One thing is certain: Pope Francis doesn’t like President Trump, and he seems to go out of his way to discredit his ideas, his accomplishments and his … well, presidency.
The latest backhanded Vatican guilt-by-association attack on him comes in the form of a report called “The Prosperity Gospel: Dangerous and Different,” that links Trump to several “prosperity gospel” proponents because of their support for him.
Let me begin by saying, as an evangelical Christian, I totally reject the “prosperity gospel.” I think it’s an abomination, heresy, biblically repugnant.
But Trump is not a theologian, in case the Vatican didn’t notice. He is the U.S. president, and he is not going to reject the support of anyone based on their particular religious inclinations. I’m not sure any politician would.
And that’s why this report is unfair and, frankly, petty.
Two of Pope Francis’ top communications advisers – an Italian Jesuit and an Argentine Protestant pastor – penned “The Prosperity Gospel: Dangerous and Different” for the current issue of the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica.
In the article, the authors note that the “prosperity gospel” and its belief that God wants his followers to be wealthy and healthy has spread throughout the world, particularly in Latin America and Asia, thanks to its charismatic proponents’ effective use of TV and media.
But they point to its origins in the U.S. and its underpinning of the American Dream and say its vision of faith is in direct contrast to true Christian teaching and Francis’ emphasis on the poor, “social justice” and salvation.
A few problems here:
- I don’t think the “prosperity gospel” originated in the U.S. It began many centuries ago in Rome when the Catholic Church sold indulgences – shaking down the poorest of the poor, not with promises of prosperity, but even worse, with salvation.
- While helping the poor is a commandment of Jesus, He never suggested people should look to government for “social justice” and redistribution of wealth, as this pope does.
- Salvation comes through hearing the Word of God and Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection. It is an after-effect of response to the Gospel.
- True justice, abundance, health and restoration of the world will come, that Gospel says, will come with the return of Jesus as King of Israel and King of kings to the whole world.
How often do we see the pope issue reports saying any of these things?
Here’s what this report actually says:
“In truth, one of the serious problems that the prosperity gospel brings is its perverse effects on the poor,” wrote the authors, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa.
That’s one of the serious problems, of course. But the “prosperity gospel” doesn’t just have perverse effects on the poor. It’s a lie that affects anyone who believes it, anyone who teaches it. It has always been a lie. It touched off the Reformation – and rightly so, as even the Catholic Church now acknowledges 500 years later.
“In fact, it not only exasperates individualism and knocks down the sense of solidarity, but it pushes people to adopt a miracle-centered outlook because faith alone – not social or political commitment — can procure prosperity,” the report continues.
Political commitment? We know what kind of political commitment this pope is talking about – something very dangerous and profoundly close to Liberation Theology and socialism. This is not what Jesus preached. These ideas are a curse that victimize everyone – poor and prosperous alike. It also diminishes the work Jesus assigned to His followers to do – namely to spread the gospel to the whole world.
The Civilta Cattolica article goes on to say the “prosperity gospel” clearly serves the U.S. economic-political model, especially under Trump, and the idea of “American exceptionalism” and that the United States “has grown as a nation under the blessing of the providential God of the Evangelical movement.”
This is a direct attack on the U.S. economic and political model that does more to feed the world and raise people out of poverty than any other in the world. That’s the way President Trump views it. And he’s right. Giving lip service to the needs of the poor does nothing. It’s action that produces results. Never have I heard President Trump embrace the “prosperity gospel.”
It cited Trump’s inaugural speech and the militancy associated with prosperity preachers, in which in a few short sentences Trump mixed in the idea of “God, the army and the American dream.”
A few short sentences? Let’s see those few short sentences. Trump never strung together the words “God, the army and the American dream.” Again, this is deception by people who just don’t like the American system of free enterprise, private property and the kind of self-defense that has saved the world from catastrophe on more than one occasion.