The Book of Mormon and the Prosperity Gospel

August 20, 2009
By

So, it seems that some of the other sites in the Bloggernacle have already sidebarred something about this little article from the New York Times about the Prosperity Gospel. A few lines from that article:

“God knows where the money is, and he knows how to get the money to you,” preached Mrs. Copeland, dressed in a crisp pants ensemble like those worn by C.E.O.’s.

Stephen Biellier, a long-distance trucker from Mount Vernon, Mo., said he and his wife, Millie, came to the convention praying that this would be “the overcoming year.” They are $102,000 in debt, and the bank has cut off their credit line, Mrs. Biellier said.

They say the Copelands rescued them from financial failure 23 years ago, when they bought their first truck at 22 percent interest and had to rebuild the engine twice in a year.

Around that time, Mrs. Biellier first saw Mr. Copeland on television and began sending him 50 cents a week.

Others who bought trucks from the same dealer in Joplin that year went under, the Bielliers said, but they did not.

“We would have failed if Copeland hadn’t been praying for us every day,” Mrs. Biellier said.

Err, odd.

While the very concept of a prosperity gospel (which involves sending money to the pastor in order to…gain money back in blessings?) seems insane, it’s probably the idea that people like the Copelands seem to be making this scheme work, yet don’t seem too keen on giving back that wealth that is most interesting.

The Book of Mormon foretells this. In fact, the various “pride cycles” in the Book of Mormon can be essentially summarized as a process by which righteous living does net you economic blessings (so the Copelands and others seem to be right about that much at least) [Does this bother you? TT of Faith Promoting Rumor agreed a while back; even we kinda addressed it], but which also leads to complacency, pride, an unwillingness to freely donate to those less fortunate, and then spiritual hardheartedness (and I’m thinking we can also see this with the various prosperity gospel pastors).

What are some notable scriptures in the Book of Mormon that we can relate? Let’s look at Alma 4: 1-12. Actually, I’ll hone in even closer, on verse 8, 9, and 10.

8 For they saw and beheld with great sorrow that the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and to set their ahearts upon riches and upon the vain things of the world, that they began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did bnot believe according to their own will and pleasure.

9 And thus, in this eighth year of the reign of the judges, there began to be great acontentions among the people of the church; yea, there were benvyings, and cstrife, and malice, and persecutions, and pride, even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God.

10 And thus ended the eighth year of the reign of the judges; and the wickedness of the church was a great astumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.

What’s this? So it seems that the pride that comes about from this gospel-prosperity is written to exceed the pride of those even outside the church. This pride also led believing members, who probably felt themselves assured of their righteousness, to persecute those who did not believe. As a result, this wickedness from within the church was a turnoff to those outside the church.

OK, so I actually admit…this topic may have been a ruse. I don’t know or care much about Kenneth Copeland. I do know that he is not setting a good or admirable example for nonbelievers, and as a result he is tarnishing the Christian brand.

But what I got from this scripture wasn’t about them. It was about us. It wasn’t about their megachurch. It was about our church. Tylee85 didn’t need to pull up Korihor to find a suitable example. Others have suspected it.

When I think about things that don’t invite me to continue a conversation, Alma 4 actually hits it rather well. And yet too often I see members whose prides, whether its their pride in their material possessions or their pride in the gospel they have, serve as stumbling-block. Sometimes, I think members read so much about the material kind of pride that they forget that pride can be ideological too. It can lead to persecuting those who “do not believe according to their will and pleasure.”

But how do we avoid this, whatever our wills and pleasures are? The scriptures (and reality) aren’t so promising, with an almost reliable fall into pride (remember: the scriptures really don’t end on a happy note as to the fate of the Nephites.) It’s like we can’t (or shouldn’t) handle prosperity, yet we still attract it. It’s a lesson we keep failing, after which we whiz through our remedial courses, come to this lesson and fail it again.

28 Responses to The Book of Mormon and the Prosperity Gospel

  1. Benjamin Orchard
    August 20, 2009 at 6:10 am

    I’ll say essentially what I said on one of the other sites when a similar topic came up: prosperity theologies are deadly dangerous and we can’t afford to countenance such silliness even a little bit. It *will* destroy our lives and it justifies a great deal of uncharitable action.

    That said, I like the angle of seeing it in terms of spiritual wealth as well as other things. Once you combine it with the pride cycle and start saying ‘um, look, you can’t expect the Lord to bless you while you are being prideful about things’ it makes a lot of sense.

