The music that’s being piped into the church sanctuary seems oddly out of place:
“Money makes the world go ‘round, the world go ‘round, the world go ‘round….”
After the visitors take their seats, a woman welcomes them and announces the offertory: “Will the ushers please come forward.”
The ushers walk to the front holding baskets. But the twist is that they’re already full of money. The people are asked to take rather than give.
Nervous laughter fills the sanctuary as, one by one, men and women pluck crisp dollar bills from the baskets.
Obviously, this gathering at the Pike’s Peak Church of Religious Science is not your traditional church service. It’s a seminar called “Dare To Prosper,” presented by Billi and Marty Lee of Colorado Springs.
The Lees regularly travel to churches throughout the country with this program. Their message: People can use spiritual principles to make money.
Those principles include:
The more you give, the more you will receive.
The more you learn to accept, the more you will receive.
The more fully you recognize God as the source of your financial prosperity, the more you will receive.
It’s a message that proves to be popular with those who attend the Lees’ seminars.
At Pike’s Peak Church, more than 100 churchgoers file into the seminar, about the same number that attended one of the Lees’ seminars a week earlier. Several participants say they feel overwhelmed by their financial troubles, and they see this seminar as a ray of hope.
At the registration desk, participants are asked if they’d like to give or receive. If they choose to receive, they get the seminar free. If they choose to give, they pay $20.
The Lees are at the forefront of a recent movement to link theology and economics. The movement is multidenominational, with several gurus who work independently from one another but preach the same message: God wants us to be rich.
Few have articulated this movement as provocatively as New York University professor Paul Zane Pilzer, an economic adviser to former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
Pilzer, whose new book is titled “God Wants You To Be Rich,” argues that the “new” movement is really a return to the old pre-Roman Catholic Church view that theology and economics are intimately tied. But through the years, he says, the Bible has been widely misinterpreted in its references to wealth, particularly the passages that say, “The love of money is the root of all evil” and “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Those statements refer to greed, money obsession and the obligations of charity that come with wealth.
“If you look back through history, you’ll see that God, in any form - Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed - has always wanted prosperity for everyone,” Pilzer said by phone during a book-tour stop in Park City, Utah.
“There was a recognition of the need to integrate our material and spiritual lives. But that message was distorted by various leaders with their own agendas.”
He argues that if God didn’t want everyone to be rich, the world wouldn’t be so abundant. To illustrate his point, he examines one of the most valuable commodities in the world today - the microchip, made of one of the most abundant minerals on Earth, silicon.
“If you believe in scarcity, then the only way to be rich is by taking from your neighbor,” he says. “But that’s not the way the world works.”
This marriage of religious and economic theory disturbs some ministers and rabbis who don’t believe God wants everyone to be rich. Some don’t believe God cares about financial status.
“The Bible suggests God wants us to be holy, God wants us to be industrious. But rich?” asks Bernhard Kuiper, pastor of Village Seven Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs. “Being rich does not prove the blessings of God, and being poor does not mean God has rejected you.”
He points out that, in the Old Testament, King Solomon was rich, and he had God’s blessing. But Jesus Christ couldn’t afford a pillow under his head.
Still, this link of theology and economics, particularly the idea of using spiritual principles to create wealth, intrigues some unlikely people in the religious community, including Sister Judith Anne Schaeffer. Despite her vows of poverty, she says she would like to read “God Wants You To Be Rich.”
“I’d love to have tons of money because I see such an unjust distribution of wealth,” says Schaeffer, director of the Sisters of St. Francis family wellness program.
“If I had money, by gosh, I’d be in a negotiation position with those who think the world is theirs.”
Making money to fund God’s work was the focus of a recent seminar, “Wes Curran’s Formula: A Training in Wealth,” in Colorado Springs.
“The knowledge to make money is God’s gift to me, and I want to share that gift,” Curran, director of the Christian-based Harvest Institute in Hollywood, Calif., tells a standing-room-only crowd.
Curran’s gift comes in the form of real estate advice and advice about sharing those profits with churches and charities.
That emphasis on ethical moneymaking attracted Christa Green, 24, a saleswoman at Stewart Title Co.
“Most of my clients are among the wealthiest in Colorado Springs,” she says. “I’d like to be on their side. …
“I believe God wants us to be prosperous so we can provide for his children. It’s not an independent goal.”
Billi and Marty Lee’s “Dare To Prosper” seminar shares those goals. But it takes a different path to achieve them.
There are no real estate charts and amortization schedules in their presentation. Instead, they talk about more psychological or spiritual concepts, such as “letting go of unhealthy beliefs about money.”
It’s those attitudes about money that determine whether we’re rich or poor, says Billi Lee, who wears a tuxedo as a symbol of her own prosperity.