Pastor Michael Okonkwo rises from his gold-coated throne before 4,000 onlookers in Lagos, Nigeria. "Hallelujah!" bellows the self-proclaimed "father of fathers, pastor of pastors," wearing a glittery green gown. The crowd stands and roars.
A 62-year-old former banker and graduate of the Morris Cerullo School of Ministry in San Diego, California, Okonkwo touts a seminar called "Financial Intelligence"; if you've missed it, he encourages you to buy the tapes. Okonkwo describes the "intelligence" he preaches in his book Controlling Wealth God's Way: "[M]any are ignorant of the fact that God has already made provision for his children to be wealthy here on earth. When I say wealthy, I mean very, very rich. Break loose! It is not a sin to desire to be wealthy."
Bishop of the Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM) since 1988, Okonkwo presides over the annual Kingdom Life World Conference of 150 prosperity-oriented churches. But tonight he yields the podium to the Rev. Felix Omobude, who urges the crowd to dream big. "There are so many dream killers around," he says. "Don't let them kill your dream."
Omobude prophesies: "Your tomorrow will be better than today. In 2007 you will take your place."
The crowd is thrilled. Omobude promises that women will find husbands, audience members will buy new cars, and the barren will birth twins.
To open themselves to this blessing, Omobude encourages the crowd to give N25,000 (about $200). Local schoolteachers earn only $150 per month, so the amount is significant. Yet more than 300 people swarm Omobude, who rubs oil from a bowl on their palms. Within minutes, the church nets a tax-free $60,000.
Similar scenes unfold every day in countless venues throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where prosperity-tinged ...