Blessed Are the Rich: The American Gospel of Success
19th Annual Prophetic Voices Lecture
Jonathan Lee Walton
Wake Forest University
The idea that God wants us all to be wealthy and prosper dates back to the founding of the nation. Puritans, mainline Protestants, and charismatic Pentecostals alike have claimed divine right to name prestige, privilege, and prosperity as their own. Nor is it limited to formally organized religious spaces and ordained clergy. Prominent cultural figures like Benjamin Franklin, Bruce Barton, and Oprah Winfrey have proven to be premier revivalists of this quintessentially American gospel. Prosperity is a prominent feature of the prevailing creed of this nation. What role can communities of faith have in challenging the very tenets that make its institutional existence possible? Or is the Christian Church in the United States damned to irrelevancy as a result of its own “success”?
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In the News
Recently, the National Catholic Reporter released a three-part series about Matthew Kelly--a well-known Catholic writer, speaker, and businessperson. The series focuses on Kelley’s conflicts of interest between his non-profit organization and several of his for-profit companies. Often been considered the Catholic equivalent of the prosperity gospel proponent and evangelical Protestant pastor, Joel Osteen, they together raise questions about the relation between Christianity and business but most importantly about the messages that they send to society at large: does God only favor those with wealth and success?