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Religious Tolerance logo

An essay donated by Shannon Richey

A critique of the Word of Faith (a.k.a. Prosperity
Gospel, and "Name it & claim it") belief systems

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Webmaster's note:

The following essay criticizes the Word of Faith movement. If you are supportive of that belief system, you may wish to submit a rebuttal in essay form to the visitors' essays section of our website.

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Shannon Richey's thoughts:

In my journey through life as a Christian, I have learned a great many things. One thing that particularly resonates with me is the teaching about Christianity being a relationship with God as well as a belief system. I guess the image that makes the most sense to me in my own life is the one of a parent. My own father is very caring, but has allowed me room to grow. He is patient, but won't hesitate to let me know if I am out of line, even though I am in my 30s!

I have heard comparisons made with various relationships, but the idea behind each one of them is loving God because of who He is, not because of what He can do for us. The way I see it is this-if a relationship with a parent, friend, or anyone else were based solely on what you could get out of it and not on a basic love and respect for the person, how solid would it really be? The moment that person lost their ability to serve your needs, or for some reason did not see it fit to do so, the relationship would be severely shaken. It probably would not be long before it fell apart altogether. It is for this reason that I have a major problem with the Prosperity Gospel. Now, don't get me wrong. I have known some very good people who hold this 'name it, claim it' philosophy, and I do understand how a strong faith can make a major difference in one's life. Believe me, I know. My faith has gotten me through some pretty awful times, and that is why I have issue with this sort of theology. I think it is disrespectful to God as well as doing a grave disservice to His people. The reason I think the Prosperity Gospel (also known as Word of Faith) does a disservice to God is that it takes away His sovereignty; it portrays Him as some sort of Holy ATM Machine that can be easily manipulated into giving you exactly what you want simply by punching in the right numbers. As I said before, it focuses on entirely the wrong things regarding God and a relationship with Him.

Before I go any further, let me outline a few important details. I currently am under treatment for bipolar disorder and have been treated for some form of it for the past 14 years. I have probably had it for longer than that, though. It runs in my family, and my version is actually rather mild. I rarely have flare-ups, or 'blue periods' as I call them. When I do, I am pretty functional and most people who know me would not know that I even have this issue at all. Also, my mother died of cancer back in 1998.

My ex-boyfriend and his family are pretty strong believers in this movement and faithful disciples of Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and the rest of the TBN crew. They told me numerous times that the only thing I had to do to be 'healed' of my depression, other illnesses, or to get the things I wanted and needed was to pray for it and believe the right way for it. This is based on the passages of 'ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you'. I have no issue with this, and I do believe that God wants to take care of us. But, I noticed that they always left off the first part of that verse-Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and then all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33, emphasis mine).

To me, the teaching of Word of Faith is missing a very important point. As I said before, I believe that the reason we should love God and follow Him is not because of anything that we might receive from doing so (although there are great rewards), but because He is *God*. Their view says to me that the only reason that we should even pray to God or worship Him is because of what we can get out of it -- not because of who He is or what He did for us through His son on the Cross. It does not really foster a basic trust in God beyond what we can see on this planet, thus putting Him in a box in a way. This, to me, is somewhat shallow.

Word of Faith basically teaches that God will give you anything you ask for. Healing, money, a job, anything. I do believe the Bible when it says that God knows how to give good gifts to His children, and will do so when asked (Matthew 7:11). But, what if what you ask for is not what is best for you? I can think of a number of times when I have prayed and prayed for something that I thought was vitally important, and I believed that God would take care of me. He certainly did -- by *not* giving me what I asked for, because the thing that I asked for was not what was best for me. I certainly did not see this at the time, but I was later glad that I did not get what I asked for because if I *had* gotten these things, they might have stood in the way of greater blessings that He wanted to give me. Seeing as how he made me and knows me better than I know myself, I think He would know what is best for me a bit better than I would.:) I personally think that it shows *MORE* trust in God, *MORE* faith, to ask for what you want but to ultimately believe and trust that His will will be done and that it will be in your best interest rather than to simply believe that you will get everything you ask for simply because you asked for it.

I can think of no better example to take in prayer than Jesus Christ Himself, and one Scripture I will never forget is where he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He said "...If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt".(Matthew 26:39). *That*, my friends, is submission and trust in God. If Jesus can trust God and submit to His will, knowing what was going to happen to him as a result, can we not do the same thing, when we have a much lighter burden to bear?

I have seen people, time and time again, completely lose their trust in God and their desire for Him when their prayers were not answered in the way they wanted them to be. I understand that it can be pretty traumatic when you feel that God is not listening or answering your prayers. Not many things can make you feel more empty or alone. But I have found that if one has a basic trust in God that allows them to truly put their lives in His hands the way the Bible asks us to, that trust can get them through whatever betrayal they might feel. These sorts of trials and tribulations are what teach us to rely on God, and they serve to strengthen our faith. I know this from personal experience.