    Whether or not we have the truth isn’t the point. I rather suspect that in THIS life we will _never_ have all the truth. It is about the striving and trying to learn, and the struggle to become better that is important. We never ‘arrive’, so to speak, but constantly journey. I guess that’s the real danger of a spiritual prosperity theology–it teaches that we can end our spiritual journey in this life, which is simply not true.

    Okay, I’m done for now.

  2. Bill
    August 20, 2009 at 7:06 am

    What happened to the M. Russell Ballard post? Too much evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed?

    The prosperity gospel is actually a central theme of the Book of Mormon. You’ll find some variation of “Inasmuch as ye keep the commandments, ye shall prosper in the land” several times in the text.

  3. AndrewJDavis
    August 20, 2009 at 7:21 am

    I find it interesting that verse 8 doesn’t mention whether or not the Nephites *were* rich, just that they had ‘set their hearts upon riches’. Thus, the prosperity problem hits us long before we become rich, but as soon as we start trying to become rich. That scares me, because as a student, I definitely don’t fall in the ‘rich’ category, but it is so easy to fall in the ‘trying to become rich’ category. It becomes essential to remember that ‘prosper in the land’ may not have anything to do with material wealth.

  4. alice
    August 20, 2009 at 7:31 am

    I am also curious where the entry on polygamy went to.

  5. August 20, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Having money isn’t the problem, it’s the search for more money, the want or desire for more.

  6. brjones
    August 20, 2009 at 8:16 am

    #6 – I apologize Andrew S, your posts are always very interesting, but seriously, where did the Elder Ballard post go?

  7. brjones
    August 20, 2009 at 8:20 am

    #3 – I can only speak for myself, but as much as I want to be rich, I don’t find the pride cycle hitting me just for wanting it (unless you want to say I’m proud for saying I’m not proud). For me, I have very little time to think about how much I’d like to be rich and all the things I’d do and be if I were rich. It’s a nice thought, but inevitably my every-day life sweeps me back to reality. Maybe that means I’m not truly “setting my heart upon riches” in the way the BOM was talking about. I hope that’s the case.

  8. August 20, 2009 at 9:46 am

    John here. I killed the post. Was just feeling bad about it as I went to bed. Not feeling sure what positive end it could illicit (is that word right)?

    If ya’ll have ideas of a more constructive way to deal w/ it, I’m all ears.

    But sorry for the reversal. I just want to be about constructive stuff. Solutions. I don’t want to decrease our power when we’ll want/need it most. That’s all.

  9. August 20, 2009 at 9:53 am

    What, the magic paper prayer rug that I was sent in the mail to pray over which works especially well if I send in money isn’t real!?!?

  10. brjones
    August 20, 2009 at 9:59 am

    #8 – That makes sense, John. I don’t know that there was a whole lot more to say in that vein that hadn’t been said anyway. I was just curious what happened. Thanks for the explanation.

  11. GBSmith
    August 20, 2009 at 10:38 am

    As long as living the commandments is a way to “get blessings” and as long as LDS people believe that “there is a law irrevocably decreed”, the Mormon Church is going to find that in it’s own way that it’s part of the prosperity gospel. And along with that the sense of entitlement that goes with it. IMHO.

  12. August 20, 2009 at 10:52 am

    re 1:

    Benjamin, I agree, of course. The thing is…it seems so…”likely” (as in, when you start to do well off, it seems likely to happen, whether spiritually or materially, that one will slip into pride). So, what’s the lesson that most of us keep failing?

    re 2:

    Bill, I see John D has already come to explain why the post disappeared, but I will say you’re right about the Prosperity Gospel (*grit teeth*) being in the BoM. You’re right; you have Lehi basically “setting the stage” for the Book of Mormon as early as 2 Nephi 4:4 with exactly as you said. So, this leads me to think that the problem with it not the prosperity…but rather that we generally “deal” with prosperity terribly (e.g., pride, less charity, etc.,)

    re 3:

    AndrewJDavis, that’s because I didn’t paste in verse 6. In verse 6, you find that:

    And it came to pass in the *eighth year of the reign of the judges, that the people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twined linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.

