Health and Wealth :



I now turn to one last but not least aspect of Dr. Lopez sermons, his teachings on spiritual health and wealth, which will confront us with a fundamental difference between Catholicism and Protestantism over the last centuries: the redemptive spirituality of abnegation and indifference towards wealth versus an incarnational spirituality of transformation of the world; the first promotes a conservative social integration from the top down, and the second a social transformation from the bottom up.

Because he is a good preacher, Dr. Lopez can sell his sermons on CDs according to subject matters. There are CDs on the Ten Commandments, The Family, The Church, Happiness, The Ten Most Popular Sermons of 2008, Biblical Formulas for Prosperity, and on top of the list, How to Exit the Financial Crisis. I will present briefly the later after reviewing what he says on this topic in the sermons under review.

Relationships and the education of children have little to do with prosperity, yet they contain occasional comments on spirituality and wealth. "My brothers, I am the product of the power of the Gospel... In his power and mercy God has made us men and women of good, men and women of prosperity." Dr. Lopez teaches from his own experience of moving out of poverty through thrift and self-discipline. "We are the architects not only of our own destiny but also of that of our children." According to Proverbs 22:6, "the debtors are the slaves of their creditors. If you teach your child from childhood never to become a debtor, he will never be a slave of anybody. Teach your children never to owe anything to anyone, to buy what they need not what they want, to buy by necessity not by vanity, to buy paying cash and not on credit, and not to have any debt. Then your child will be a person of good." Many evangelicals find that this biblical wisdom is corroborated by examples in the U.S. Jorge Lopez recalls that, on one of his recent trips, he read in USA Today the results a survey. "Do you know what the most general financial concept [of succes]t was? To live without debt. When one becomes free of debt, one achieves financial success... Let us not spend more than what we own." From the very beginning of his evangelical career, Pastor Lopez taught his congregation to be self-supportive and never go into debt, which is also what he practiced since childhood.

Freedom from debt requires self-disciple. "Not to correct your child is not to like him; not to discipline your child is not to love him" (Proverbs 13:24). Pastor Lopez favors traditional discipline, namely that of the whip; he is not shy of giving examples, of both the whippings he has received and the whippings he has given, all, of course, in an atmosphere of love and mutual respect. The emphasis on thrift and discipline may give the impression that his ethic is mainly secular. Not so. His sermon on the resurrection brings it all together. "There is a shadow greater that of the sickle [of death] and that is the one of the Almighty." The shadow of poverty, of suffering and death is not the ultimate shadow, because the resurrection of Christ is the shadow of the Almighty. "As the bible says, whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. They say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust" (Psalm 91).

The title of the CD on How to Exit from Financial Crisis is misleading, and so is its cover which depicts a graph of precipitous decline in front of a metropolis of sky-scrapers (or in the ad on the right, handing out an easy harvest) . The content is "based on the Word of God to reduce the economic powerlessness due to credit buying, laziness, superfluous buying, and the drive to own always more, which leads to financial chaos". The emphasis here is again on thrift and self-discipline within the biblical tradition. What he is offering is not an economic theory about financial mega-crisis management, but " a practical guidebook... for a life built on the firm basis of buying cash, and how to confront the worries and suffering of discouragement," namely through the power of hope and trust in the Almighty.

Dr. Lopez has rediscovered the basic thesis of John Wesley. "Religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches... We ought not to prevent people from being diligent and frugal; we must exhort all Christians to gain all they can and to save all they can; that is, in effect, to grow rich". The consequence of this ethic has been the rise of capitalism, and the upward mobility of Protestants. There is ample evidence that the economic and educational achievements Protestants in Latin America today are often superior to those of Catholics. Why is this so? Because evangelicals emphasize individual achievement from below, while the Catholic Church traditionally favored collective submission taught from above.

