This morning, one of my friends who is a seeker has been asking for advice about where to attend church. He has personally been burned by fundamentalist Christianity (and I personally know the churches he got burned at had questionable practices since I used to attend one of them). He post a facebook note asking if the Unity Church would be a good fit for him. Immediately, I gave reasons why he would not be a good fit for UC, and among one of the disagreements I have with their teaching is their emphasis Positive Thought, with the mind being the source of illness and evil.
New Thought positivism is nothing new. In fact, it has been around for a while, since the mid 19th century in the United States. Americans in the early twentieth century witnessed a rise in new religious movements that all clung to the notion of the impeccability of the human mind. According to theologian Stephanie Mitchem, “Many religious movements influenced the American public, including African American. […] In the 1840s, inventor Phineas Quimby began the New Thought movement, which involved the use of the mind to cure the body. Mary Baker Eddy, one of Quimby’s students, added a spiritual component and began the Christian Science organization, “that tuning into God’s inner-dwelling presence and achieving oneness with his spirit restored health and well being” (Mitchem, 52). Mitchem goes on to note that the religious movements in the northeast United States, including Mesmerism, Spiritualism, and Transcendentalism made a profound impact on the religious lives of African Americans who were just beginning to migrate northwards.
Today, New Thought philosophy has been mixed in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles to become the Word of Faith movement: If you believe it, you receive it. This country is going through a recession, and despite the immense poverty and joblessness people are experiencing, prosperity preachers refuse to acknowledge the pain people are feeling while asking for laypeople’s “seeds of faith.” In some circles, the prosperity gospel is a message for the rich. Church life, no matter if the church is mainline or evangelical, center around the wallets of the monied, and their interests. Want to make changes to worship? No, we can’t, silver hair donors will stop giving. Want to reach out to the married couples in our neighborhood? Ask why is that important. Because, the church wants more tithers for more programming to reach more tithers! Does your youth minister make a group of steady tithers in church feel uncomfortable? Put her on the hot seat! A candidate needs a few votes to get over the top? Let him say a few words during the service.
The church’s life already centers around the wealthy and those with influence, those at the center on our society. Seminaries that cooperate with prosperity ministries remain complicit in working against the spirit of Christmas. Christmas, the Holidays, Thanksgiving, these are not just times to be giving charity. Charity is the last thing on Luke’s and Matthew’s mind when they told the birth story of Yeshua the Messiah. In Luke @, when our Jewish Savior was presented at the temple, his family was so poor, Mary and Joseph had to give two doves or pigeons, according to the law of Moses (Luke 2:24). The author of Luke had in mind Leviticus 5:7 (NIV): “Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the LORD as a penalty for their sin—one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.” Mary and Joseph could not even afford one of the lambs that was probably in the manger with them the night Mary the Theoktos gave birth to our LORD.
What does this all mean? It means that God Incarnate refutes the logic of Prosperity gospel, New Thought heresy, and even Tither-Driven churches. The Incarnation of the Word de-centers the existences of the wealthy as the masters of our world and elects the poor as God’s missionaries in the world. It is this very election of the poor, the Tiny Tims in this life that the spirit of Christmas is all about; our theological education institutions and churches should respond likewise, by denouncing the heretics who preach the Prosperity non-Gospel, and declaring that little Baby in a manger as LORD.
Mitchem, Stephanie Y. Name It and Claim It?: Prosperity Preaching in the Black Church. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2007.