Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How E.W. Jackson’s ‘Prosperity Gospel’ Could Spell Bad News For Low-Income Virginians

Ever since Virginia’s Republican Party chose E.W. Jackson as its nominee for the Lieutenant Governor’s race last week, media outlets and political commentators have shed light on the pastor-turned-politician’s alarmingly extremist views. But as Americans balk at Jackson’s often vitriolic statements about LGBT people and AIDS victims, there is another side of his public persona that could spell even worse news for low-income Virginians: His theology.

Potential lawmakers such as Jackson are entitled to their own religious views, and the U.S. Constitution prohibits subjecting political candidates to a “religious test.” But Jackson, a former minister of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” insists on making public connections between his theological convictions and his political actions. According to Jackson’s campaign website, he is founder of Staying True to America’s National Destiny, or S.T.A.N.D., an organization “dedicated to restoring America’s founding values which were informed by the principles found within the Jewish and Christian faiths.” What’s more, Jackson, who has accused Democrats of being “anti-God,” is also head of “Exodus Now”, a national effort that encourages “Christians and other people of moral values within the black community” to leave the Democratic Party.

To get a better look at what Jackson’s politicized theology could mean for Virginians, Think Progress looked at a copy of Jackson’s 2008 book Ten Commandments To An Extraordinary Life. In it, Jackson offers an extensive – and often unsettling – peek at his bizarre religious views.

Jackson, for instance, suggests in his book that people should prioritize giving to the wealthy, not to the poor:

“One of the common mistakes made by those who have a heart is to assume that the only appropriate giving is downward, i.e. to the poor. While giving to the poor is important, the most powerful giving for wealth building is upward giving.” (page 177)

In fact, Jackson seems to hold up wealth as the ultimate religious ideal, and even indicates that having money makes someone a better person in God’s eyes:

“Money is not evil, nor does it make people evil. Money magnifies the character of an individual. It gives you more opportunity to be who you really are. God is the creator of silver and gold. He has nothing against money, in fact he values it.” (page 172)

Finally, Jackson provides a framework for how the simple act of positive thinking can force God to provide believers with personal wealth:

“God says He will prosper you. Believe it in the face of overwhelming financial hardship, and your poverty will become prosperity. God says he has healed you. Believe it when every fiber screams sickness, and your sickness will become health.” (page 18)

These unorthodox religious claims may appear inscrutable, but Jackson’s theology is actually a form of American Christianity known as the “prosperity gospel.” The controversial — but growing — movement teaches believers that they can get rich by thinking positive thoughts and by giving large sums of their money to their church and pastor. Not surprisingly, prosperity gospel preachers have been fiercely criticized by a wide array of religious leaders, including conservative evangelical leaders such as Rick Warren and Jerry Falwell, who decry its rabid focus on accruing personal wealth as heretical.

In fact, the lavish lifestyles and questionable financial practices of several prosperity gospel preachers led to a federal probe by Senator Chuck Grassley (IA-R) in 2007. Grassley attempted to evaluate the records of six prosperity gospel televangelism ministries to see if they violated federal regulations, but the probe ended in 2011 after most of organizations refused to cooperate with investigators.

Jackson’s theology, like most articulations of the prosperity gospel, is wildly problematic and spiritually exploitative. His glorification of money and wealth flies in the face of Christian gospel messages such as Matthew 19, where Jesus tells a young rich man “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” What’s more, the idea that giving “upward” (to the wealthy) is somehow morally preferable to giving “downward” (to the poor) is the opposite of Jesus’ repeated instruction to care for the “least of these,” and ignores verses in Proverbs, James, and 1 John that clearly prioritize giving to the less fortunate. Worst of all, Jackson implies that people who are poor simply aren’t believing hard enough, meaning the plight of the underprivileged is somehow the result of their own lack of piety.

Jackson’s views are also an insult to thousands of struggling Virginians who are working hard just to get by. Almost a million people in the Commonwealth – roughly twelve percent of the state’s population – currently live in poverty, and nearly 290,000 rely on government-funded food stamps just to put dinner on the table. And while Virginia’s unemployment rate is lower than the national average at 5.2 percent, counties such as Grayson County and Martinsville City report rates as high as 14 percent. Virginians, like many struggling Americans, are hard workers, ardent believers, and frequent church goers, but Jackson would have you believe the state’s impoverished citizens are not doing their part to pray and donate their way to prosperity.

The Lieutenant Governor’s race is just starting to heat up in Virginia, and it remains to be seen whether or not Jackson will allow his theology to fully dictate his policy. But with millions of low-income Virginians and their families desperate for policies that provide much-needed assistance, voters would do well to think twice before they take a leap of faith on Jackson and his money-obsessed religious views.


No comments:

Post a Comment