Friday, January 18, 2008

Leading the Faithful to Sub-Prime Ruin?

Have you been following the sub-prime mortgage debacle? I have been puzzling over a couple of recent news items: In August it was reported that immigrants were fueling the housing market, perhaps propping it up, buying homes with sub-prime mortgages, the market even then showing serious signs of weakness. This week, on the 15th, the New York Times began a series on a Baltimore neighborhood where women home owners were trying to stave off default on their increasingly costly adjustable rate mortgages. According to the Times, 37% of U.S. women seeking mortgages were given sub-prime ones. While blacks and Latinos have been forced disproportionately to accept these loans to purchase their homes, women were 32% more likely to receive subprime loans, and this held true across all races and ethnicities.

I thought of those immigrant families and the Baltimore women as George W. Bush announced a plan to prevent the recession we are already in, the one with the mortgage meltdown as its flashpoint,  with tax rebates to fuel spending. And then I thought of Creflo Dollar.

Dr. Creflo Dollar (his real name) preaches, according to his website, the Prosperity Gospel. “Why God wants you rich” is the first lesson in his scripturally based School of Prosperity. While Creflo Dollar Ministries and its affiliated World Changers Church International may be one of  the most blatant of the get rich with God preachers (indeed they and five other churches are being investigated by the Senate Finance Committee for possible violations of their tax-exempt status because of the conspicuous and profligate spending of their pastors) this ”theology” has infiltrated much of African-American Megachurch Christianity. Has the need to show oneself prosperous in order to demonstrate one’s faithfulness encouraged women to pursue homeownership and speculative borrowing?

The message is everywhere in the megachristian world–from the increasingly simplistic lyrics of Gospel music to the endless tele-preaching of Christian broadcasting—that the Holy Ghost is deeply concerned about the security of your business ventures. Part of Dr. Dollar’s message this week is about debt freedom. He differentiates debt bondage from debt leverage. Owning a home is debt leverage, renting is debt bondage. Debt bondage is a sin and offensive to God. Renting is therefore offensive to God, “ Renters can never have authority," he preaches,  "renters can never have power, renters can never have the success that I am preaching about. You have to first of all stop renting and own yourself a piece of this earth that you can call your own in order to have true power and ability.”

Creflo Dollar Ministries is based in Atlanta, GA, a state that had the nation’s fourth worst mortgage default rate in the third quarter of 2007.

So I ask again, has this The Holy Ghost will make you rich message so prevalent among megachurch consumers, this new notion of faithfulness to the gospel (not, according to Peter Gomes, the one Jesus preached) helped bring a whole generation of female, working class first time homeowners to financial ruin? And if so, will they be declared irresponsible and profligate by the very messengers that posited salvation on owning “yourself a piece of this earth”?


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