I mentioned earlier that my mother died of cancer in 1998. She was not an overtly religious woman, but she told me a number of times that she believed in God and that she believed in the power of prayer to heal and change things. Anyone who knew her could look at her life and see evidence of Christ in it. I was pretty close to her and it was understandably rather difficult to lose her. I certainly prayed for her to be healed on this earth, I had my friends pray for her, and I am sure she prayed this for herself. But still, she is no longer with us. The main thing that helped me get through this was the trust that I had in God that is outlined in Romans 8:28 -- 'And God will cause all things to come together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose'. I will not say that I never have doubts or that I have never had a 'dark night of the soul', because that would not be true. But, that trust in God still remains because it has been built and proven through trial after trial. That is a trust that I do not see in many members of the Word of Faith Movement, simply because it is outside of the box that the movement places God in.

This sort of leads into the way that the Prosperity Gospel can hurt other people. My boyfriend and his family not only taught the 'get everything you want by believing right' lines I mention above, but also the converse-that if you were *not* healed, if you *did* have problems, if you *did* want for anything, it is because you did not have enough faith / did not believe the right way for it / did not pray right / have some unresolved sin in your life, etc.

Can you imagine how hearing this would affect someone in my position? I was talking about my mother's death and how it affected me, only to be told essentially that the only reason she was not healed on this planet and died was because she did not believe correctly. How's that for compassion and Christian love? Aside from the fact that this is completely false, this has got to be one of the most callous statements I have ever heard. Even my cat, who has a brain the size of a walnut, would know better than to say something like that! Talk about rubbing salt into a wound!

My boyfriend in this case reminded me of the Pharisees when they were talking to Jesus about a blind man, asking Him 'who sinned, this man or his parents, so that he was born blind'? Christ's answer to that question is healing in and of itself. He said, 'No one, he was made this way so that the glory of God can be shown through him (John 9:2-3)'. He then healed the man. The way I see it is this: depression and anxiety are no fun, in fact they bite pretty badly sometimes. But if this is how God has to make me for a time in order for His glory to be shown through me, then so be it. Bring it on. I trust Him.

Another thing that bothered me is that the same boyfriend basically felt that I was doing the wrong thing by going to a doctor for help with my illness or taking medication for it. He seemed to feel that if I had enough faith, I would be healed from it. I did pray for this a good bit, and for a time I thought that I was healed but I eventually had to go back on medication. He seemed to feel that this was because my faith faltered. I can see his point in a way, but this goes back to the issue of trusting God.

The lack of compassion I see in some people in this movement is absolutely staggering. I was coming to these people, expecting comfort and help, but instead got lectures. I got much better help from the secular world and from people who were not believers in this theology than from the very church that I came to trust and love. Talk about giving your child a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread. My boyfriend later told me that he learned that sometimes healing comes in the form of human compassion. Well, it would have been nice if I had seen a bit of that compassion! He did not tell me this until it was rather late and until after my walk with God was severely damaged.

The fact is, God made this planet and everything on it. He made you. He made me. Who are we to say that he cannot use the things that he made (other people, medicine, herbs, etc) to heal us? Who is to say that it *always* has to be supernatural, or that it always has to be in the way we expect it? Are God's ways not higher than our ways? Are His thoughts not higher than our thoughts? Do we not see through a glass, and darkly?

What makes these teachings even worse is that they are NOT TRUE. Yes, there are many instances where Jesus healed people in the Bible. Yes, there are many times when God fed His people and took care of them in circumstances that most of us would consider impossible. But, there are also examples of times when innocent people, people who could certainly be said to be close to God and have enough faith, suffered. And they suffered immensely. Job is a rather notable example. Also, Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians about a 'thorn in his side'. He says he asked for it to be removed three times, but he was told 'My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness'. I said it before, but if God has to make me weak and give me problems so that His power can work best, then by all means do so.

I think it fitting to mention that the people who believed so fervently that all healing would come supernaturally from proper faith and that seeking outside help shows a lack of trust still wear glasses, have allergies, back problems, and still deal with debt. They might not have said that healing and solutions would come immediately, but I feel that by expecting things to come only by a certain means shows more of a lack of trust in God and His ability than going to any doctor would. They very well could be missing out on healing from God simply because it is not coming in the manner expected. That really is a shame.

So, I don't have the greatest taste in my mouth for the Prosperity Gospel. I am glad that it has served some people like my boyfriend's family well, and I am glad that they cared enough to share it with me. But, I feel that it promotes a shallow relationship with God and does not serve His people in the way that I feel called to do. It might open some doors to a greater understanding, but I do not think that it is a place one should remain for long. I would never want anyone else to feel as betrayed as I did, and as unloved as I did. From my outside experience, I have come to see that God doesn't seem to want that either.

And as for the box, I think it is about time to break it down and throw it away. Here is one point that serves to do just that:

My mother suffered greatly on this planet. She is in a place now where she will never want for anything, will never suffer again, and will forever abide in the loving presence and warmth of God. If that is not healing, what is?

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Author: Shannon Richey
Initial posting: 2011-APR-16

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