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Some of the high-flying icons of the prosperity gospel—the belief that God rewards signs of faith with wealth, health, and happiness—have run into financial turbulence.

Not all of their troubles can be blamed on the nation's economic crisis, say critics of the name-it-and-claim-it theology found in some charismatic churches.

"I believe the charismatic movement, of which I am a part, is in the midst of a dramatic overhaul," said J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine. "God is shaking us." Grady predicts the movement will look much different in a few years as it refocuses on evangelism and overcoming what he calls the distraction of "materialism, flashy self-promotion, and foolish carnality." But Scott Thumma, a Hartford Seminary sociologist who studies megachurches, is not so certain.

"Most clergy who preach a prosperity gospel would interpret for their congregation any conflict, scrutiny, or questioning as an attack of the Devil and proof that they are following God," he said.

Among recent developments:

• In Fort Worth, Texas, a review board ruled December 7 that Kenneth Copeland Ministries' $3.6 million jet did not have tax-exempt status. The ruling came after the ministry, whose 1,500-acre campus includes a $6 million church-owned lakefront mansion, refused to release the salaries of Copeland, his wife, and others.

• In suburban Atlanta, Georgia, a sheriff's deputy served an eviction notice November 14 at Bishop Thomas Weeks III's Global Destiny Church. Court documents indicate the bishop, the ex-husband of televangelist Juanita Bynum, owed half a million dollars in back rent. The church has lost roughly half of its 3,400 members since Weeks and Bynum's 2007 fight in a hotel parking lot, in which Weeks ...

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In the Magazine

February 2009

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