I grew up in a Pentecostal church, so I remember the beginnings of some of the dominionist doctrines that characterize far right faith groups today. There was never any one principal compendium of theology that every church got behind (just as there's no single denomination in the dominionist movement, and divisions exist), but rather there were different streams of thought that flowed in and gradually changed the course of the river of belief teachings. It filtered in through books by C. Peter Wagner, sermons by Oral Roberts, through Maranatha Ministries publications, through Youth For Christ media, and various other influences that made up the charismatic movement. So I remember when "abundant life" teachings became the new dogma.
Abundant life teachings were a loose offshoot of faith-healing, in which congregations were told to put their finances and trust in God and he would consequently bless them exponentially, in return. If you had only a dollar to your name, you give that dollar to God and he'll find a way to give you much more in return - a twisting of the parable of the widow's mite (Mark 12:41-44), changing the valuing of the poor that Jesus-the-man intended into a give-everything ideal that could be taken advantage of in the name of Jesus-the-legend. There could be no excuse, then, for holding back the amount one tithed, in order to do things like pay the rent and bills, or to buy groceries.
Heads, We Were Right; Tails, You Were Wrong
It became another weapon in the shame machine, too. Abundant life teachings implied that the poor were poor because they were sinners, were irresponsible, lazy. And if you as a Christian gave abundantly to the church but saw no reward in return, then you needed to search your heart, because it meant that you were holding something back. It meant that there was some sin, some doubt, some laziness, some guilty pleasure, some impure thought that held you back, and that God therefore would not reward you until it was flushed out and addressed. And in this way, you were to give everything, and if you saw no return on it, it was your own fault. A shyster's dream.
Abundant life philosophy became a part of charismatic philosophy, one of the foundations for what is called the New Apostolic Reformation, or Seven Mountains Dominionism, a kind of roadmap for the Evangelical extreme, fundamentalist Catholicism and other allies to try to achieve theological-based governance. This is where it becomes necessary to parse things once again, because I'm referring to narrow branches of philosophy within a faith, and not the whole faith itself.
This becomes blurred, because many of these leaders pass themselves off as speaking for their faith authoritatively, and few actually challenge them on that. I say this because I believe it's important that the specific abusive exploitations of Christianity that I single out not be conflated with Christianity itself, and by extension, with all Christians.
Abundant life teachings became a boon to some in the corporate sector, and had a lot to do with the growing together of dominionist doctrine and the Ayn Rand survival-of-the-fittest beliefs of the corporate class. Abundant life philosophy taught that the rich were rich because they were worthy in the sight of God, and blessed accordingly... a self-aggrandizing patronization that was easy to believe, reflecting the self-important self-image of many financial elites. Plus, it absolved those who subscribed to abundant life teachings of feeling any social responsibility toward the poor.
Poverty was for the weak, the unworthy, the lazy, the irresponsible... for those who deserved it. It fit the belief among the rich that anyone could be rich if they simply worked hard enough at it, or believed in God enough - something that fails to take into account the lack of opportunity and constant obstacles faced by the poor.
In case it's not clear in my writing, I'm not talking about a conspiracy. There might be another name for it out there, but I call it "coinciding interest opportunism," the tendency of self-interested parties to move toward policies, beliefs and tactics that suit those interests, resulting in the merger we're seeing between the top one percent of wage earners and dominionist religion. The latter provides not only an affirmation of the growing class divide as though it's pre-ordained by Christ, it also provides a mechanism to devalue the poor, perpetuate shame and keep adherents submissive and believing in the rightness of that submission.
And using abundant life-style teachings, even something as evil as slavery can be rationalized.
Easier for a Rich Man to Pass Through the Eye of a Needle than for the Meek to Inherit the Earth
Vyckie at RH Reality Check pointed to a video today that vividly illustrates the convergence between far-right religious fundamentalism and the Any Rand-style corporate opportunism of the upper upper upper class. It's a sermon posted online, which expounds on Proverbs 11:29, which reads:
He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind, And the fool will be servant to the wise of heart.
On the basis of this scripture, Joe Morecraft of Chalcedon Presbyterian Church teaches his congregation that in godly cultures, slavery is God's chosen fate for the morally deficient:
"There IS a place for slavery, then, in godly cultures. It's the only place you can keep a fool under wraps. It's the only way you can keep a man from ruining other peoples' families..."
Morecraft's church is located in Cumming, Georgia, so there's quite likely an undercurrent of racism throughout the sermon. But race isn't addressed directly at all; only through dog whistles and appealing to parishoners' assumptions about those he defines as fools. Interestingly, the language he uses is more often the language used to target LGBT people (i.e. about family) than racial groups.
The video clocks in at 5:50 long, and provides a stunning lesson in the way evil can be rationalized through the use of scripture. It's worth watching in full:
How prevalent is this kind of belief? Well, if you look at all of Christianity, then not very. But if you look within the narrow, vocal stream of North America's far right Evangelicals in particular, it's probably a lot more common than most would want to believe.
Morecraft is hardly a major name among theocrats, although his church is apparently the progenitor of an offshoot of Presbyterianism that now encompasses 12 churches. His sermon is notable, though, as an example of the ideas that pervade pulpits in average neighbourhood churches - at least in southern states. While theocrats aren't usually as blunt and bold as, say, Bryan Fischer, the attitude that equates poverty with sinfulness has become pervasive in the increasingly consolidated far right.
And it's helped to make religion a tool in the arsenal of corporate social engineers.