American Prosperity Gospel and Athletic Narratives of Success
Lipinski: Well, when you go out there, there’s good thoughts and bad thoughts, and the bad thoughts try to creep in and are saying, oh, what happens if this happens, don’t pop, don’t fall, don’t do this. And then you have to just push it away. Um, I think the biggest thing for me was I thought of Saint Teresa. She’s one of the most important people in my life. And I think she helped me through the whole thing.
Winfrey: Saint Teresa? Why Saint Teresa?
Lipinski: Well, I’ve been praying to her for a really long time and in the past four years, she’s helped me through everything… I think she helps me through everything because she wants me to do well and be happy.
Word-of-faith preachers argue that once believers strengthen their faith by memorizing and confessing scriptures, they are able to live in total victory and control their physical and financial fate. The prosperity gospel is a central part of word-of-faith teachings and suggests God wants all believers to prosper financially and will bless them according to their faith.
2. Prosperity Gospel in the U.S.
2.1. The Roots of Prosperity Gospel
2.2. Prosperity Gospel Today
America—the land of so-called opportunity—is closing the doors to educational access, blaming and condemning poor people, considering all forms of social welfare ridiculous while expanding opportunities for corporate greed, expanding free market racism to new global markets, and denying that race is yet a factor in American society.
3. Prosperity Gospel Rhetoric in Athletes’ Narratives of Success
First and foremost, I have to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ for blessing me with the talents to play this game, with a family to support me day in and day out. I’m his humble servant right now and I can’t say enough how important my faith is to how I play the game and who I am. I’m just blessed and I’m thankful for where I am.(NBA 2015)
3.1. Sports Ministry
The idea for the project came to Hannah one day as he watched a Campus Crusade music group share an evangelistic message through its performance. Hannah thought out loud, “Why couldn’t an athletic team be used in the same way? … Athletes are used to sell everything from candy bars to cars. Why not have them tell about something far greater—the message of Jesus Christ?”
3.2. Implied Prosperity Gospel Rhetoric
I was really calm and really confident and I knew that this was my time, what I had been waiting for. And I was in this really great state of mind that I don’t think I’d ever been in before in my career… It was definitely a very risky and gutsy run that I did. When I was in it, I didn’t feel like it was anything extraordinary. It was just what I had to do. That was me just fighting. I was fighting the whole way, from start to finish, and I knew the pressure, but it didn’t really affect me anymore. I just had accepted it… I had a really determined and aggressive feeling in my heart—it was a gutsy run, I was very much on the limit, but that was me pouring my heart out.
4. The Problem with Prosperity Gospel Rhetoric
I would say, it doesn’t matter what your dream is. If your dream is not to be a professional soccer player, that’s okay. But as long as you have a passion for something, you have a dream for something, you can achieve it if you put in the hard work, if you take on the responsibility head on, if you believe in yourself and stand up for yourself, and realize that you do have a lot of support—more than you think… [I would] have young girls realize that they should be confident in their own skin and they should feel like they can do anything, because the sky is the limit and, honestly, I had one dream when I was eight years old, and I was able to accomplish that dream. And even further than I’d even imagined. And that’s possible with believing in yourself.
For Bryant and other critics of systemic racism, sports success narratives can overshadow and obscure economic realities that stand in the way of the vast majority of NBA hopefuls who see players like Garnett’s success as a roadmap to their own victories.It was easy to use sports as proof that it was permissible, even in a new millennium, to still continue to value the black body over the black mind—because Kevin Garnett, who came from one of the roughest Chicago neighborhoods in the country, earned $200 million in salary thanks to growing to be nearly seven feet tall and being really, really good at basketball. It was a delusion that allowed institutions public and private to point to Garnett’s success while continuously failing its citizens.
I set out a goal, two years [ago] when I came back, to bring a championship to this city. I gave everything that I had. I poured my heart, my blood, my sweat, my tears into this game and against all odds, against all odds—I don’t know why we want to take the hardest road, I don’t know why the man above gave me the hardest road—the man above don’t put you in situations you can’t handle. And I just kept that same positive attitude, like instead of saying, “Why me?,” saying this is what he wants me to do. And, uh, CLEVELAND, this is for you!
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Many thanks to my student researcher, Abby Comey, for her assistance researching sources for this article.
Acts 2:4 (NIV) reads, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.
In the 1980s and 1990s, some prosperity preachers offered healing from HIV/AIDS. For example, Pastor John Walton of the Victorious Faith Center in Durham, North Carolina recounted to Kate Bowler that he was able to facilitate the healing of a man in the final stages of AIDS. In Walton’s telling, it was one of the most meaningful miracles of his life; God restored the man by delivering him from homosexuality. Bowler emphasizes that within this worldview, illness is a spiritual problem that requires a spiritual solution (Bowler 2013, p. 143). In a similar vein, sociologist Sandra Barnes has argued that black congregations that embrace prosperity theology are less likely to provide programs and outreach to those struggling with HIV/AIDS (Barnes 2013). For the black megachurches that Barnes studied, those that espoused prosperity theology tended to treat all forms of illness the same: as a lack of spiritual confidence. Even though HIV/AIDS disproportionately impacted blacks and Latinos in the 1990s, prosperity churches for these populations taught that spiritual healing was not only possible, but God’s desire for believers.
During March of 2020, when many states issued stay-at-home orders and encouraged or required religious institutions to suspend worship gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19, sociologists Paul Djupe and Ryan Burge found that prosperity gospel churches were less likely to suspend services. They theorize that this is because prosperity gospel adherents see worship participation and the act of financial giving to their church as central to their possibility of receiving God’s blessings of health and wealth. Djupe and Burge note that this population saw the novel corona virus as a threat but perceived the solution to be faithful church attendance and continuing religious worship (Djupe and Burge 2021).
Mark 10:49–10:52 (NIV) reads: “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road”.
Jeremy Sabella notes that reactions to Kaepernick differed substantially from reactions to a previous sideline kneeler, Tim Tebow. Sabella point out that while Tebow conformed to fans’ expectations, Kaepernick’s performance of the same gesture in the same location at a different time of the event registered as protest and triggered immediate backlash (Sabella 2019).
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Blazer, A. American Prosperity Gospel and Athletic Narratives of Success. Religions 2022, 13, 211. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030211
Blazer A. American Prosperity Gospel and Athletic Narratives of Success. Religions. 2022; 13(3):211. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030211Chicago/Turabian Style
Blazer, Annie. 2022. "American Prosperity Gospel and Athletic Narratives of Success" Religions 13, no. 3: 211. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030211