Elder Ballard and the Mormon “Prosperity Gospel”

In his Spring 2012 conference address, Elder M. Russell Ballard discussed the Mormon version of the “prosperity gospel” (aka righteousness brings material riches):

Apostle M. Russell Ballard

. . . Do some sectors of our society have stronger values and families because they are more educated and prosperous, or are they more educated and prosperous because they have values and a strong families?  In this worldwide Church we know that it is the latter.  When people make family and religious commitments to gospel principles, they begin to do better spiritually and often temporally as well.

The concept of the Lord materially rewarding the righteous has strong appeal to some Christian groups.  And, as Elder Ballard exemplifies, Mormons are no exception.  A Harper’s Magazine article even claimed that Mormon beliefs are like the prosperity gospel “on steroids.”

Mormons may not call it the “prosperity gospel,” explains BYU Professor Warner P. Woodworth, “but many definitely believe that the more righteous they are, the more money God will give them because he wants them to be successful.”

For me personally, the “prosperity gospel” (both Mormon and non-Mormon) is antithetical to Christ’s teachings.  I would much prefer that the LDS Church continue with its strong emphasis on education (including continuing), and leave “prosperity” out of the equation.  According Apostle John A. Widtsoe, “Among Latter-day Saints, education becomes a life-long process.”  Hip, hip, horray.

What is prosperity anyway?

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8 Responses to Elder Ballard and the Mormon “Prosperity Gospel”

  1. dor says:

    My step-dad, a very devout man, is skeptical of anyone who has achieved large sums of wealth. In our culture success often comes at the cost of one’s personal integrity.
    Today the issue is not just theological determinism but also scientific determinism. Theological determinism would use personal success, or perhaps more accurately personal failure, as a sign that God plays favorites. Scientific determinism would suggest that we are not more than a sum of our parts, that we have no free will but rather are pre-destined to success or failure as a result of our genes and neuro-chemistry. In Jesus’ day, the Roman authority raised itself up to the status of Gods as a way of justifying the bitter inequities of the social system. Today, both theological and scientific determinism come dangerously close to the same conclusion: those who have achieved great success have done so because they have been blessed, a convenient alternative to the possibility that corporate wealth may have been garnered through usurpation of natural resources and exploitation of labor.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Hi Dor,

      After reading your first sentence, I couldn’t help but think of Mitt Romney. His wealth may be his undoing as a presidential candidate. Ironically, since this is his second run, he has had 4 years to improve his image in regard to his wealth, but he chose not to do it. He still has his 3 homes, his wife still has two Escalades, etc. His charitable donations seem meager (and they are subsidized by the Federal government) and he pays a lower percentage income tax than many Americans. I don’t mean to pick on Mitt, but he hardly comes across as a caring individual (in either his communications or in his financial dealings). He seems more an example of the “prosperity gospel.”

      As a high-profile exemplar of Mormonism, I had hoped for more from Mitt.


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  3. phanty says:

    I like Ballard’s use of the word “often” near the end there.

    He’s saying that if you’re a devout Mormon and you get rich, it’s because God is rewarding your piety…but if you don’t get rich, it’s not because the church isn’t true, it’s simply because it doesn’t always work that way.

    Covering your bases much, Russell?

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Hi phanty, I also noted the inclusion of the word “often” in Ballard’s talk. I guess that’s to cover the times when “bad things happen to good people.” Roger

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