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In an earlier article, titled, “Big Pimpin’, Spendin’ Cheese: How Rappers Like Jay-Z Help Keep You in Poverty.” The articles discussed rappers’ influence on economic spending and how many mainstream artists rap about living lavish lifestyles, influencing listeners to spend their money on luxury items they cannot afford. In the article, I explain how these mainstream artists contribute to a psychology that keeps people in poverty. 

But the truth of the matter is, even though rappers play a role in this problem, they are not the only ones who help keep people in poverty. Many different people and forces are to blame for preaching capitalistic agendas that help keep people in poverty. In addition to rappers, religious figures have begun preaching the consumer psychology that keeps people chained to debt and spending. In many ways, preachers have become the mainstream, grandiose rappers of religion.  

For a very long time, individuals have gone to church for guidance, spiritual healing, community and wisdom.  But what kind of guidance and wisdom is offered in the church these days? In many cases, church leaders are guiding their congregation into brokeness and low self-esteem.  But remember, a capitalistic, consumerist agenda that suggests spending money and buying nice things, means Jesus loves you.

In many churches, it is now common to hear a preacher make references to biblical text that supposedly promises faithful believers money and economic prosperity. Congregations are told “God doesn’t want us to live in poverty” and “God promises to bless you economically if you honor Him” and “Paying tithes will come back to you in blessings and financial success.” Church goers are convinced they should seek material, financial and economic prosperity on Earth, because ballin’ outta control in Jesus’ name is the righteous thing to do.  Basically, people are taught to believe “If I love the Lord, praise Him and I am faithful, God wants me to have more money and live comfortably with nice things.”

But why do some people believe this? In large part, because this is the message pastors not only preach, but this is also the lifestyle pastors live. This money driven, materialistic lifestyle is then reflected onto the congregation.

The problem is that the congregation members often don’t have nearly as much money as the preachers. So how do pastors continue to get people with enormous credit card debt, impending home foreclosure, huge outstanding medical bills and potential bankruptcy to still give, give give, even if it’s their last dollar? Joel Osteen, a notoriously wealthy Evangelical pastor who reportedly earned $13 million for his latest book advance alone, and whose church brings in $75 million in annual revenue, often gives the same response when asked how he feels about how much money he makes, considering many of his congregation members are poor and face ongoing financial crises.

Osteen will tell you his success is a result of God’s favor, his message is God’s message, and all he has achieved is a blessing from God. Yes, Osteen is an outlier and most pastors, even the successful ones, aren’t even on the same financial planet, but, still, they preach the same message. When a pastor drives a Mercedes or a Bentley or any other high-end car, and so does his wife, and so does the deacon, while many of the congregation members are struggling – that’s a problem. But preaching the idea that God wants you to spend money is an even bigger problem.

If a preacher says anything that sounds like, “I’m rich and have nice things because I’m faithful to God and he rewards me for it,” to the congregation, that translates to, “if you’re broke, can’t afford nice things, and you are not financially prosperous, it’s because you are not as good of a Christian as I am, or you’re not faithful enough, so God is not rewarding you as much as he rewards me.” What kind of self-esteem is this promoting? Further, this spreads the message that, if you DO have the money, in order to show how faithful you are and how much God rewards you, you should buy a bunch of flashy material goods in order to show everyone God’s favor and grace. Just like the pastor.

Think about it. Why do people feel the need to dress up in “Sunday’s Best” just to go to church? Well, the pastor always has on nice suits, looking like Versace! Versace! Versace! His wife is always very nicely dressed, like she woke up like that, and these are the people the congregation is supposed to look up to, seek guidance from and emulate. Of course then, they need to spend money to look nice too. If you can’t afford sparkly suits, Stacy Adams and weekly press and curl appointments, then you need to tithe, even on your last dollars, as a testimony to your faithfulness, so God will bless you with the ability to buy a REAL Louis Vuitton bag this time. Not the one’s they sell at the nail salon. Pastors will even cite biblical passages that stress the importance of tithing, making members feel guilty if they don’t contribute ten percent of their rent money.

This begs the question: your pastors may mean the world to you, but what do you mean to them? Is feeding you wisdom and the holy spirit most important to them? Or is the congregation’s dollars that help feed them $100 steaks at Ruth’s Chris more important?

In a recent burglary after Sunday service, Joel Osteen was found to have $600,000 in his safe. Loyal followers are willing to tithe up to $600,000 on a single Sunday. But how does the new church culture, including these churches that bring in the big bucks, contribute to cyclical poverty?

If you think the money in the collection plates go to your church’s community outreach programs, educational scholarships, fellowship programs, etc, think again.

The Evangelical Christian Credit Union recently conducted a study on church spending and concluded that the average church spends 82% it’s budget on personnel, buildings and administration expenses. This means the building you go to, your pastor’s, deacon’s, other leaders’ and secretary’s salaries are eating up 82 cents of every dollar you give.

According to the same study, only 3% of the budget goes to children’s and youth programs and 2% for adult programs. Local and national benevolence (think feeding the local poor, contributing to HIV/AIDs programs around the world, etc) get only 1% of they typical church budget. The bulk of the congregation’s tithes are NOT going to the community. The money — YOUR MONEY — is going to big preachers and their church friends who spend G’s on nice things and the church’s imported stained glass windows you hardly notice. But Jesus really likes stained glass. But only the legit imported kind, because, remember, Jesus DOESN’T like knock-offs.

Religious leaders are often the people who are looked up to the most, and if their sermons and lifestyles send the message that “getting’ money” and financial success and economic spending are what religious faithfulness looks like, their messages are contributing to the psychology that keeps their congregation members poor, in debt and perpetuating cyclical poverty.

If God doesn’t want you to live in poverty, as these pastors preach, how will spending it on tithing, nice clothes for church and other church functions get you out of poverty? If God wants you to be financially successful, spending your money on what the pastor and his wife spend their money on won’t get you to financial success. Spending AT ALL won’t get people out of poverty OR to financial prosperity.

During an earlier time, the church, especially the Black church, acted as a safe haven and center for community outreach and political change. Religious figures such as Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were all religious leaders who are well known for their commitment to community, progression and political effort.  They influenced their congregations, and the society at large, to understand and stand up against injustice. None of these great men got rich from tithes. Jesus himself never got rich from tithes. None of these great men preached that being in God’s favor allowed them to drive fancy cars and wear expensive clothing.

Today’s church has become the new economic plantation, focused on preaching a message of capitalism and individual gain and economic success instead of community and spirituality.  The church has lost sight of its initial calling: serving the community and being a beacon for equality and justice, offering spiritual and emotional support and social improvement for those in need. It has become a master, preaching a lifestyle that keeps its congregation slaves to consumer spending, capitalism and poverty, profiting from the hard work and hard earned income of its congregation.