According to a French witness of pre-conciliar preaching of the 1940s and 1950s, the purpose of sermons then was mainly to "transmit the doctrine of the church," namely the content of dogmas and the teachings of Catholic morality. "The style of preaching was one of authoritative, if not authoritarian, discourse which left little opportunity for a responsible intellectual interpretation." As to its content, it was "a kind of catechism for adults" inspired by the council of Trent. Its major topics were, "The Apostles' Creed, the seven sacraments, the Ten Commandments and the precepts of the church, the Our Father, and the ‘great truths,' namely death, the last judgment, heaven, purgatory, and hell". It was a teaching from the top down, encouraging submission to both the Catholic truths about doctrine and morality and the secular world order.

It is likely that such was also the universal practice of the whole pre-Vatican II church which was even more centrally controlled than it is today. The point, however, is not the teaching of the past, but the homilies of today. The analysis of 100 priestly sermons has shown that both doctrine and morality are nearly absent: there is only four percent of theological teaching, and practically zero percent of moral preaching. In Dr. Lopez' sermons, on the other hand, 93 percent is dedicated to doctrine and morality, mainly to biblical doctrine and universal morality. If the above description of pre-Vatican II preaching is correct, Catholicism was then mainly a factor of moral and creedal integration, but this is not true anymore. The analysis of 100 homilies has revealed that there is little or no moral or creedal teaching to be found. Hence it would seems that Catholicism makes little or no contribution to the social order, and the world will go on without it.

This situation has proven catastrophic for Catholicism in Guatemala. For a long time, the hundred or so Protestant churches appeared fragmented and powerless in comparison to monolithic Catholicism until three internal changes produced rapid growth: the creation in the 1960s of national churches separated from their foreign mother churches, the boisterous publicity campaigns with door to door evangelization of an Protestant ecumenical organization, and the progressive postecostalization of the various churches. It is the 1976 earthquake and the concomitant civil war that tipped the balance. Some 23,000 people were killed and 77,000 wounded, and about 1.2 million people were homeless. The Catholic Church internally divided into traditionalists, reformists, rebels, and revolutionaries was decimated: many priests had been killed and churches were destroyed. Help poured in, mainly from American evangelicals. Between 1975 and 1985 civil war reached its most violent phase: about 40,000 to 50,000 people disappeared and approximately 200,000 were killed, including priests and catechists. Hundreds of Maya villages were leveled and their inhabitants transplanted. Human rights violations were endemic and violence the normal state of life – which continues to this day. In short, the social order of Guatemala seemed to be falling apart. Under such circumstances, evangelical individualism and Pentecostal emotionalism seemed the best option. After the earthquake, the growth rate of Protestantism jumped to 14% per year and reached 20% under the dictatorship of general Montt. Analyzing the transformation of Protestantism after the earthquake, Virginia Garrard-Burnett calls Guatemala the New Jerusalem (subtitle of her book). At that time, the growth rate of the evangelicals was such that they expected the majority of the Guatemalan to be Protestant by the year 2000, which did not happen as the growth rate dropped. Yet today it seems that the catolicos and the evangelicos are neck to neck.

Is Catholicism mainly otherworldly? What do the US bishops have to say about Health and Wealth? It has been a long time since the letter on Economic Justice for all in 1986. Since then, the U.S. bishops have been mainly concerned with sex issues ranging from birth control, abortion, gay marriages, to celibacy and clerical sex crises, not to mention the ten year gigantic work of the new translation. Is the next agenda limited to the "new evangelization?" And what is "new" about it? Where and when will parishioners hear from their bishops about health and wealth? And more specifically, about the ethic of family life, the education of children, conflict and divorce, money management, poverty in society and women in the church, leisure activities, professionnal vocations, pleasure in sex without guilt, dating according to contemporary standards, ministries that are more than co-working in the ecclesiastical vineyard, dedicating one's retirement to serve God and others, and preaching inside the church and outside?

DISCUSSION QUESTION: The above raises the following questions about The Prosperity Gospel:
Is Catholicism an other-worldly religion?
Protestants in Latin America are more successful economically than Catholics. Is this due to the Catholic ethic?
(Re: Max Weber's thesis about the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).