A Catholic Church leader in Asia has warned that the growing influence of the so-called “prosperity gospel” in the region has become “a very big obstacle” for the spread of Christianity.
In his message for the observance of Pentecost Sunday, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon said “the Holy Spirit has received bad press” from those who claim to be “anointed churches.”
He said most “prosperity gospel” preachers “abuse the Holy Spirit” by indulging in prophesies and speaking in tongues and claiming to have been empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The Catholic Church on Sunday, May 31, observed Pentecost, a feast that celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles of Jesus 50 days after his resurrection.
The Church teaches that Pentecost Sunday is celebrated to recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit, realizing that God’s very life, breath and energy live in those who believe.
Even as he stressed the need of the Catholic Church “to regain the power of the presence of the Holy Spirit,” Cardinal Bo said the so-called “prosperity gospel” teaches believers to “escape” from reality.
Cardinal Bo said “mega pastors” who preach in “mega churches” understand the condition of the people who want to escape from poverty “and the feeling that their lives were leaky buckets.”
“What they wanted was reassurance: that if they prayed, and believed, and lived righteously, they would be rewarded with some measure of comfort,” said the prelate.
The president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences warned against teachings that “packaged” the Bible “as a sweet promise of prosperity.”
He said the “prosperity gospel” is a product a “capitalistic American dream” that teaches the enjoyment of material benefits while viewing poverty as “a curse and lack of blessing from God.”
“The prosperity gospel encourages people — especially its leaders and preachers — to revel in private jets and multimillion-dollar homes as evidence of God’s love,” said the cardinal.
He pointed out that the “mega pastors” target rich Christians and refuse to look into the “root causes of human suffering” and the “structural causes of poverty.”
Cardinal Bo said the preaching of the “prosperity gospel” is “almost a sin against the Holy Spirit” because “soon after the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, her Magnificat was a succinct summary of the mandate of the Holy Spirit.”
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty,” he quoted the Gospel.
The cardinal said “prosperity gospel” is also against Pope Francis who insists on a Christianity “that should be concerned about distribution of wealth and uplifting of the poor.”
The so-called “prosperity gospel,” also known as “prosperity theology,” originated from an American occult tradition called “New Thought.”
“Prosperity gospel” is an umbrella term for a group of ideas — popular among charismatic preachers in the evangelical tradition — that equate Christian faith with material and financial success.
The idea has seen a boost under the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump who has included in his team televangelist Paula White, a promoter of the belief.
Cardinal Bo, however, lambasted those preachers whom he described as “false prophets … too willing to misguide gullible faithful.”
The cardinal warned against men claiming to be “prophets who have a hotline to heaven and peddle dubious predictions purported at the urging of the Holy Spirit.”
In recent years, various strains of “prosperity theology” sprouted in several Asian countries where Christianity is spreading much faster than in other parts of the world.
Singapore, for instance, is home to several huge prosperity congregations, including the 30,000-member New Creation Church led by the charismatic pastor Joseph Prince.
In his message on Pentecost Sunday, Pope Francis reminded the faithful to work for social justice amid the challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
The pope said the Church needs to be alongside the poor as the world is about to face a post-pandemic era.
“All the suffering will have been useless if we do not build together a fairer, more equitable, more Christian society, not in name, but in reality, a reality that leads us to Christian conduct,” he said.
Marielle Lucenio contributed to this report.