Republicans who want to cut a deal. My local tea party group, First Coast Tea Party, for example, is calling members to gather at Florida Senator Bill Nelson’s office today to urge him to vote against a debt ceiling increase.

Bachmann’s stance on the debt limit is not unlike Sarah Palin’s opposition to the Federal Reserve that I wrote about here in November 2010.

Both are rooted in what I described at a “theocratic reading of the Bible, arising out of the nexus between (Ron) Paul (and now his son, Senator-elect Rand Paul), Howard Phillips and his Constitution Party, and Gary North and the Christian Reconstructionists.”

But Bachmann’s position on the debt ceiling is likely more significant than Palin’s on the Fed because her view could win the day. It’s much harder to make something happen (eliminating the Federal Reserve) than it is to keep something from happening (raising the debt limit).

When tea party leaders like Bachmann seem to think default won’t be Armageddon, they appear to be parroting simplistic theories for public consumption. But for proponents of biblical economics, there’s a much deeper motive. As I explained in the November 2010 piece on the Fed:

North’s overarching schema is that there is an impending social collapse which will provide the opportunity for biblically-based Christians to exercise dominion by replacing existing humanistic institutions with biblical ones. In Honest Money, he wrote:

“First, the bankers and the politicians will continue to try to make the present system work. This will make the present system worse. Second, there will be a collapse in stages: inflation, then mass inflation, then price controls, then tyranny, and finally a worldwide deflationary depression. At that point, there will be new demand from the voters for answers. Third—and this is my hope and my prayer—people will at last decide that they have had enough moral and legal compromise. They will at last decide to adopt a simple system of honest money, along with competitive free market principles throughout the economy.”

In fact Gary North (who at one time worked for Rep. Paul) is currently describing the debate over the debt ceiling as political theater. But that’s because he is sure Congress will vote to increase it and, ultimately, he doesn’t think it matters. For North, default of the U.S. economy is inevitable; he argues that it has already begun.

We know who he thinks will pick up the pieces.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/julieingersoll/4866/the_debt_ceiling_crisis_and_biblical_economics