Pastor Michael Wilkerson of the New Millennium Life Restoration Fellowship in Spring City, Pennsylvania, preached the “prosperity gospel.” The basic idea is this: God wants his followers to be prosperous, and they can find the road to wealth in faith, positive thinking and contributions to the church.
This is what Wilkerson preached, and he followed up by inviting congregants to invest in his company, which was acquiring suburban mortgages. Last month, however, federal prosecutors accused Wilkerson and two others of conspiring in a $6.3 million mortgage fraud. The congregants have lost everything.
The whole story appeared in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. What I found really interesting about this article is that it put the pastor’s misdeeds in context—religion based affinity fraud is big business:
A 2006 study by the North American Securities Administrators Association estimated that losses from religion-based affinity fraud had reached $2 billion. Those rip-offs have only become more common since, said Ole Anthony, who helms the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, a watchdog group that investigates the financial misdeeds of religious figures.