    So, to be sure, the pride problem is not just seeking to be rich, but rather when one has a certain perception of richness and buys into it. But indeed, you’re right in that prospering in the land can even involve non-material prosperity.

    re 4, 6:

    If I said we were trying a new experimental BCC mass moderation of subversive discussions, would you guys tattle on me. :D (Geez, I bet someone there is already reading this).

    re 5:

    Although with each of these scriptures, the want for money seems to simply be a one-two punch after getting some.

  13. brjones
    August 20, 2009 at 10:53 am

    #11 – To take this a step further, GBSmith, this is even more accutely seen in conjunction with the LDS conception of the law of tithing. How many times have you heard a member say “I can’t afford NOT to pay tithing.” And how many testimonies of tithing or stories of tithing in Sac. Mtg. have to do with personal satisfaction from being obedient, or spiritual blessings? Very few, in my experience. Most involve tales of some kind of miraculous receipt of money or other monetary blessings. Tithing, in my opinion, is meant to be a spiritual law, and one of obedience. Yet so many in the church think of it almost explicitly as a method of acheiving additional monetary, or at least temporal, increase. I’m not necessarily saying that’s wrong, because there is still an obedience factor that is being met, but I do think it’s a little out of focus, and I think it goes to what this post is talking about.

  14. August 20, 2009 at 11:02 am

    re 9:

    My Nigerian cousins strike again! This will line my inheritance, as long as I give them my bank information.

    re 11:

    While I do not deny the first part (since the scriptures do have this kind of “be good and you will receive” mentality), I’m wondering if the point is to overcome the second (e.g., the sense of entitlement)? It might be one of the most important lessons to learn, especially since if we don’t learn it, what will happen when we are exalted (that’s pretty darn “rich,” so to speak)?

  15. Bill
    August 20, 2009 at 11:03 am

    #8–I thought the post was constructive. It WAS about solutions. We all want to move on. Apparently the church leadership thinks that the best way to move on is to try to scrub it from history and distance ourselves from the practice while retaining an idealistic image of everyone involved and maintaining sacred texts that endorse the principle. Many people find this approach somewhat disingenuous and think that a more open and honest approach would be more effective in the goal of getting past the issue.

    I understand the need to censor certain comments, but killing a whole topic because it may not reflect well on the church just furthers the 1984ish image of the church.

  16. August 20, 2009 at 11:12 am

    It’s really not the church that’s 1984′ing us into submission. The church isn’t doing a thing.

    Rather, it’s about Mormon Matters. It’s about *our* reputation, especially with our peers in the Bloggernacle (some of whom might not even see us as peers in the ‘Nacle.) I think many others, especially outsiders to the MMatters way of things, would have come across that topic and decided it wasn’t very constructive or positive.

  17. August 20, 2009 at 11:14 am

    The prosperity gospel may put up most insidiously in connection to the doctrine of exaltation. Where have we heard people justify persecution on earth in order to achieve “godhood”. It would seem to me that desire for godhood can be immediately disqualifying for the role. Why would the Father trust such people with the power any more than he would have trusted Satan (whether literally or metaphorically)?

  18. brjones
    August 20, 2009 at 11:27 am

    #17 – This is a very interesting point, but it seems to run counter to the Church’s message. Isn’t that presented as a righteous aspiration?

  19. Karen
    August 20, 2009 at 11:38 am

    The Book of Mormon does not teach the properity gospel, which says that EVERYONE who believes they will become wealthy will be. Although the Book of Mormon shows that the communities prosper when they obey the commandments, it does not say that EVERYONE does. Hence, King Benjamin’s counsel to give freely to others that they perish not. In 4 Nephi, it teaches that after the Savior appeared and taught the people, they had no poor among them because they had all things in common, not because all of the people became prosperous because of their righteousness–even though all of them were. The Lord repeated chided the rich, who failed to care for the poor and to give freely to them.

    The Book of Mormon–and the Church–teaches the law of consecration, in which rich give generously to those in need and the poor receive with an attitude that if and when they can give, they will give. Paul and Moroni both teach us that charity, the pure love of Christ, is the highest attribute we can attain, more critical that consecration, which, if not motivated by love, profits us nothing.

    The prosperity doctrine is a doctrine of greed, pride, and self-aggrandizement. It does not teach that some–through no fault of their own–will be poor even though they keep every commandment. Some who are sick or disabled will be poor. That is a fact of mortality. The Lord teaches “ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good

  20. Dexter
    August 20, 2009 at 11:38 am

    I find it embarassing that the Ballard post was deleted. I like(d) MM bc it is willing to discuss things and let the discussion go where it will go. Deleting ridiculous comments is acceptable, but to delete an entire post bc of a bad feeling?

