A simmering issue in Christian thought and theology is the commonly expressed belief that God grants special blessings on Christians. We hear this routinely out of both preachers and politicians who claim Christian credentials as part of their political qualifications.
This belief in divine favor for Christians is illustrated anytime we hear or express the question as to why good church people experience pain and suffering. It is a basic underlying assumption to all claims that American prominence and prosperity have resulted from its largely Christian population and early leadership. The clear implication in all this is that health and wealth are a good measure who is righteous and therefore favored by God.
As much as our personal experience and observations dictate otherwise, a great number of church people fall under the spell of this theological thinking. Out of this religious frame of mind we see so called Christians and Christian leaders obsessed with wealth and wealthy people. The mark of a successful Christian preacher or leader has long since come to mean the size of the church building, the amount of church contribution, and by extension the financial success of the preacher. To be a prominent Christian leader one must be both wealthy and politically active.
Out of all this emphasis on materialism as the sign of God’s favor we see the development of the so called Prosperity Gospel. This theological construct claims that God desires health and wealth for his special people, Christians, and therefore adherence to this form of Christian theology guarantees prosperity, medical and financial.
Though some reject this wealth and health theology as unvarnished materialism and unbiblical, the Prosperity Gospel has a strong allure and frames a lot of what we observe in the church. If wealth and business success are marks of God’s favor then it also indicates righteousness in the eyes of God. Thus church theology comes to extol materialism and to reverence successful business men. Then by contrast, if wealth marks one as the favored righteous, then poverty identifies the unfavored and wicked.
One can easily see how this type thinking is wildly corrosive to a supposedly democratic society. If the rich are God’s anointed and the poor are deemed undeserving, then it matters little if the prosperous few lord it over the rest of the country. It becomes a matter of God’s choice. One can just hear the quoting of selected portions of Romans 13 in the background.
It makes for a great political tagline and an easy theological sale to those already prospering and in power. So, despite Jesus, despite his condemnation of materialism, despite his insistence on moral equivalence across all humanity, the church as an institution projects a theology and encourages political opinion which defy both the observed facts and the sacred text.