The accumulation of wealth seems an odd obsession for followers of a penniless carpenter executed by an empire 2 millennia ago. Yet, Christian churches that preach a gospel of prosperity continue to expand across the United States. 

The strands of this peculiarly American conflation of commerce and Christianity go back as far as the Puritans, up through the Gilded Age and Andrew Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth.”  More contemporary examples include Bishop T.D. Jakes, the talk show host, bestselling author, and entrepreneur. Jakes is the Senior Pastor of The Potter’s House, a supermega-church in Dallas, TX. Bishop Jakes and his phenomenally successful brand, “Woman, Thou Art Loosed!” provide the case study for Dr. McGee’s exploration of the impact of branding and marketing on Christian theology and Christian life—particularly the lives of African American churchwomen.

Like the traditional Black Church, the New Black Church includes gospel music, dynamic preaching, and a community of Black people assembled for a common purpose. However, the New Black Church has become a spiritual superstore, meeting the needs of religious consumers with well-packaged and marketed branded products. Following “Woman Thou Art Loosed!” from sermon to nine-picture deal with Sony Pictures, McGee argues that the liberation that Jakes offers is, at best, a“pseudo-liberation.” Women are empowered to stay loyal to his brand, more than growing in their faith.

McGee herself had a national ministry complete with events, t-shirts, bookmarks, and a website. Early in her travels, she saw no contradiction between the marketing and branding aspects of ministry. Eventually, she prophetically began to raise critical questions about the “Wal-martization” of churches, particularly Black churches. McGee writes, “Having occupied both the position of producer and consumer provides a unique lens through which to view the phenomenon of black super-megachurches, the preachers, the brands, and the subsequent power relationships.”

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Source: Religion News Service | Bernadette B. Price