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“Though she rejects the label, televangelist Paula White is part of the prosperity gospel movement, which goes by many names: “Name it and claim it.” “Health and wealth.” “Word of faith.” “Seed faith.” Even just “faith.” What these titles to varying degrees reveal and obscure is the transactional nature of this scam at the fringes of Christianity. God wants to give you money, good health, and happiness, the prosperity gospel preacher says, but you’ve gotta work with him a little first. You have to demonstrate the sincerity of your faith — do for him before he’ll do for you — and as it turns out, a really great demonstration of faith is sending a check to this very preacher, who just happens to be in the market for a new personal plane.
White also happens to be the latest Trump administration hire, reportedly brought on to advise on the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative. This is exactly right. A shameless religious grifter is a perfect fit for this presidency, an administration built on giving desperate people false hope for personal gain.
To the outside observer, the prosperity gospel may look like a mere extension of more theologically conservative and liturgically demonstrative types of Christianity, a close relative of fundamentalism, evangelicalism, or Pentecostalism. There is overlap with each, to be sure, but the prosperity gospel is a unique creature. Though popular around the world, especially in the Global South, it has American roots and what Kate Bowler, a professor of religion at Duke Divinity School, has described as a “triumph of American optimism over the realities of a fickle economy, entrenched racism, pervasive poverty, and theological pessimism.””
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