Paula White is the Florida preacher who has been called President-elect Donald Trump’s “God whisper” due to their longtime relationship and her puzzling insistence that he is a born-again Christian.
White has been tapped, along with Franklin Graham, Samuel Rodriguez, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Wayne T. Jackson (actor Brandon T. Jackson’s father) to offer prayers at Trump’s inauguration ceremony on Jan. 20.
Thanks to Trump’s historic win (he reportedly received hefty support from white evangelicals) White’s star has been on the rise.
CNN published an article Thursday, Jan. 5, teasing White’s appearance on “Erin Burnett OutFront” and highlighting some of the criticism White has faced due to her affinity for the prosperity gospel — a health-and-wealth, name-it-and-claim-it old movement in Christianity that, of course, links financial giving to spiritual and material well-being. The article allowed White to express her belief in historical Christian creeds, such as the Trinity and in the “exclusivity and divinity of Jesus Christ,” issues of paramount importance to evangelical Christians.
White pastors the New Destiny Christian Center (“inherited” from Zachery Tims, the founding pastor who died of a drug overdose in a NYC hotel room in 2011) in Apopka, Florida. I am sure White, her ministry and New Destiny Christian Center do good and much needed work in the local community and around the world.
But is the good that one accomplishes ever a problem?
No, it’s the harm we can cause when we willfully mislead people (Christians) and mishandle or abuse what many Christians view as an authoritative text (the Holy Bible) and an authoritative position (pastor).
So I was disappointed that the CNN article, titled “Trump’s spiritual adviser, Paula White, fires back at critics,” barely scratched the surface on the allegations involving money that White has faced. But, I remembered after sharing the link to the article on Twitter, I suppose it is not CNN’s job to call out a religious leader’s mishandling of the Holy Bible for financial gain.
So let me take a stab at it.
I’ve been getting regular emails from White’s ministry for two-three years now, and 99% of them involve an appeal for financial donations, sometimes in exchange for a book, DVD set or some other teaching product. This isn’t unusual — plenty of nonprofits, religious or otherwise, solicit donations in exchange for gifts. I know this partly because I have been reporting on Evangelicalism/Christianity for the past five years or so. I am also a Christian, who practices tithing and tries to make generosity a spiritual practice.
Paula White’s email appeals for financial donations are different. Here’s what I mean.
White uses Bible passages to suggest that certain blessings are tied to them and that donating an amount matching the numbers of those verses will lead to some kind of reward for the giver.
For example, I wrote in 2014 under the headline “Pastor Paula White Claims July Is ‘Prophetically Designated for Victory Over Enemies;’ Suggests $229 ‘Breakthrough Seed’ Donation”:
In a newsletter emailed to supporters this week, Florida pastor Paula White claims that God has shown her that “this is a season of victory for His people.” The Christian minister also reveals a strong feeling “that a seed of $229 in accordance with 1 Chronicles 22:9 is a breakthrough seed for the month of July,” and declares to recipients of her newsletter, “Do not hesitate to follow a prophetic instruction!
Another reporter wrote in 2016 under the headline “Televangelist Paula White Hawks ‘Resurrection Life’ for $1,144 ‘Seed’”:
Longtime televangelist and senior Pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, Paula White offered her followers an Easter Sunday deliverance from a spiritual death sentence for a $1,144 “resurrection seed” she says was set by God. Preaching the story of Lazarus who Jesus resurrected from the dead in John 11:38–44, White promised believers in a video appeal that if they would sow the seed and have faith, she believed deliverance would come.
Folks are, obviously, free to believe whatever they want about the Bible. But I can guarantee you, the holy word of God was never meant to be used to as a numbers game to fatten pockets. As a nonprofit, White’s ministry, which I’m sure does some good work, needs financial contributions. But this tactic — telling supporters her claims are God’s “prophetic instructions” and that “YOU CANNOT AFFORD TO IGNORE THIS EMAIL!” — is not the way to go about it.
According to everything written, the prosperity gospel does more harm than it does good — harm usually to the poor who are desperate for financial solutions and good to the ministers who pocket their faith “seed” money offerings.
As an example, I posted a link to this June 2015 op-ed written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after Christian pastor Creflo Dollar’s $65 million jet campaign went public. Abdul-Jabbar noted:
According to a survey for TIME magazine, those who embrace the prosperity gospel tend to be African Americans, evangelicals and those less educated.
It is also worth noting that White’s New Destiny Christian Center is a majority-black congregation.
I have nothing personal against Paula White. We’ve never met. I did hammer the heck out of the tragic Zachery Tims story from a few years back in which she was accused of manipulating the process to find a new pastor to lead his congregation.
I love her story of how God rescued, redeemed and restored her from all the harm done to her in her past life, including abuse as a child.
But how is White possibly harming the desperate Christians who align her position and words with the authority and word of God?
This prosperity gospel madness has to stop and concerned Christians need to do more about it, on a regular, consistent basis.
Perhaps, when Faithfully Magazine launches in print (I have a Kickstarter campaign for that), I will include a regular column highlighting the controversial and problematic teaching. I myself don’t know the full history of the prosperity gospel. I’ve only become acquainted with it over the years thanks to ministries like White’s, Benny Hinn’s, Rod Parsley’s, and quite a few others.
I’ll conclude with a Bible verse we Christians like to quote, often out of context, and here I do the same. In Hosea 4:6, God says,“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”
Something needs to be done.
Editor’s note: This essay was originally published Jan. 5, 2017, on Medium.