The election of Donald Trump has lifted fringe ideologies, such as the alt-right, and little-known political figures, such as Trump’s immigration adviser Kris Kobach, to new levels of national prominence.
It has also elevated a group of evangelical Christian leaders and traditions that are often treated as marginal. Specifically, Trump’s victory has been an unlikely triumph for the prosperity gospel, as well as for a handful of prosperity-oriented preachers from the world of African American televangelism.
The president-elect identifies as a Presbyterian. But his rhetoric during the campaign often reflected the language of the prosperity gospel, a diffuse American Christian movement that links faith, positive thinking and material wealth into “the American religion of winning,” as journalist Jeff Sharlet described it this year.
More than once, Trump has cited the influence of minister Norman Vincent Peale, whose concept of positive thinking is a close relative of the prosperity gospel. And like prosperity gospel preachers, Trump made the appeal of his personal fortune central to his pitch.
The prosperity gospel is often associated with ostentatious fundraisers such as Oral Roberts, Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar, the Atlanta megachurch pastor who tried to raise $65 million in 2015 to buy a private plane.
These nondenominational pastors rarely become involved in politics, and they do not wield the same institutional power as the more conventional leaders of major evangelical denominations. Perhaps because it has no single denominational structure, no clear leadership, and a stronger presence among less-educated Americans and people of color, the prosperity movement has often been treated as marginal.
Bradley Koch, a sociologist at Georgia College who has studied the demographics of prosperity gospel traditions, explained that “there is a dearth of data” about the movement, in part because of scholars “historically just not taking the prosperity movement seriously.”
Still, the movement’s influence is significant. Surveys can be unreliable tools for gauging religious beliefs, but, according to Koch, about 5 percent of Americans seem to identify explicitly with the prosperity movement. Far more Americans, though — perhaps close to two-thirds — identify with at least some prosperity gospel teachings, such as the idea that God wants people to succeed financially.
SOURCE: Michael Schulson
The Washington Post
Michael Schulson is a freelance journalist and an associate editor at Religion Dispatches, where he co-produces a section on science, religion, technology and ethics.