Righteous Riches: The Word of Faith Movement in Contemporary African-American Religion
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Milmon F. Harrison
Format: Paperback, 192pp
Pub. Date: February 2005
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Book Review by Kam Williams
"The congregation is loud and excited. They are expecting to profit from the insights shared by their speaker, and he does not disappoint. Upon concluding his opening prayer, he asks the congregation to continue standing and to repeat a few things after him.
The first of these confessions is ’I'll never be broke another day in my life!' which the congregation dutifully repeats, bursting into great applause and cheering... The third confession, 'I am expecting supernatural debt-cancellation this week!' drives the congregation to frenzy."
’ Excerpted from the Introduction
When I was a kid, there was a popular, black televangelist named Reverend Ike, a maverick with unorthodox ideas about religion. Basically, he preached about expecting to enjoy Heaven on Earth, as opposed to the conventional notion of waiting to find eternal bliss in the after-life.
Glibly tossing around seductive, signature slogans like, "The lack of money is the roots of all evil" and "Forget about pie in the sky, get yours here and now," Ike built a faithful following which appreciated his materialistic approach to Christianity. While some considered the silver-tongued operator a money-grubbing, heartless hustler, there was no denying that many members of his congregation wore expensive clothes and drove fancy cars.
Back then, Reverend Ike was one of a kind. Today, apparently, his money-oriented interpretation of the Gospels have spawned a host of imitators, inspiring Milmon F. Harrison to write Righteous Riches: The Word of Faith Movement in Contemporary African-American Religion. The author knows his subject matter intimately, for he spent many years and even met his wife in just such a church after being "born again" in 1987.
Although he was an active parishioner when he embarked on his research for this book, Harrison is no longer associated with this particular denomination. And it is easy to see why he might want to find another house of worship after reading his damning expose'.
Currently a professor of African-American Studies at the University of California, his research included interviews with church members. Their honest appraisals of the state of their individual financial conditions reveal anything but the promised embarrassment of riches. Although they continue to tithe a substantial percentage of their incomes to the church, most confess to struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
"None of us are really sitting pretty," one obviously stressed-out sister says, adding, "I'm thinking, what's going on here? I don't see nobody really prospering at church. I mean only one I see is pastors! All these people are giving at church, but we don't have no millionaires!"
Another woman who has donated thousands of dollars still blames herself that a financial blessing has never come her way, guessing that, "Maybe it's because I don't pay my tithes consistently." But if it walks like, talks like and quacks like a con job, maybe this emerging movement, God forbid, might actually be more of a rip-off than a bona fide offshoot of Christianity . Or perhaps Milmon Harrison is merely a disgruntled heathen headed straight to Hell.
Either way, you’ll just have to peruse the testimonials and decide for yourself.