Preaching a gospel of abundance is an easy draw for filling the pews. It goes something like this…
If you are a good and faithful Christian and give regularly and generously to your church, then God will reward you with material wealth and success. Wealth, in fact, is a sign of a good Christian. Hence, the financial success and rich life-style of a preacher merely affirms his or her faithfulness.
Perhaps if we heard this message from our priests, we’d have more Catholics in the pews. In fact, in many developing countries we’re losing ground to our evangelical sisters and brothers in the convert contests. Become a Christian in our congregation and you’ll have wealth and success. Or, become a Catholic and prayerfully unite your poverty and suffering with Christ. Tough choice!
The Catholic Church isn’t immune to preaching this gospel of abundance. Many years ago, a speaker in our parish promoted tithing to help fund the annual bishop’s appeal. He spoke passionately about the financial miracles that he experienced through tithing, especially when it meant a hardship for his family. To me, it sounded like a form of Catholic Karma. Give until it hurts, and it will return to you -overflowing. The fact that he was addressing many struggling farm families angered me even more. Needless to say, there were few tithers in our parish.
Catholics are known for being miserly with the Sunday collection plate. We are generous with giving to those in need. And, we will pay for the necessary expenses of our parish. But many of us are no longer willing to pay for opulent buildings and the rich life-styles of some church leaders.
The sieve of logic behind the gospel of abundance is obvious and easily disputed. It is wrong to coerce money from others with empty promises of wealth and happiness. It is even more morally despicable to do so from those who have little or no disposable income.
But it is also wrong to preach that poverty should be accepted as God’s will. Poverty is an evil that must be eradicated by an equitable sharing of resources globally and locally. This is the miracle that we need, not the empty promises of charismatic, millionaire preachers.