Prosperity Gospel Prayers Aren’t Sufficient to Save Hurricane Victims

Nato Contreras boards the windows of a kindergarten during a mandatory evacuation for residents as Hurricane Dorian made it's way to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina on September 4, 2019. Image credit: JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AFP/Getty Images

In between advertising her own books and promoting her rock star husband’s albums, Trump’s Prosperity Gospel confidant, Paula White-Cain, took a moment to acknowledge those affected by Hurricane Dorian.

White-Cain tweeted a link to the evangelical pastor Greg Laurie’s Fox News article defending “prayer” as a legitimate response to mass shootings and hurricanes. White-Cain agreed with Laurie that “Prayer makes a powerful difference.” This is surprising because Laurie has criticized Prosperity Gospel preachers like White-Cain for glorifying the human will more than the divine will and prayer can often be a point of contention in these debates. Both evangelicals like Laurie and Prosperity Gospel adherents recognize synergism between free will and divine providence in determining human actions (they wouldn’t be able to chide the poor for being lazy if not!), but they differ in their emphases.

Whereas Laurie stresses “the power of the one we are praying to,” White-Cain stresses the power of the one who is praying. This is a subtle theological distinction that enables Prosperity Gospel preachers to insist that believers should bootstrap their way to physical and financial prosperity. Shortly after tweeting out Laurie’s article, White-Cain used a Prosperity Gospel keyword, “favor”: “I pray open doors that no man can shut, favor, promotion, divine opportunities and connections for you to fulfill the purpose of God in the name of Jesus!”


White explains in her book Birthing Your Dreams that “favor” is the feeling that God “is making a way for you.” But you need to act on this way.

Joel Osteen, the Prosperity Gospel televangelist who was reluctant to open his megachurch’s stadium doors to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, elaborates on this notion of favor in his book, It’s Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God’s Favor, by citing Jesus’s promise in the gospel of Luke “to declare the year of the Lord’s favor” (4:18). Osteen makes no reference, however, to the fact that Jesus is invoking Isaiah to describe his ministry as a jubilee that will be acceptable to God. As described in Leviticus 25, the jubilee was an institution of sweeping structural relief by which every fiftieth year fields are not sown, debts are forgiven, confiscated properties are returned, and slaves and prisoners are freed. Osteen’s interpretation turns Jesus’s vision of legal, structural relief for the marginalized into a call for human self-improvement.

Laurie and White-Cain present two prevalent views of free will that are often used to support Republican opposition to what they call “Big Government.” Whether believers are supposed to rely more on God or themselves as a hurricane destroys their homes, they are not supposed to rely on the government. Sure, Christian relief organizations like Samaritan’s Purse and Convoy of Hope might offer some aid, but their role in disbursing federal funds is also an indictment against government institutions of relief, as Inderpal Grewal observes in Saving the Security State, and they often come with strings attached.

When we hear conservatives using the language of “prayers” and “favor” as a disaster strikes, it’s important to recognize that this pious rhetoric conceals neoliberal politics that impede the work of government institutions of disaster management.