The Oct. 11 issue of The New Yorker (not yet available online) includes an eight-page article about Creflo Dollar, who preaches what is widely called prosperity theology. The article, by New York Times writer Kelefa Sanneh, mines some of the rich details a reader would expect in a New Yorker profile, such as these: Dollar has also become something of a hip-hop icon. He appears in the music video "Welcome to Atlanta," by Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris, and 50 Cent recently rhymed "Creflo Dollar" with "pop my collar." When the rapper Ma$e decided to devote himself to God, Dollar became his spiritual father.
Sanneh deftly pokes fun at the widespread corporate-speak at Dollar's World Changers Church International. We read of a man in charge of "ministry systems," of the sign designating Dollar's office as an "Executive Suite" and of the weekly "cabinet meeting" by the church's leaders.
But he also uses a disdainful tone that veers between a meaningless list of clichÃƒÂƒ(c)s ("Dollar is a slick TV preacher who sometimes impersonates a down-home Holy Roller") and gratuitous adjectives ("This was, in a sense, his second conversion, and he describes it with the shivery enthusiasm of a true believer").
Sanneh is amazed that Dollar is friends with both Evander Holyfield and Oral Roberts, which should surprise no one who knows much about Roberts (who never met a prosperity preacher prosperity teacher he hasn't liked). Sanneh defines prosperity theology in an overly ecumenical fashion: "Dollar's commitment to the combined power of faith and finance puts him firmly in the American mainstream, alongside P. Diddy, President Bush, and a lot of other people in between." By that definition, Dollar has just as much in common with Senator John Kerry or Sir John Templeton.
Sanneh's worst mistake, though, is one that suggests he doesn't understand the meaning of evangelical, one of the most common words in American religion: "An earlier generation of Evangelicals found their own style -- Jimmy Swaggart was the lachrymose drama queen, Pat Robertson was the down-home scholar of world events, Reverend Ike was the shameless hustler."
Fair enough on the Jimmy Swaggart joke -- it's timely comic relief after Swaggart's cringe-inducing remarks about killing any potential gay suitor.
But please pay attention, all you acclaimed New Yorker fact-checkers: evangelicals are keen on the authority of Scripture over their lives. Evangelicals are not known for saying Scripture is flat-out incorrect about wealth, as Reverend Ike frequently has done in asserting that the lack of wealth, rather than the love of it, is the root of all evil.
GetReligion often complains when reporters use fundamentalist as a synonym for evangelical. A promiscuous definition of evangelical is no less troubling.