Theology aside, this fight over the centrality of wealth is important because it highlights two false notions. First, it suggests that the church equates the financially successful with the religiously pious. As a matter of orthodoxy, it’s wrong and counterproductive. Second, it reaffirms one of the worst characterizations of the Christian church: that it exists only to enrich itself, or is a community only for the rich.
Politically, the GOP is no stranger to the prosperity gospel. Unfortunately, it is an invitation to further alienation and marginalization from key voters. It not only leaves behind the poor and the middle class, it offers nothing true to those aspiring, nothing hopeful to those who have not succeeded, and nothing to stir charity by those at the top.
Thus, what will undermine the church, over emphasis on financial prosperity, will also undermine the GOP. 2012demonstrated this in the political realm. Mitt Romney, an exemplary man of longstanding church participation and extravagant personal generosity, was tarred as nothing more than the agent for the rich, and lost to President Obama, a man of no meaningful church participation and no demonstrable personal charity.
Center right voters of many faiths fell for the ruse as they heard Obama speak the language of faith and claim to care for those economically left behind. Now the real Barack Obama is revealed as he presides over an economy that has failed millions and seeks to trample religious liberty under the thumb of mandatory contraception funding. This should awaken conservative religious voters of all faiths, ages and income levels.
How religious conservatives will adapt to a quickly secularizing society and how they will confront a gospel of prosperity will impact how the GOP will fare in 2014 and 2016 because religious conservatives still assert disproportionate influence in GOP primaries.
How the GOP establishment will incorporate this religious faction of its base is an open question. But those who seek to lead the party – Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, et al. – must, in order to appeal to both secular and religious voters, be able to cogently address the social issues that are dividing the nation and clarify that the GOP’s prosperity gospel seeks to improve the lives of those at every rung of the economic ladder.