When Will God Fix the Economy?

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Even though God may occasionally punish the self-interested followers of capitalism, the Divine One can still make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. Huh? Throughout the recession, various religious leaders have voiced their opinions about what God does and doesn’t do, and how believers should respond to the crisis at hand. To no surprise, religious leaders don’t always agree.

The “prosperity gospel” preachers, who have heralded the call that God rewards the faithful with wealth—yes, material wealth, including fancy cars and deluxe condos in Florida—are still beating the same drum. God still wants you to be rich; it’s unclear whether God wanted the value of your Florida condo to tank, but that’s not important, I suppose. Regardless, this sort of message remains popular. From the NY Times:

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and their all-star lineup of “prosperity gospel” preachers delighted the crowd with anecdotes about the luxurious lives they had attained by following the Word of God.

Private airplanes and boats. A motorcycle sent by an anonymous supporter. Vacations in Hawaii and cruises in Alaska. Designer handbags. A ring of emeralds and diamonds.

“God knows where the money is, and he knows how to get the money to you,” preached Mrs. Copeland, dressed in a crisp pants ensemble like those worn by C.E.O.’s.

Even in an economic downturn, preachers in the “prosperity gospel” movement are drawing sizable, adoring audiences. Their message — that if you have sufficient faith in God and the Bible and donate generously, God will multiply your offerings a hundredfold — is reassuring to many in hard times.

Your offerings will be multiplied a hundredfold … that sort of promise seems a little Madoff-ish, no?

T.D. Jakes, a nondenominational preacher and best-selling author, doesn’t believe in the “prosperity gospel.” Here’s an outtake from a Q&A, with Jakes relating his take on the recession—or any struggle, for that matter:

Q: What do you say to people who tell you, “I’ve been faithful, and now I’ve lost my job and my house?” Is it wrong for Christians to expect earthly rewards along with heavenly rewards?

A: After 52 years of living, I’ve learned that all Christians should come to realize that God sends us blessings, but he also sends us tests and challenges. It’s a misrepresentation to think we’re going to get all of one and none of the other. Life has a way of bringing both sorrow and success in our lives. Sometimes the test is not how much we get of either, but how we manage both. Financial success, academic success, those don’t exempt us from personal maladies.

Meanwhile, some religious leaders have taken the occasion of the recession to push for a reasonable living wage for all people, in the form of a $10-per-hour minimum wage. And the Pope weighed in not long ago with his thoughts on capitalism and the global financial crisis. He called for business and community leaders to be, well, more community-minded. Businesses must practice an “ethics which is people-centered,” the Pope wrote.

But apparently, hard decisions must be made, no matter the impact on people or the community at large: The Catholic Archdiocese of Miami just announced that it would be closing 14 churches.