Great column from a high school teacher in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Dana Goldman takes aim at the “prosperity church” movement — where preachers effectively tell their constituents that God wants them to be rich. Her column starts with a quote from The Rev. Creflo Dollar, the leader of Atlanta’s World Changers church: “Without a doubt, my life is not average. But I’d like to say, just because it is excessive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.”

Goldman points out:

Eating too much and having a nice car are neither secular sins nor spiritual crimes. But what if people around us have nothing to eat and no mobility beyond their two legs? A 2006 census of the homeless in Atlanta showed almost 5,400 people with no place to lay their heads (a situation the Gospel of Luke tells us Jesus struggled with) — and that’s just within the city limits.

Even if Jesus was speaking metaphorically about his own homelessness, as Dollar has said, we still look to his teachings — and those of Muhammad, Moses, Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama and countless other religious leaders — for a guide to a moral life. As we begin to learn before kindergarten, morality isn’t just about avoiding ‘wrongs’ like stealing or lying, but choosing what’s most right in complex situations. Do I help a friend in need even if she got herself into this mess? Do I speak out if my boss says something racist, thinking I won’t mind since I’m white? Do I choose self-proclaimed excess even when many around me have little or nothing at all?

Religion isn’t necessary for ethical behavior, but it sure does help. When we look to biblical and living elders for advice on how to fill our lives with meaning, community and joy, very rarely do their answers involve big houses or big bank accounts. And while Dollar suggests that his wealth shows good standing with God, that insults those who have intentionally chosen middle-income helping professions — like nurses, social workers and teachers — because of their relationships with God.

Well said.

I fear that many in our culture have supplanted traditional spiritual pursuits — helping others, practicing kindness, being selfless — with the pursuit of money and wealth. And now they have churches that reinforce this view. That’s too bad.