Attention Friends and Neighbors!
Making my merry way to breakfast past Fulton Street in Brooklyn this morning, the LORD raised up a mighty crowd in my path. They bore yellow balloons, wide smiles, and full-color fliers at the ready. The occasion? To announce the Grand Inauguration of the Cathedral of Faith tomorrow at 1091 Fulton.
On the flyer is a picture of the church (excuse me, “Church”) itself, including photographs on the back of how it looks when approached from both the east and west. The facade is elegantly faux-columned, with a three-story stained-glass window enshrining a cross.
The good stuff, though, is inside. Testimonials. “My life was one of misery, sickness and poverty,” says Uriel Davis, now pictured happy, wealthy, and wise with his wife and son. “You can learn how to use your faith to solve your problems,” it says. The testimonies speak of events with names like “Campaign of Israel,” “Chain of Prayer,” and “Night of Power” (a pattern?). Felicia Stiles has already had three pay increases. Juliet Okwuosa’s father had his cancer cured. And Mildred Mukamba’s kidneys were healed.
What we appear to be dealing with here is a new outpost of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a Brazil-based Pentacostal organization founded in 1977. It has been operating in New York since ’86. All the stuff you’d expect—tithing, faith healing, tax evasion schemes, evangelization. The works.
Over at Ship of Fools, the intrepid Mystery Worshipper went to a UCKG church in London and found a fantastic interior, well worth checking out. He reports:
I had expected a rip-roaring, Pentecostal, “whip it up”, extreme happy clappy type of worship – but in fact, it was quite the opposite. The service followed a pattern of the leader praying or speaking from the front in a fairly low key fashion, calling for the Holy Spirit to intervene in our lives, and occasionally ordering the congregation to pray, too. People then prayed out loud, some presumably in tongues, but drowned out by the mike. These times of open prayer were interspersed by sermonettes and singing, led from the front. Occasionally the leaders would come down from the stage and patrol the aisles alongside the stewards, presumably to pray with particular congregants.
And then the issue of tithing comes up; it seems to be a pervading concern of theirs:
The most disturbing part came after the sermon when next week’s theme was advertised: the consecration of tithers. UCKG is seriously into health and wealth. While I suppose not everyone would object to that, it left me feeling very disturbed. The congregation were told that if their wages were too low (and the assumption seemed to be that many were on low wages or none), and felt that this was unjust, they should appeal to God, not their unions. They then needed to “name” their preferred living wage and tithe accordingly in faith. If they did this, then God would reward them with their preferred wage.
Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.