Creflo Dollar's defenders, pounding on the radio show host for his criticism of the fundraiser, were largely winging it; spouting off their opinion and bragging about things they owned. I found little evidence to support the claim that any of the callers to that show were actually Christians. Their doctrinal conclusions mainly involved—one after the other—repeating Psalm 13:22 over and over. Jesus would never, under any imaginable circumstances, pay $65 million for a plane. Jesus, as I understand Him, would ride coach. He’d prefer it.
Ever. This, beloved, is the plot to 1970’s Ossie Davis
adaptation of the Chester Himes novel
Cotton Comes To
Harlem, wherein Calvin Lockhart plays a smooth-talking
prosperity preacher with a back-to-Africa hustle who hides his
ill-gotten gains in a huge cotton bale which subsequently goes
missing. Anyone with even half a brain can see this is precisely what
The Reverend Dr. Creflo A. Dollar was up to. He was never going
to buy that
plane. He would have collected maybe a sixteenth of the $65 million he
asking for and then proclaim some divine revelation that would
him to change direction and spend whatever monies he’d raised on
himself. That so many of us Church Folk—and I do not exclude
myself from that criticism—are so incredibly, foolishly gullible
simply astounds me.
In defense of Dr. Dollar: he is a man with whose doctrine I disagree. That does not, by definition, make him a bad or evil person. There's a lot of pastors with whose doctrine I disagree and, indeed, many if not most black pastors will likely find fault with my own. As Christians, we must learn to rise above the petty and childish zero-sum politics so prevalent in today's society (i.e. Democrat vs. Republican: I'm right and you're evil). The bible says there is none righteous, no, not one [Romans 3:10], which means not me, not Dr. Dollar. The purpose of this essay is not to deconstruct Dollar's doctrine so much as examine the irrationality of those who go to extreme lengths in attacking God's people, if not The Gospel itself, in order to justify or defend them.
The Reverend Dr. Creflo A. Dollar, reportedly born Michael Smith (which Dollar has called an “urban legend”), has no formal education in theology or Christian ministry (neither does this writer). He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from West Georgia College in Carrollton, Georgia, and an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Oral Roberts University. Roberts, you may recall, was himself a materially-obsessed money-seeking fringe minister who once claimed to have had a vision of a 900-foot Jesus and, ten years after, suffered his own self-emolating fundraising event by announcing that, unless he raised $8 million by that March, God would “call him home.”
Roberts traveled globally in private jets, lavished himself in luxury and bling—Italian silk suits, diamond rings and gold bracelets—airbrushed out by his staff on publicity pictures, and, like Dollar, named virtually every ministerial entity after himself.
Dollar’s ministry broadly echoes that of Reverend Ike, whose campy minstrel show on radio, television and, briefly, the Internet, enriched Ike as he preyed upon the gullible and the elderly with his own transparently ridiculous form of prosperity doctrine, his “Blessing Plan” wherein the faithful sent him money and in return he blessed them. He said doing this would make those who did it more prosperous.
Now, you know, we’re under the Blood of Jesus, so we can’t shoot
and stone people like we used to. All we have to do is repent
and God will forgive us and take us where we need to be. But I
can tell you, man, if it wasn’t for the Blood, there’d be a
whole lot of us being stoned and being in Hell right now over
the tithe. But for [“if not for”?] the Blood of Jesus, we’d be
I mean, I thought about when we first built “The Dome,” I wanted to put some of those little moving bars and give everybody a little card. They’d stick it in a little computer slot. If they were tithing, beautiful music would go off and, you know, [Creflo sings] “Welcome, welcome, welcome to the World Dome.” [Congregation laughs.]
But…if they were non-tithers, the bar would lock up, the red and blue lights would start going, the siren would go off, and a voice would go out throughout the entire dome, “Crook, crook, crook, crook!” [Congregation laughs.] Security would go and apprehend them, and once we got them all together, we’d line them up in the front and pass out Uzis by the ushers and point our Uzis right at all those non-tithing members ’cause we want God to come to church, and at the count of three “Jesus”-es we’d shoot them all dead. And then we’d take them out the side door there, have a big hole, bury them, and then go ahead and have church and have the anointing. [Mostly silence in the congregation, but one or two still actually laugh.]
