Prosperity gospel, also known as the gospel of wealth and success, uses such mantras as "God wants you to drive a nice car." "God wants you to live in a nice house." "God doesn't want you to have empty pockets."
But is there more to the concept than material things? This week's clergy take on the often confusing concept of prosperity and how it relates to spirituality.
The Rev. Barrington Goldson, pastor, Calvary Tabernacle Church, Hempstead:
I wouldn't say we're a prosperity church, but part of our message includes prosperity. To leave it out would do injustice to the Scriptures. My thinking as a minister is that the Lord gives me a menu, and my job is to provide a balanced diet for the members. I teach spiritual health, physical health, a healthy diet as well as financial health.
To focus on only one area is an injustice, a disparity. If I find there is a deficiency, I need to beef up my ministry in that area. For example, if the economy is hard like it is now, I may need to speak more about taking care of finances. It can't be the only emphasis, but it is part of what we're trying to accomplish here.
The Bible teaches that the Lord
" . . . hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant." (Psalm 35:27)
And that " . . . above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." (3 John 1:2)
It is clear from the Scriptures that biblical prosperity includes our health and wealth, and is both physical and spiritual.
Prosperity religion is more a media term than a biblical one. The word gospel means "good news." The good news is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel brings hope that our finances, like other aspects of our life, will go through a death, burial and resurrection.
Where people make the mistake is believing that financial improvement is the only thing. That's like having a diet of only protein. That's not a good thing. You need the fruits, the vegetables, the carbohydrates.
The Rev. Charles A. Coverdale, First Baptist Church of Riverhead:
Many individuals, when they come to me talking about prosperity, they're always talking about material things. I want a house, a car, to be able to buy whatever I want to buy. They believe that God will provide those material things they seek.
Most of the TV evangelists who preach prosperity seem stuck on things. That's not to say that isn't a part of prosperity, but that's not all of it. If that were the case, is a person who is poor less worthy, less blessed? Is that the primary reason that Jesus Christ came down here? So we could have a nice house?
True prosperity is the development of the inner spirit to allow me to prosper in any situation God puts me in or I find myself in. How do I prosper in learning and in doing that which God has assigned to me? How do I prosper when I have a diagnosis of cancer? I think that God doesn't want you to be poor, but he really doesn't want you to be poor in spirit.
Those less fortunate offer each of us an opportunity to grow in spirit by the way we treat them, the way we assist them.
Rabbi Mordecai Golshevsky, Young Israel of Coram:
People think prosperity is about material things, that prosperity religion means God will provide you with material things just because you want them. God doesn't care about Cadillacs, about hedonistic things. Yes, God wants us to prosper, but he wants us to prosper so we can use those material things to fix the world.
Our task is to fix the world, to make it more spiritual. We are partners with God in creation. People talk about falling in love. You don't fall anywhere. You become a loving person.
If we look to Deuteronomy 11, it says that if you will obey his commandments, you will prosper. But, this prosperity is so we can elevate the world. Yes, it is hard to concentrate on elevating others if you're hungry yourself. If you don't have the basic needs satisfied, you'll be consumed by acquiring them. So, yes, God wants us to prosper but not just for prosperity's sake
The material things he blesses you with are tools to help you do the spiritual things.
Those who think it is all about the material should remember that we're not here for a long time. Things in this world will decay, oxidize, rust. We should be looking to infuse peace and love into the world and to fix the world in that sense.