TV pastor proclaims to Oakland crowd that it’s no sin to be rich
Televangelist Creflo Dollar — one in a growing number of nationally known prosperity preachers — offered his personal brand of self-help Friday to thousands gathered in Oakland during a performance that mixed comedy, scripture and musical entertainment.
The “Change” convention, one in a series of gatherings across the country hosted by the preacher, was billed as a chance for attendees to learn techniques for making improvements in their personal and professional lives — primarily by finding wealth.
“The challenge of this convention is to change the way you think; you are not going to be peaceful and happy in life if you are broke,” Dollar, his real name, told the more than 2,500 gathered at the Oakland Convention Center. “Some Christians need to get a life, to enjoy life in abundance and stop taking everything so serious.
“Get a boat or a Jet Ski. It’s all right to enjoy life.”
Prosperity preaching has been around since the 1980s but has reached new levels as ministers build megachurches and gain notoriety through television shows. Though gaining in popularity, prosperity preaching has its critics.
“These churches focus largely around the minister and the personality of the minister,” said James Cone, a professor of theology at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. “The size of the congregation becomes evidence of the quality of the Christian commitment rather than the measure of concern and solidarity with the poor, weak and marginalized. It’s not reality. It’s entertainment.”
Dollar has churches in Georgia and New York, hosts a television show seen worldwide and oversees a network of 1,000 churches. He is not the first or most popular prosperity preacher, but he has attracted the attention of traditional African American church leaders.
“Prosperity preaching is not just a black movement, but the implications are different in the black community,” said Milmon Harrison, an associate professor in the African American Studies department at UC Davis. “Black churches have a tradition of dealing with more than religion, but the way this is being done and the emphasis on individual wealth is new.”
Dollar, who runs the World Changers Church International, has gained a reputation for promoting gospel that emphasizes material wealth and uses Scripture to show that is what God wants.
He insists that prosperity is more than wealth. “I say prosperity and most people think money, but it is prospering in spirit, soul, physical body and family relationships as well as money,” Dollar said. On Friday, throughout his 90-minute sermon, Dollar stressed the importance of unconditional love, but often came back to money.
“You have to understand the reason everything is wrong in your life,” he told the crowd. “Not having money to do what you need to do in life is bad.
– The Bible, 1 Timothy 6:3-10 NIV
“I don’t care what your favorite preacher says. I’m giving you what the Lord says. The Lord says to live life in abundance.”
Though prosperity churches are not as popular on the West Coast as they are in the South, the message is gaining fans. The crowd gathered Friday was a mix of all ages, races and incomes. Many brought Bibles as well as pens and paper to jot down notes about the sermon.
“He just makes sense, pure and simple,” said Shirlee Jones, 52, who stood on her feet and waved her hands throughout Dollar’s presentation. “He says what I have wanted to hear.”
Harrison said the nondenominational churches appeal to the middle class and to people who grew up being told that a life of holiness would bring a reward in heaven.
“Now they say you can have your reward now and still go to heaven,” he said.
Dollar openly speaks about his own rewards — his Rolls-Royce, his custom-made suits, his homes and his private plane. His church boasts 35,000 members, and he doesn’t shy away from promoting offerings and stressing that good comes from giving.
Dollar urges congregants to give 10 percent of their income and often quotes a verse in Psalms that says the Lord takes pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.
Ministers are servants, he says.
“Money has a mission, and the church produces good people. God has put money in your hands to see if you will love him with it. Are you gonna let a dime of a dollar stand between you and the manifestation of God? In offering, don’t give God a tip or a token, give something significant. If a significant seed is sown, a significant harvest will be reaped.
“Maybe God will speak to you to write a $10,000 check.”
In addition to offerings, Dollar profits from books and CDs. Tables were loaded at the convention Friday, and Dollar merchandise was selling briskly. The audience couldn’t get enough of the Southern preacher.
The Rev. J. Alfred Smith, pastor at Oakland’s Allen Temple Baptist Church, said he considers himself in a different camp than Dollar.
“I preach Gospel to the poor in the East Oakland flatlands,” Smith said in a telephone interview. “The tradition in which I stand puts emphasis on justice and peace and endeavoring to rectify the plight of the poor.
“I do not believe the purpose of the church is to make us capitalists.”