Aren’t you glad we’re under the Blood of Jesus? [“Yeah, yeah,” from the congregation.] Because if we were not under the Blood of Jesus, I would certainly try it.
Folks, this is a serious thing. --Creflo Dollar on Tithing
Having learned, apparently, nothing from the Reverend Ike
silliness, today tens of thousands follow Dollar, whose own
approach is much more earnest than that of the late Reverend. To
his credit, Dollar puts Christ out front (Ike’s hustle
barely mentioned personal salvation) while floating key iron
sights of heretical doctrine: that blessing the man of God
is a key factor in financial success, and that financial success
and accumulating material wealth and possessions are earmarks of
a thriving spiritual life.
I’ll not debate Dollar’s theology other than to say it is not the attaining of material wealth or possessions that I disagree with so much as making those things a focus or goal of our lives. Our lives ought to be about Jesus. Our lives should reflect Jesus. A base-model Rolls-Royce Phantom, for example, lists at $474,990. I’m not mad at you if you own one (or two, as does Dollar), but you could buy a pretty nice car for $74,990 and have nearly half a million dollars left over to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the poor. I, personally, would never spend $74,000 on a car. I think people who spend that kind of money on a car are idiots. Spending $474,000 on a car, to me, is the very definition of obscenity; I consider people who do that to be mentally ill.
Doctrinal differences notwithstanding, there is fairly little about Dollar that in any way reflects the personal example of Jesus Christ. Dollar’s doctrinal assertions that his materialistic lifestyle is evocative of Christ is ludicrous on its face. Yet, legions of Church Folk—many with advanced degrees—follow him and violently defend both Dollar and his prosperity doctrine. This both puzzles and frightens me that people, in this day and age, could actually be that gullible. But, as I said, Dollar and his ministry usually fly well beneath my radar (and, likely, yours). And Jesus said unto him, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” –Luke 9:50. Judging Dr. Dollar is not our place; our purpose is to be on-task for Christ. If you’re following this man, I’m not mad at you. Go on, get you some. I come neither to praise nor to bury him. So far as Dollar's doctrine goes, he could be 1000% right and I could be 1000% wrong.
This foolishness with Creflo Dollar and the plane amused me enough until I listened to this webcast the other night in which several thoughtful, articulate, presumably educated and spiritual people not only defended Dollar’s preposterous and transparently exploitative hustle, but actually pledged to support it. The Reverend Darryl Cherry, an ordained pastor who hosts DC RealTalk on BlogTalk Radio, took a 90-minute pasting from Dollar defenders after criticiszing the controversial private jet fundraiser.
A pastor on the call-in show began ranting against local pastors, what he called “Zip Code Pastors,” claiming we locals lack the mentality to appreciate things on Creflo Dollar’s scale, implying (my words) a slave mentality on our part.
Look, you want to give your hard-earned cash to a man with a net worth of $27 million, go right ahead. That, to me, is the slave mentality: people—whether or not they can afford it—sending three hundred dollars to a millionaire. That it never occurs to us to donate sacrificially to a single mom with a net worth of minus $25 thousand speaks volumes about our spiritual mindset.
But don’t insult the local pastors. These guys aren’t flashy. Aren’t particularly learned. Their churches are small and half-full sometimes. But leave these men alone. These are the men that do the work the Creflo Dollars scoff at. They visit the sick. They comfort the lowly. They stand by the widows and befriend the orphans. They come over my house and watch the game. They baptize people. They marry people, they bury people. And they don’t make a whole lot of money. They are available. We can seek their counsel and trust their discretion. They’re not perfect. They screw up. They get it wrong sometimes. Far too many are simply out of step with reality, facing backward to a bygone era. But these are the guys in the trenches. Defending Dr. Dollar should not mean casting aspersions upon God’s men.