The Prosperity Gospel in the African Diaspora

Unethical Theology or Gospel in Context?

In: Exchange

The prosperity gospel in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Hosanna Chapel, Helsinki, Finland, builds primarily on African indigenous worldviews rather than serving as a theological justification for capitalism. It is a contextual African interpretation of the gospel in a situation of tension between the expectations of extended families back home, those of the new society in which the immigrants find themselves, and the church. The African experience and heritage come to the fore especially in the strong emphasis placed on interpersonal relations, particularly with family members and God, as an essential part of prosperity. Naïve faith in the bliss of equal opportunities within capitalism is moderated by differentiation between realistic economic expectations and the special blessings that are endowed upon believers. When condemning the prosperity gospel wholesale, there is the risk of misinterpreting non-Western theologies and of morally castigating the weakest for their attempts to survive global capitalism instead of combating its oppressive structures.

  • 12

    Group interview with congregants 9 May 2010, recorded.

  • 42

    See Birgit Meyer, ‘Commodities and the Power of Prayer: Pentecostal Attitudes towards Consumption in Contemporary Ghana’, Development and Change 29 (1998), [751-776] 756.

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  • 49

    Gifford, Christianity, Politics, 215-241. See also Robert D. Woodberry, ‘The Economic Consequences of Pentecostal Belief’, Transaction — Social Science and Modern Society 44/1 (2006), 32.

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  • 54

    Group interview 9 May 2010, recorded. Thus also Pastor Abby Olushola’s sermon in rccg Copenhagen, 18 October 2009, fieldwork diary. Compare to similar ideas in Ghana in Gifford, Ghana’s New Christianity, 49, 154 and Zambia in Naomi Haynes ‘Pentecostalism and the Morality of Money: Prosperity, Inequality, and Religious Sociality in the Zambian Copperbelt’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18 (2012), 128-129. These views invalidate Machiado’s criticism that the prosperity gospel is blind to societal inequalities, and views capitalism as a level playing field (Daisy L. Machiado, ‘Capitalism, Immigration and Prosperity Gospel’, Anglican Theological Review 92/4 (2010), 729). While some versions of the prosperity gospel may be so, this cannot be proved in the Hosanna Chapel case. On the members developing nuanced interpretations of their situation on the basis of a simplified message see Douglas A. Hicks, ‘Prosperity, Theology, and Economy’, in: Attanasi and Yong, 243-244.

  • 55

    Group interview 29 April 2010. This is a common view — also voiced by an African diaspora pastor in Holland (Ter Haar, African Christians, 74), a Kenyan preacher (Gifford, Christianity, Poltics, 119-120), and Zambian Copperbelt Pentecostals (Haynes, 126-127).

  • 56

    Group interview 9 May 2010, recorded.

  • 61

    Sunday service 2 March 2014.

  • 69

    See David Maxwell, ‘Delivered from the Spirit of Poverty? Pentecostalism, Prosperity and Modernity in Zimbabwe’, Journal of Religion in Africa 28/3 (1998), 353-355; Maxwell, African Gifts, 201-202, 209; Woodberry; David Martin, Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish, Oxford: Blackwell 1995. Cf. Gifford, Ghana’s New Christianity, 141-160, 196. Meyer (p. 763) highlights the preachers’ success as an attracting factor.

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  • 77

    Sunday service 2 March 2014. Thus also a student’s testimony ending in ‘I expect even greater things from God.’

  • 81

    Gifford, Ghana’s New Christianity, 50; Gifford, Christianity, Politics, 150-159, see also Anderson ‘Pentecostals in Africa: The Shape of Future Christianity?’, in: The Charismatic Movement and the Churches, Occasional Papers 2, Aarhus: Center for Multireligious Studies 2001, 40-41; Marshall, 181-182; Kärkkäinen, 7. Prof. Kwesi A. Dickson is quoted as having an even harsher criticism against this kind of preachers, see Lauterbach, 102-103 quoting Ghanaian paper The Daily Dispatch of 7 September 2005. See also Maxwell, ‘Delivered from the Spirit of Poverty?’, 366-367.

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  • 83

    See ter Haar, African Christians, 72-73. The most notable example of this kind of accusation is Sunday Adelaja, church leader of the Embassy of God in Kiev, Ukraine. The serious accusations against him of fraud and embezzlement from former church members and the former Ukrainian government, even at the ministerial level, did not lead to a proper court case or conviction. See Julia Barton, ‘Ukraine’s Embassy of God Evangelical Church Struggles with Founder’s Controversy’, website of Public Radio International (pri), http://www.pri.org/stories/2012-02-13/ukraines-embassy-god-evangelical-church-struggles-founders-controversy, accessed 26 February 2014. However, the social reward of being the leading pastor of a prospering church can be notable because pastors are much appreciated in many African communities. See, for example, Lauterbach 2006, 93-94. Thus, instead of financial capital the pastor can be seen to accumulate symbolic capital, see Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, Cambridge: Polity Press 1991.

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  • 86

    On the Pentecostal choice, see Maxwell, African Gifts, 209-210. See discussion between Maxwell and Gifford in Maxwell, ‘Delivered from the Spirit of Poverty?’, 369-370. See also Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome, ‘African Immigrant Churches and the New Christian Right’, in: Jacob K. Olupona and Regina Gemignani (eds.), African Immigrant Religions in America, New York: New York University Press 2007, 283-285 and Anderson, 41-42 on similar discussions.

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  • 87

    Gifford, Christianity, Politics, 229-232.

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