Few concepts divide Christians as starkly and deeply as the “prosperity gospel,” the notion that one can essentially “give to get.” It’s the theological belief that God will reward one’s faith or tithing with financial blessings — a theology that’s flatly rejected by most orthodox Christians.
Among the well-known preachers routinely accused of embracing this ideology is Paula White, pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, with White recently coming under fire after it was announced she will participate in president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration — the first female clergy member in history to speak during a presidential inauguration.
“I have been called a heretic, an apostate, an adulterer, a charlatan, and an addict,” White said in a statement last week, rejecting these labels as she responded to the furor. “It has been falsely reported that I once filed for bankruptcy and — my personal favorite — that I deny the trinity!”
The claim White is a prosperity preacher as well as the accusation that she denies the trinity are just two of the main arguments some have made to push back against her participation in the inauguration, though she has fervently dismissed both claims. During a recent sit-down with White, Faithwire specifically asked the pastor what she believes people get most wrong about her stance on the prosperity gospel; additionally, we asked how, exactly, she would define the controversial concept.
White, who seemed surprised by the questions, said, “No one’s ever asked me that. No one,” noting that these questions have not been asked of her during the hundreds of interviews she’s done, despite the controversy that has sometimes surrounded her theology. She then proceeded to offer up her own take on the contentious theological construct.
“I hate the label, and I hate the label because I believe it’s so misunderstood,” she said, noting her belief that people have abused and misused the theology, and that many of her own views have been taken out of context. Later on in the interview, she offered a more pointed summary of her beliefs, saying, “I’m not a prosperity preacher in the sense that everyone wants to label it and categorize it.”
White said the easiest fix to avoid further controversy and to clear up confusion would be to openly proclaim that she doesn’t believe in prosperity, though she said the concepts at hand are far too complex and important to flatly make such a statement. In the end, though, White said the idea that a person can get more simply by giving isn’t a part of her theological pedigree.
“I don’t believe that (you give to get),” she said, adding that she believes there have been many lies perpetuated about her own biblical concepts. This was a point White again reiterated when Faithwire later said some people might believe “if you pray enough or if you do enough you’re going to get something,” to which she quickly responded, “I don’t believe that … I absolutely don’t believe that.”
So, how would White define the prosperity gospel, then? To illustrate her answer, she appealed to what she said are the original meanings of the word “prosperity” in both Hebrew and Greek.
“By definition, the word prosperity, if we break it out in the Hebrew and the Greek, means ‘to break out, to break through, to break for’ — it doesn’t mean materialism, it doesn’t mean money,” she said. “Do I believe that God broke me out of the power of sin, death, hell and the grave? Yes. Do I believe that he is an incentive God? I do — that if I serve him and receive Jesus Christ as the only begotten son, as my lord and my savior … I believe he’s the only begotten son of God … with that, is God a good God? Yes, he is.”
White said she believes in eternal life, that God can offer “a peace that surpasses all understanding” and that he will provide for each and every area of her life, adding that she doesn’t “believe in a part-time God.” It’s these themes and ideas that apparently color her worldview.
At another point in the interview, the preacher said that, rather than focusing on prosperity, most of her sermons are about “picking up your cross … on suffering, on the hardships you endure as a good soldier” and on other related issues — and then opened up about a heartbreaking moment involving human suffering that is singed into her memory.
“I remember one time I was in Ethiopia and (this woman) looked at me and she went, ‘Was I born to suffer?’ — and it was one of those defining moments in my life, because I couldn’t explain,” White said. “I knew she probably prayed more than I did, because she had to — she had to, because that was how she would survive. I knew she loved God as much as I did.”
She continued, “She was beautiful in every way, her spirit, her joy, her countenance everything about her — I just saw God exude out of her, and at that moment … I couldn’t explain.”
White said the encounter led her to recognize the advantages she has here in America — privileges she believes come along with a responsibility to account for the actions she takes in her life.
“What would my life be? What would it all be when I stood before the Lord and had to give an account of my life?” she rhetorically asked. “I live with that true weight, and that true responsibility.”
As Faithwire previously reported, White responded last week to a series of critiques waged against her, including a rebuke from conservative commentator Erick Erickson, who penned a recent op-ed titled, “An Actual Trinity-Denying Heretic Will Pray at Trump’s Inauguration.”
“Paula White is a trinity denying heretic. She rejects the Council of Nicaea’s creed that every Christian accepts,” Erickson wrote. “To reject the orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed is to reject Christianity itself.” This critique, which can be read here, stems from a video in which White appears to be agreeing with the claim that “Jesus is not the only begotten son of God.” Watch it below:
Erickson isn’t alone in his critiques, though, as theologian Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary California in Escondido, California, published an op-ed on Tuesday that also took aim at White and her purported embrace of the so-called “prosperity gospel.”
“The prosperity gospel — the idea that God dispenses material wealth and health based on what we ‘decree’ — is not just fluff,” he said. “It’s also not just another branch of Pentecostalism, a tradition that emphasizes the continuation of the gifts of healing, prophecy and tongues. It’s another religion.”
Read more about how White responded to these critiques here. On the prosperity front, she has been hit with other claims as well, with one of the more recent moments coming last year when, according to the Christian Post, White “offered her followers an Easter Sunday deliverance from a spiritual death sentence for a $1,144 ‘resurrection seed’ she says was set by God.” Watch the video that sparked media coverage below:
Others have also accused her of similar acts, with a Daily Beast article claiming there’s an example on White’s website of her asking for money, though it’s unclear if that’s what really going on, or whether she’s asking people to praise God. Read it for yourself here.
Faithwire has asked some of White’s most public critics to appear on a podcast with her to discuss these issues. While the pastor has said she would like to have such a conversation, so far her main critics have declined to participate.
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