I was just quoted in the magazine Church & State for another article about Trump and the Prosperity Gospel. (See my contribution to the Washington Post here.) Here are the selections from the article from/about me:
To Bradley Koch, an associate professor of sociology at Georgia College and a scholar who has studied the Prosperity Gospel, seeing members of wealthy populations be attracted to such theology is unusual. Koch notes that the most likely adherents tend to be members of groups who are low income. This makes Trump – if he truly believes in this theology – something of an outlier.
“Trump is essentially the opposite of those identities,” Koch told Church & State. “As seems to be typical of him more broadly, Trump here is a bit of an enigma.”
According to Koch, around 5 percent of the U.S. population identify as members of a prosperity movement, while 66 percent of American Christians agree with prosperity-related teachings to some extent.Of course, this was distilled from much more substantial input. Here are the answers I sent to several emailed questions:
- Blacks are overwhelmingly more likely to associate with the Prosperity Gospel. For almost every measure of Prosperity adherence, race is the single-most important factor. The Prosperity Gospel, in particular the Prosperity-friendly messages within many Black Protestant churches, have offered a way to overcome the constraints that Blacks have historically encountered in their access to the usual means to upward mobility.
- Those with lower levels of education are more likely to believe Prosperity teachings.
- Others (Schieman and Jung 2012) have found that those with lower levels of income tend to be more likely to believe Prosperity teachings. This effect is small, though. Above all else, the Prosperity Gospel is a story of race and education.
- Overall, the Prosperity Gospel is a very flexible theology that can be easily adapted to different social situations, particularly in a society like the United States that is radically individualistic.
- Those with a Prosperity orientation tend to identify as Republican. Those with a Prosperity orientation tended to have voted for Bush in 2004. Prosperity adherents vote in about the same proportions as the rest of the population
- About 5% of those in the US identify as members of a Prosperity movement. That’s somewhere over 16 million people—about three times the number of Jews (or Mormons) in the U.S.
- Two-thirds (66%) of American Christians agree with at least some Prosperity related teachings.
- There are multiple Gospels of Prosperity, and the Prosperity Gospel is transdenominational. There is no difference between Protestants, Catholics, and other Christians in their likelihood of Prosperity adherence.
- My research really can’t speak to change over time or to international comparisons.
- Given all that we know about the Prosperity Gospel, Trump is actually a bit of an outlier. The most likely adherents tend to be black and less educated (and to a lesser extent, poor). Trump is essentially the opposite of those identities. As seems to be typical of him more broadly, Trump here is a bit of an enigma.
- I’m not comfortable making a direct prediction about Trump himself, but generally, the Prosperity Gospel is a way to make sense of the distribution of poverty and wealth in the world. Those who are poor are so because they lack the proper faith. Those who are rich are so because they recognized the promise that God had already made to them. One could imagine how this worldview could rationalize policy toward those at both extremes of socioeconomic status.
- The roots of the Prosperity Gospel can be traced from the Great Awakenings to Evangelical Protestantism, through the Holiness Movement, on to Pentecostalism, through the itinerant Pentecostal preachers to the Charismatic (or neo-Pentecostal) Movement, and finally to the Faith Movement. The father of the Faith Movement, and thus the Prosperity Gospel, was Kenneth Hagin. A very strong case has been made that Hagin plagiarized much of his own work from E.W. Kenyon (McConnell 1988). Kenyon himself was a product of the New Thought movement of the late-1800s. You could say that all of the spiritual and philosophical ideas of the time were being influenced to some degree by industrialization and capitalism. The Prosperity Gospel makes a quite explicit religious justification for the inequality that is inherent to capitalism.