A couple visited my church a few months ago. Both were veterans of the Iraq war, and both had been injured during the way. They were not the stereotypical church attendees — they wore black clothing and were covered in tatoos. I was not able to meet them after services, but the church was warm and welcoming to them.
That afternoon, I received a call from the woman who had visited our church that morning. She was very upset. She’d just learned of the Westboro Baptist Church’s antics, how it pickets the funeral of soldiers killed in the wars overseas. This visitor called to ask me if my church thought that God was killing the soldiers to punish the USA for our acceptance of homosexuality.
She cried at times during the call, recounting the horrors she’d experienced and the tragic deaths of many of her fellow soldiers. “Did God really kill them to punish our nation?”
I won’t recount the rest of my conversation with this visitor. I do want to point out that the view expressed by the Westboro Baptist Church is an extreme version of a common idea among many in the religious right. For example, I have often heard people say that, in the past, God had blessed America with greatness because we were a Christian nation. Our financial and military dominance was the result of our Christianity. Or, perhaps more frequently, I’ve heard people say that America will not be great again until we return to God. These views are all within the same family, a family that is related to the Westboro Baptist Church’s views. The idea is that God will bless our country’s righteousness by giving us a great economy or a mighty military, and that he’ll punish our country’s unrighteousness with an economic recession or a military disaster.
Hold on to that. I am going to shift gears, but I’ll come back to this.
A few years ago, I was looking at magazines in a Christian bookstore. I saw the current issue of Christianity Today, and I flipped through it. The cover story was about the Prosperity Gospel–what is sometimes called the “Health and Wealth” gospel–and its rapid acceptance in Africa. Not surprisingly, the doctrine that Christ wants his followers to be materially wealthy, more wealthy than they could ever imagine, is spreading fast through some of the poorest areas in the world. The article mentioned a preacher who has a golden throne that he sits on during worship!
I firmly believe that those teachings misrepresent the true gospel. I’m not, however, giving my reasons for believing that in this post. Many Christians reject the Prosperity Gospel. Not all do, of course, and my impression is that more and more Christians are accepting it. This post is directed towards those who reject the prosperity gospel on the individual level.
While reading the article, though, I realized something: I have heard many of my friends, fellow church members, and family members flatly deny that God sends material blessings to those who follow him, and then, in the next few minutes, start talking about how the U.S.A. used to be a great and powerful country because we followed God. You’ve heard people talking about the latter. Back when people weren’t so sinful, the churches were packed, and prayers was in the schools, our economy was booming and we were a superpower! Now that everyone has turned away from God, our jobs are being shipped overseas, and terrorists are killing Americans left and right. How is this not the Prosperity Gospel on a larger scale?
Or think about the reverse idea: How many Christians would never dream of telling a loved one who has terminal cancer that God gave them the cancer because of his sinful life, but will talk about 9/11 being God’s punishment for our nation turning away from him?
It is inconsistent (unless I am missing something ). If God doesn’t bless you with wealth, power, and health because you follow Him, what makes you think He will bless your country with those things because the country follows Him? Either reject the Prosperity Gospel at the individual and national level, or accept it for both.
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