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Matthew Bode Headshot

Of Rolexes and False Prophets

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On occasion, on a day of exceptional clarity and humility, it is possible to see one's own holy judgment. It happens when I catch myself in a lie and again when I refuse to forgive someone who betrays me. But most recently it happened when a very slight, but very real internal smile fell upon my heart at the robbery of one of Detroit's richest clergy members. With sincerity I tell you, the smile only came after I learned he was physically well, bruised but not broken. However, when the dust cleared and all that was left was a press conference, the smile was real. I lay before you my confession:

The Detroit Free Press reported that the Reverend Marvin Winans was robbed at a gas station in Detroit by a group of young men, all in the light of day. A clearly unashamed act of violence and perpetration of ugliness, the young men did what they could to destroy their victim's ability to hold on to his possessions, much less his dignity. At the loss of his 2012 Infinity, Rolex watch and a wad of cash, he was left as a Biblical traveler on the side of the road. Finally, a person who recognized his celebrity invited him into her car and carried him to his church home. Ironically, the new church home, a reflection of his lost Rolex, is not yet completed due to years of financial backs and forth. When the final bricks are laid, it will be an honor to the Winans name.

Perfecting Church and the Reverend Winans are part of a theological movement known disparagingly by its critics as prosperity ministry. An extra-biblical theology, prosperity roots itself in a particular kind of American capitalism, the kind that made slavery profitable and women's suffrage a threat. (Women tend to vote for policies that help the poor more often than men do.) This particular brand of capitalism, endorsed by slave owners and prosperity ministers alike, upholds a false theology that claims God blesses through wealth. In fact, it often, even usually does not matter how that wealth is obtained. As long as one has it, one is blessed by God. Rich people are blessed. Poor people have yet to receive their blessing. Your blessing is achieved while becoming a slave to the pursuit of more stuff.

Prosperity ministry relies on self-absorption and the orientation of life toward the acquisition of material goods, such as Rolex watches. When a person's core value is the acquisition of wealth, it makes sense that people who do not have wealth, will do whatever they need to get it. The Reverend Winans recently lived through the obvious result of his own preaching. While I certainly do not know the circumstances of the young men who perpetrated this crime against the reverend, it can safely be assumed that they wanted what he had. They wanted their blessing too.

The pastor showed his own self-absorption by hoping his robbery will be a sign for the city to turn around, and that even the governor is calling him to assure it. A glaringly noticeable absence in his public comments is recognition of the suffering of others, beyond his own person, of the hundreds who have been victims of crime in Detroit this year alone.

Prosperity ministry contrasts itself with a theology of the cross, which stands in the hope of the giving of oneself. Most importantly, the theology of the cross stands in the giving of God, that God gave up everything to save the people. Accordingly, Christians are called to give of themselves in their time, their possessions and their wealth in the pursuit of love and justice for the world, and value the same things as Jesus. Namely, we are called to value people over material goods.

Life in Detroit is hard, yet rich with the opportunity to touch lives with words and actions. Life in Detroit is the holiest ground for a true gospel of the cross. The only way to see the amazing life of the city is to give up oneself. Selfish living is the beginning of the emptying of hope.

When pastors, preachers and politicians speak about the downfalls of our city from the cowardly built walls of ex-urban security, they expose the idiocy and selfishness of their own selves. When the true prophets of large churches climb into the pulpits, they will encourage the members of their vast, upper middle class congregations to move their lives to Detroit. They will encourage their membership to pay Detroit taxes, to build and rebuild neighborhoods and become the holy population base necessary to have a thriving city that truly loves its own people. Unfortunately, so far we are only hearing the pompous and impotent cries of holy men (almost always men) rallying around the useless cries of lost moral values. The word justice, other than for the return of their Rolex watches, never crosses their lips. A true prophet however, would move his or her wealth blessing into the city, and leave its profit as a prophetic witness to the struggle of equity for the poor, and the young men who no longer see hope in wealth.