The prosperity gospel isn’t uniquely American, but in our quest for more of everything, we’ve elevated what started as a theological footnote in Calvinism to dizzying new heights — or, perhaps, lows, given where it’s taken us. And there’s no better testament to that than two stories that broke this week, each of which illustrates just how much the prosperity gospel is screwing us over — or stands to screw us over.
The first is the story of Todd Coontz, a preacher of the prosperity gospel. Coontz, who made a name for himself offering financial advice through Rock Wealth International Ministries, is now facing down charges of multi-million dollar tax fraud. Specifically, as part of a decades-long plot to claim personal expenses — such as a family condo, a boat, two BMWs, a Maserati and a Land Rover — were actually business expenses.
“Rendering unto Caesar” clearly isn’t in the part of the Bible he’s read, as U. S. Attorney Jill Rose noted when charges were filed against him:
“This is a classic example of ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ As a minister, Coontz preached about receiving and managing wealth, yet he failed to keep his own finances in order. Coontz will now receive a first-hand lesson in ‘rendering unto Caesar’ that which is due.”
The second story is the story of a playground in Missouri, and the Supreme Court ruling that said churches can use government grant money — i.e., your tax dollars — to pay for “secular” uses.
That decision came down today and was a 7-2 ruling. The only two dissenting justices were Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the latter of whom noted the impact this decision was going to have on the wall of separation between church and state in a savage dissenting opinion that’s worth the read if you have the time.
What’s really interesting here is that the SCOTUS has intentionally blurred an already blurry line between church and state by declaring tax dollars can fund certain church projects (tax fraud, it should be noted, is probably not one of those projects). But even though what Coontz did will remain illegal, there’s a bigger problem that arises out of this.
Perhaps it’s just my cynicism, but how long do to you think it’ll take before your tax dollars are paving the parking lots of megachurches (especially in cities where the roads themselves can’t even get paved) while the pastors are sitting on the money they collect buying even bigger McMansions — or worse, turning their ministries into SuperPACs?
This isn’t about Coontz, after all. He’s a symptom, but not the cause. This is much bigger than him — future ministries may not need tax fraud to stay rich in the future. They’ll be able to do it using your tax dollars to pay for their infrastructure.