    People feel the way they do about Ballard’s comments and similar views by church leaders who think the church’s past is somehow not intimately connnected with its present whether or not the post exists on MM.

  21. Vin
    August 20, 2009 at 11:48 am

    I agree that outright deleting the Ballard post seems excessive. Perhaps a rewrite? It is an important topic that doesn’t necessarily have to be negative.

  22. August 20, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    re 19:
    Karen, I think this is a good distinction, however, how often do we see people who (unfortunately) say, “Well, if you had just worked harder…if you had just been more righteous, if you had just studied, prayed, fasted more, then you would too be prosperous (both materially and spiritually).” One can still use the scriptures to justify this, “Well, you’re just not being righteous enough” attitude (ESPECIALLY for spiritual prosperity). So, while I agree with you (on your point that some — through no fault of their own — will be poor even though they keep every commandment), I’ve seen many people who argue the opposite (if not for physical poorness or malady, then for spiritual “poorness.”).

    re 17 and 18:
    This is actually a rather interesting thing to think about. What if it’s necessary for us to not treat exaltation as a reason to be righteous…but instead treat righteousness as its own end (and then exaltation is just the surprise at the end)?

    re 20:
    Dexter, between you and me (and I guess everyone who reads this comment, oops!), I too do not feel excellently about the deletion. At the same time, I understand why John would do this. I mean, John’s past includes a lot of alienation from the others in the Bloggernacle (and I would think that many of our pasts also include this). Would we want to risk more alienation for the post?

    however…

    re 21:
    Vin, I do like the idea of a rewrite. But it’s a delicate issue to approach that needs lots of consideration and contemplation if it can work. Maybe we aren’t up to it.

  23. brjones
    August 20, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    #22 – Like I said before, I’m not outraged that it was removed, but I guess I definitely don’t understand the politics of the bloggernacle. Honestly, I haven’t frequented any of the other sites in the bloggernacle, but if their attitudes are such that John would feel compelled to remove a post that he feels would be looked down on, then why in the world do we care what a bunch of stodgy, myopic douches like that think anyway? This is in no way a criticism of John, whose sensitivities I have nothing but respect and sympathy for. I just get the feeling that the other sites in the bloggernacle aren’t really like this one, so why do we care about their opinion? As I said, though, I clearly don’t understand the dynamics at play.

    We like you unconditionally, John.

  24. Thomas Parkin
    August 20, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Having a lot of money is a very limited way of hearing the word “prosper.” ~

  25. Rigel Hawthorne
    August 20, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    My participation in Mormon Matters blogging began at a time when John wasn’t posting or commenting that much, so I don’t have the fraternal sense that others do, but I respect what he did in pulling the post. It wasn’t particularly offensive and was sorta boiling down to the typical polygamy slugfest. There was however a “mormoncurtainish” sense to it.

  26. Holden Caulfield
    August 20, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    #16===”Rather, it’s about Mormon Matters. It’s about *our* reputation, especially with our peers in the Bloggernacle (some of whom might not even see us as peers in the ‘Nacle.) I think many others, especially outsiders to the MMatters way of things, would have come across that topic and decided it wasn’t very constructive or positive.”

    Delete it or don’t delete it. Doesn’t matter to me. John is the man, regardless. Mormon Stories was the best thing I have ever gotten out of the internet. Countless mornings I would go for my walk listening to people discuss things that I could hear in no other forum.

    That being said, this was in part a real-life illustration of why the church deals with its history the way it does, including the polygamy issue itself that was being discussed. The irony of the deletion, considering the topic of the thread, is compelling.

  27. August 21, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Surprised no one mentioned Nehor …

  28. Tom Haws
    August 24, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    #1 – “prosperity theologies are deadly dangerous and we can’t afford to countenance such silliness even a little bit. It *will* destroy our lives and it justifies a great deal of uncharitable action.”

    Exactly.

    #19 – “The Book of Mormon does not teach the properity gospel”

    Why, sure it does, with Jacob’s sermon its capstone. “…ye will seek [riches] with the intent to do good.” The Book of Mormon tells Latter-day Saints that they are not only going to prosper BECAUSE they are good, but that they are going to DO more good BY prospering. Kinda sucks the wind out of any kind of a voluntary poverty arm of the church.