The Suffocation of Black Women in the Age of Prosperity Theology

By Valerie Jean-Charles

We live in the age of prosperity preachers: Joel Osteen, Paula White, T.D. Jakes. These well known pastors, along with others, have helped usher an age in the Church where teachings of wealth-building reign supreme. Before I go into why this branch of theology robs congregants of benefits from the institution, it’s best that I provide definitions of what exactly the “prosperity gospel” is.

In an article for BeliefNet, Scot McKnight is frank with his explanation of prosperity teachings. He writes, “For the prosperity gospel, God could be seen as The Vending Machine God: put in faith and out pops blessings—money, homes, cars, beautiful spouses, clever kids, good neighbours, big churches, and plush vacations.” It is the belief that God blesses those who are faithful with material wealth. American Christianity has experienced a great increase in the preaching and belief of this form of theology, leading many pastors of mega churches to incorporate it into their Sunday sermons. The more you believe, the more you tithe, the more God will bless you. No longer is the “so the last will be the first…” lesson being taught, but a new, louder message of “keep your eyes on wealth, this is what God wants for you.”

One of these pastors McKnight generally refers to is famous televangelist, Pastor Joel Osteen. In a conversation with Marc Lamont Hill for Huffington Post Live, Osteen strongly defends his embracing of prosperity gospel by stating, “I think there’s a group that says, ‘Well, to be a Christian, to be a real believer you’ve got to be poor, you’ve got to be humble.’ I don’t see that. I think we should be leaders in the community, we should be able to bless others.” This all sounds good… I mean, after all, how many of us don’t ask God for a better job or more money to live the lives we believe we deserve? But if we look a little closer, we see how such rose-colored glass teachings leave most congregants, and Black women in particular, with dreams that may never be obtained.

In a 2012 article in the Washington Post it was reported that Black women are among the United States most religious demographics with about 87% saying they rely on their faith to get through difficult times. And this is not hard to see firsthand. While talking to friends and followers on social media prior to working on this piece, practically all of them stated they have some kind of experience with the Church and feel some bond to it—even those who are now non-believers. Yet with such support, the Church continues to be another space in which Black women come in second. In the same report by the Washington Post, Professor Anthony B. Pinn of Rice University is quoted as saying, “Black women provide most of the labor and a significant amount of the financial resources but don’t hold an equivalent degree of authority in these organizations.”

The prevalence of prosperity gospel in the Church does little to benefit and support Black women. Simply telling congregants that prayer and acts of faith will guarantee financial blessings does little to actually better their lot. I am not aiming to dictate whether or not faith can work financially for us, but am hoping instead to begin a conversation about how our churches can become more proactive in supporting Black women and their everyday struggles. If we are the financial backbone of these institutions, as Professor Pinn in the Washington Post article stated, we should not be accepting teachings and Words on what we can say during prayer to be able to pay our bills. Faith is great, and I too rely on it. But Prosperity Gospel in the Black Church has a small return of interests for most of its congregants.

So now we must beg the question: What can our churches do to make our everyday lives easier? Prayer meetings are great, but men and women cannot live on hope alone. In a country where Black women are one of the populations whose marginalization and disenfranchisement already limit their lives severely, churches could fill the void by not only inspiring via faith—but through action as well. Churches can help us by providing services that congregants would most likely not have access to. An idea I am particularly fond of is resume and cover letter writing workshops. With unemployment being an issue that still reigns supreme in our communities, many could use assistance in updating their resumes and staying up-to-date on current workforce trends. If the church is going to increase its attentions on financial gains, the least they can do is provide the tangible tools and resources to increase the chances of that happening.

Black women are not a self-replenishing source. We cannot continue supporting pillars in the community if they only reciprocate by promising fulfillment in the distant future… or afterlife. We are suffering now. We are hurting now. The spiritual relationships we forge and maintain cannot be one-sided. We are the true seats of power and we should not be afraid to ask for what is our due.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Valerie Jean-Charles is a Communications Manager and writer in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her @Vivaciously_Val for daily musings on pop culture, politics and reality TV. Read more of her work at

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