I finished my bachelor’s thesis Holy Spirit Development earlier this fall. Here’s an excerpt:
It is an interesting phenomenon that the Pentecostal and charismatic movement grows rapidly among the poor, something that has been explained with the charismatic promises of healing, prosperity and answered prayers (Togarasei 2011, Pfeiffer et al 2007). But how do charismatic churches in developing nations tackle the poverty of their members? In 2007, Donald Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori published a book called Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement. Originally the authors wanted to write about churches in general that work with social justice in developing nations, but when they, to their surprise, discovered that the vast majority of churches that did so were Pentecostal, they decided to study this movement further.
According to the authors, the stereotype of Pentecostals being so caught up in eschatological expectations and evangelistic focus that they are not “wasting time” on social and political change (Miller & Yamamori 2007, p. 21), is not very relevant for Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity in the global south. Instead, the authors come up with the term “Progressive Pentecostals” to describe what they believe is very common: Pentecostals seriously involved in social action. Throughout the book, they give examples of how Pentecostals and charismatics run charities as well as mobilize political campaigning for social justice as a result of their faith.
The authors contrast Progressive Pentecostalism with another stream of Pentecostalism: “prosperity or ‘health and wealth’ churches” (Miller & Yamamori 2007, p. 29). Originating in the mid-1900’s in the United States, it is a theology influenced by individualism and materialism that at least originally claimed that if you have strong faith you will be constantly healthy and rich. Modern forms of prosperity teaching are often more nuanced, but the basis is still that God always wants to heal and bring financial blessings to a believer’s life. This theology is very popular in Africa. Even though Miller and Yamamori note that some prosperity churches are involved in social action as well, they argue that many are too busy with revival meetings and that their theology defends inequality – there are examples of how prosperity pastors live in luxury while their church members are very poor.
However, Lovemore Togarasei (2011) defends the prosperity gospel and argues that even though there are examples of abuses, the gospel is generally positive for poverty reduction. This is because the message of the church suddenly is not only about how to get a good life after death, but also here and now. This will be a motivation to help oneself while trusting in the blessings of God as well, according to Togarasei.
Miller, Donald E. and Yamamori, Tetsunao, 2007: Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
Pfeiffer, James; Gunnel-Sherry, Kenneth & Augusto, Orvalho Joaquim, 2007: “The Holy Spirit in the Household: Pentecostalism, Gender, and Neoliberalism in Mozambique”, American Anthropologist, volume 109, issue 4, pp. 688–700.
Togarasei, Lovemore, 2011: The Pentecostal Gospel of Prosperity in African Contexts of Poverty: An Appraisal, Exchange, volume 40, issue 4, pp. 336–350.