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Did John Oliver get it right in his critique of televangelists?
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On Sunday night last week, political commentator John Oliver called out televangelists who ask their followers to donate money to churches and religious organizations, according to World Religion News.

Oliver said some televangelists tell donors in what is being called the "prosperity gospel" that they will benefit financially and spiritually later in life if they give money, even when some televangelists will use the money for their own spending, like to buy expensive jets and lavish homes or parsonages, as theyre legally called, according to World Religion News.

This isnt an unfounded claim, as televangelists made the news on several occasions this year for their heavy spending on items that don't necessarily help their churches directly.

For example, pastor Creflo Dollars of World Changers Church International in Atlanta raised eyebrows after he announced an online fundraising effort to raise $54 million so that he could buy a G650 jet, according to my colleague Mark Kellner.

Similarly, Christian leaders were concerned over the annual salary of Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham and head of Samaritans Purse, the Christian international relief agency in North Carolina, according to Religion News Service. Grahams salary is allegedly $880,000, despite working for a nonprofit, RNS reported.

So why do churchgoers donate? Some believers offer their money because their donations go towards a good cause. For example, Christian megachurch pastor Rick Warren asked for pledges so that he could expand the Saddleback Churchs global ministry and help believers around the world, Kellner reported. Warren collected more than $7 million in donations in the first week, Kellner reported.

Other believers are quick to donate their money to churches because some biblical stories, like Acts 4:32-37, call for believers to help the needy and each other, according to Matthew L. Skinner, professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul. These believers feel that by giving money to their church, theyre spreading their wealth like the Bible asks them to do, Skinner wrote.

People also feel so obligated to donate because they want to have a sense of community. They hope that by donating, the church will give them that community and make them feel spiritually alive.

But donations such as these only work if the church follows through and brings people to the community, or whatever desire theyre promised, Skinner wrote.

Thats why Skinner suggests that in order to be true to the Bibles teachings, televangelists and church leaders need to use the money they collect from donations to build their religious communities and strengthen the faith of their church members.

If a church isn't talking about contributions, budgets and charity within a larger discussion about what it means to be a community and to practice mutuality, then that church is doing it wrong, Skinner wrote.

But some believers may have it wrong. Lavish spending by churches and calls for donations aren't necessarily what God wants, nor what lays at the core of Christianity, according to Eric Demeter of Relevant magazine.

In fact, Demeter wrote that televangelists calls for financial donations only create a false hope among believers that the money they give will bring them closer to God, even when it wont. God, as the Bible verse 1 Timothy 6:10 explains, doesnt want you to have too much concern over money.

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows," the verse reads.

Demeter wrote that megachurch leaders who teach the prosperity gospel often promise believers increased blessings if they donate money to their church, even when Jesus preached that an excess of money was harmful to society. Most treasures, Jesus said, would be found in heaven, Demeter wrote.

And, ironically, the prosperity gospel forces downtrodden believers to donate their money to a church, which actually makes them poor, rather than wealthy as the televangelists sometime promise, Demeter wrote.

The stark irony of the prosperity gospel is that it creates poor Christians, Demeter wrote. It deprives us of Gods actual blessings because it creates an indomitable hope in its own pre-assigned outcomes. This illusion leads to entitlement. Can you imagine the Creator of the Universe ever feeling obligated to write a check to pay off our prayers?
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