By Jeff Brumley
Many were angered by prosperity gospel guru Creflo Dollar’s recent online campaign to raise $65 million to buy himself a new private jet — in the name of spreading the gospel around the world.
Others considered the source and simply let it go.
“That’s ridiculous, but that’s Creflo,” said Trey Lyon, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in Atlanta. “I look at that and I sort of roll my eyes.”
That’s because Dollar, the multi-millionaire pastor of Atlanta’s World Changers Church International has a reputation for extravagance and flamboyance in both his ministry and personal life.
According to an Atlanta blog site, Dollar is worth $27 million — which is more than 200 times that of the community in which his World Changers Church International is located.
But while it may not have bothered Lyon, who works with impoverished communities in downtown Atlanta, it rubbed a lot of other people the wrong way.
Social media lit up with scathing criticisms of Dollar and his ministry when they took to the Internet asking 200,000 followers to donate $300 each toward the purchase of a Gulfstream G650. Dollar’s previous plane had been damaged in an accident.
‘Some sort of a sham’
His church in Atlanta did not disclose how much “Project G650” raised before it was taken offline.
But it may not have ended soon enough to stop collateral damage from occurring in a society increasingly skeptical of Christianity, said Eric Minton, minister of youth and young adults at Monte Vista Baptist Church in Maryville, Tenn.
Dollar is just one of many wealthy megapastors who have become easy targets in the press and social media, Minton said.
“It’s funny to make fun of that,” he said. “It’s ripe for commentary.”
But the implications can be more serious in a culture where respect for churches is waning.
“People … who are antagonistic toward the faith will discuss this along with a long litany” of church failures, including child sexual abuse, Minton said.
“This will be thrown out there as an example that what we believe is some sort of sham. It will be held up as the worst elements of what it is to be human and a person of faith.”
‘Antithetical to Lent’
Dollar’s brief fundraising campaign also contributes to a skewed image of Christ, Lyon said.
“I think it damages Christianity, or the Christian brand, because … it locates Christianity in a place of affluence. And that’s not the Jesus I see.”
That Jesus he sees has no home, no wealth and no power, Lyon said. Instead he hung out with the oppressed and marginalized of society.
“To me the most toxic thing is the idea that following Jesus is a path of prosperity,” Lyon said in reference to Dollar’s overall faith-generates-wealth message.
“That is a season antithetical to the season of Lent.”
Just as contrary to Lent, however, is piling onto Dollar for his latest gaffe.
Lyon said he was a panelist in a class from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology on Monday when the Dollar situation came up.
Another participant responded that the issue isn’t Dollar but the fact that there is $65 million that can be raised.
Churches and pastors offended by Dollar may also want to examine their own church budgets to determine the balance between staff and facilities and how much is being given to those on society’s margins.
“The church manages a tremendous amount of wealth, all churches,” Lyon said. “So the question is, what are we doing with it?”