Will Prosperity Theology Bring Peace between Christianity and Islam?


The "Atlantic" magazine has a cover title of "Which Religion Will Win" with an artistic question mark designed out of a crescent moon intersecting with a crucifix atop a globe.

One of the issue's major articles examines the competition between Christianity and Islam for adherents in Nigeria, "God's Country," Africa's most populous country is 10th in the world in oil reserves and the fifth largest supplier of American oil. Yet chronic poverty harms half the population of 140 million people who live on less than $1 each day. The nation's outgoing president, Olusegun Obasanjo, is a Baptist.

The country's new president, Umaru Yar'Adua, is a Muslim. Religion, wealth, poverty and population are powerful forces in a place almost evenly divided between adherents of Islam and Christianity.

In the town of Kaduna, Muslim neighborhoods are named Afghanistan and Baghdad. Christian neighborhoods are called Haifa and Jerusalem.

The author, Eliza Griswold, daughter of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America from 1997 to 2006, recounts violent clashes between these two religions. She writes about edicts prohibiting Christian girls from dating Muslim boys, burned churches, destroyed Muslim neighborhoods, persecution and bloodshed all around.

Then, Griswold takes a sharp turn with the collapse of the oil boom and the growth of the "Pentecostal Gospel of Prosperity," which emphasizes health and wealth.

The African Initiated Church (AIC) "members account for one-quarter of Africa's 417 million Christians," she writes.

Nigeria's Canaanland is an example. Sitting on a 565-acre compound, the Living Faith Church has "300,000 people worshipping at a single service," three banks and Covenant University, which is connected to Oral Roberts University.

"God's isn't against wealth," the article quotes a Canaanland professor. "Revelations talks about streets paved with gold."

The professor claims that Jesus wore expensive clothing, and that explains why the Roman soldiers gambled over his garments at the crucifixion.

"If God is truly a father, there is no father that wants his children to be beggars. He wants them to prosper," said Bishop David Oyedepo, the church's founding pastor.

"I am not a preacher of prosperity, I am a prophet. God spoke specifically to me while I was away in America for a meeting. 'Get down home and make My people rich,'" he says on the back cover of his book Understanding Financial Prosperity.

The David Oyedepo Ministries archives video services with a series of messages about the gateway to financial fortune. With books, columns, special training events and a network of churches, Oyedepo offers an aggressive evangelical outreach.

His wife, Faith Abiola Oyedepo, has her own women's ministry for how to have a successful family. "The woman may be considered as the perfection of God's creation, the crown of His works. She was so special that God rested after He created her as a woman and handed her over to Adam; to be a help that is meant [sic] for him in the garden," reads her Web site.

Christian prosperity "has spawned a unique Nigerian phenomenon: an Islamic organization called Nasrul-Lahi-il-Fathi (NASFAT)," a spinoff of the prosperity gospel, writes Griswold.

NASFAT is about entrepreneurship, economic empowerment, matching making and competing with Christianity. It even meets on Sunday to give Muslims religious activities while Christians are at church.

"The space on Sunday is usually not dominated by Islam, but other faiths and other values. But when our people come here, they come and drink from the fountain of Islam," says Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, the organization's executive director.

Griswold notes that NASFAT has its critics within Islam, as Nigeria's prosperity gospel has its critics within Christianity.

What emerges from Griswold's article is a rich texture of the conflict between and within two faith traditions, a new way of thinking about the clash of cultures.

Griswold writes that neither Christianity nor Islam is monolithic. "Indeed the most overlooked aspect of this global religious encounter may be that the competition within the faiths--between Pentecostals and Orthodox Christians, or between Islamic groups that want to engage with or reject the modern world."

Given the poverty and economic oppression in Nigeria, and around the world, will prosperity theology bring peace between Christianity and Islam? Or will it bring more conflict as clerics dispute who God favors more based on evidence of material wealth and physical health?

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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Tags: Economy, Poverty, Robert Parham, Theology, World Religions


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