17. May 2005 · Comments Off on Your Minister May Also Be An MBA · Categories: General

BusinessWeek reports on contemporary Evangelical churches employing practices straight from the American business community:

With such low barriers to entry, the number of evangelical megachurches — defined as those that attract at least 2,000 weekly worshippers — has shot up to 880 from 50 in 1980, figures John N. Vaughan, founder of research outfit Church Growth Today in Bolivar, Mo. He calculates that a new megachurch emerges in the U.S. an average of every two days. Overall, white evangelicals make up more than a quarter of Americans today, experts estimate. The figures are fuzzy because there’s no common definition of evangelical, which typically refers to Christians who believe the Bible is the literal work of God. They may include many Southern Baptists, nondenominational churches, and some Lutherans and Methodists. There are also nearly 25 million black Protestants who consider themselves evangelicals but largely don’t share the conservative politics of most white ones. Says pollster George Gallup, who has studied religious trends for decades: “The evangelicals are the most vibrant branch of Christianity.”

The triumph of evangelical Christianity is profoundly reshaping many aspects of American politics and society. Historically, much of the U.S. political and business elite has been mainline Protestant. Today, President George W. Bush and more than a dozen members of Congress, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, are evangelicals. More important, the Republican Right has been fueled by the swelling ranks of evangelicals, whose leaders tend to be conservative politically despite their progressive marketing methods. In the 1960s and ’70s, prominent evangelicals like Billy Graham kept a careful separation of pulpit and politics — even though he served as a spiritual adviser to President Richard M. Nixon. That began to change in the early 1980s, when Jerry Falwell formed the Moral Majority to express evangelicals’ political views. Many of today’s evangelicals hope to expand their clout even further. They’re also gaining by taking their views into Corporate America. Exhibit A: the recent clash at software giant Microsoft.

As they thrive, though, there are growing tensions, with some mainline Protestants offended by their conservative politics and brazen marketing. “Jesus was not a capitalist; check out what [He] says about how hard it is to get into heaven if you’re a rich man,” says the Reverend Robert W. Edgar, general secretary of the liberal National Council of Churches.

Especially controversial are leaders like Osteen and the flamboyant Creflo A. Dollar, pastor of World Changers Church International in College Park, Ga., who preach “the prosperity gospel.” They endorse material wealth and tell followers that God wants them to be prosperous. In his book, Osteen talks about how his wife, Victoria, a striking blonde who dresses fashionably, wanted to buy a fancy house some years ago, before the money rolled in. He thought it wasn’t possible. “But Victoria had more faith,” he wrote. “She convinced me we could live in an elegant home…and several years later, it did come to pass.” Dollar, too, defends materialistic success. Dubbed “Pass-the-Dollar” by critics, he owns two Rolls Royces (RYCEY ) and travels in a Gulfstream 3 jet. “I practice what I preach, and the Bible says…that God takes pleasure in the prosperity of his servants,” says Dollar, 43, nattily attired in French cuffs and a pinstriped suit.

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