Field Notes: Word of Life Christian Center
God wants you to be a millionaire.
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vibrant and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: Word of Life Christian Center and its gospel of prosperity.
Photo: Diane Lee
THE GIVE AND TAKE
“Prosperity gospel” preachers emphasize Bible passages that encourage giving, such as 2 Corinthians 9:6-8: “(H)e who sows sparingly and grudgingly will also reap sparingly and grudgingly, and he who sows generously ... will also reap generously and with blessings.”
WHAT IT IS
Word of Life Christian Center is Hawaii’s contribution to the “prosperity gospel” movement, a controversial interpretation of the Bible that associates material riches with religious faith. The services are part old-time, evangelical Christian revival meeting, part multimedia extravaganza, part hard-sell marketing campaign and part karaoke party. Field Notes attended a recent Wednesday night service to get a taste of what it’s all about.
A young pastor leads the invocation for a crowd of about 500, asks for a round of applause for God, asks for a round of applause for newcomers, then introduces a video.
A young woman appears on the jumbo-size TV above the stage, says, “We’re looking forward to a great service today,” plugs the church internship program, and does a promo for the evening’s guest speaker, a full-time evangelist from the Mainland who “lives to rescue orphans and widows, feed the poor, build the local church and win souls around the world.”
An energetic band warms up the crowd, which claps, dances and sings along. Lyrics are displayed on the jumbo screen so everyone can sing along.
The young pastor encourages the congregation to get excited about giving. “For we know God loves a cheerful what? A cheerful WHAT? A cheerful GIVER!” he says. Even when he was out of work and on unemployment, he recalls, he continued to give. “And in six months’ time,” he says, "God increased my finances by $10,000.” The crowd cheers.
The ushers begin passing out the collection envelopes for tithes and offerings. Church members are expected to tithe—that is, give at least 10 percent of their incomes to the church. Offerings are whatever they give in addition to their tithes. “And if you’re here from another church,” the pastor says, “please, your tithe belongs to your church. But we are more than welcome to accept an offering from you. And million is spelled M-I-L-L-I-O-N.” Everybody laughs.
The band plays another song.
The visiting evangelist and his wife take the stage. She talks about a Guatemelan orphan girl who had hip replacement surgery, thanks to the help of a generous giver from her home church. He asks everybody who had a heart attack in the past year to stand, and he prays they will no longer be afraid of dying in the night. Then he says, “Turn to two people and say, ‘I think you’re going to be a millionaire!’” This causes a happy commotion.
After some encouraging words about destiny and faith, the evangelist says, “Look at two people and say, ‘I’m going to be a millionaire!” Another happy commotion ensues. Then he says, “Look at the person behind you and say, ‘You’re going to make me one!’ Start with $5. Get the ball rolling!”
After talking more about destiny, faith, and how, with God, you will get out of debt, your bills will be paid, you’ll never get divorced and “your children will marry all the right people,” the evangelist says Word of Life is fortunate to have so many different visiting preachers. “They come from places like you came from,” he says, listing some of those places as ghettos, perversion, alcoholism and drug addiction. “But at some point in their lives they believed God could do one thing for them. Just one little thing.” Then he segues into a plea for church members to do one little thing for God: increase the percentage of their tithes.
The evangelist says that DNA changes around God, which explains how believers who were once cocaine addicts are able to kick the habit. Then he says, “Give someone a high five and say, ‘Just because of that, I’m giving you $100.” Everybody laughs. It’s not clear if anyone complies.
The evangelist explains that when he says “riches” and “wealth,” he’s not thinking about money. He’s thinking of love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, humility, understanding, patience, forgiveness and the fear of God. “That’s true riches,” he says.
The evangelist asks husbands to look at their wives, lean in closely, and sing, “You Are My Sunshine.”
The evangelist asks wives to sing to their husbands. Their song, set to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain,” goes like this: “Give me some money, honey, honey. Give me some dough!”
Several hundred people gather in front of the stage and prepare for a spiritual experience known as “speaking in tongues.” Once they begin, the evangelist hoots and urges them on. “Let it out!” he says. “Don’t look around. Keep going!”
Ushers begin passing out the collection envelopes again, this time for donations to support church missions. “Offerings are not money, they’re a piece of your heart,” says the evangelist. “So put in $2 if that’s all you can afford. Put in there $29 if that’s all you can afford. Or put in there $290. Whatever means something to you, that costs you something, put that in there," he says. "If you got nothing to give, cut your hair off and sell it. Glory to God!" Then he retires to the courtyard to sign and sell his book.