Paula White

February 25, 2020

Paula White’s Controversies

As I’m a traditional Mainline Protestant, evangelist Paula White seems to me kind of crazy and probably semi-heretical. She gets lots of attention because she’s a prominent Trump supporter. But her flamboyant charismatic form of big dollar Christianity, with claims of direct interaction with God, is not particularly unusual in American religious life.

Most recently White’s critics are circulating a preaching video in which she claims she was, in a vision, taken to the “throne room of heaven,” where she saw God’s face, though it was apparently cloudy and obscured. There she received a new “mantle” of authority or divine blessing.

“I literally went to the Throne Room of God,” she said. “There was a mist that was coming off the water, and I went to the throne of God, and I didn’t see God’s face clearly, but I saw the face of God … I knew it was the face of God.”

Her last major controversy was only last month, with a video in which she prays for “miscarriages” of “satanic pregnancies.” A gazillion people on social media, who seem to think White is a monster, angrily denounced her, apparently assuming she was urging literal miscarriages of literal pregnancies. As White later explained, she was deploying charismatic language of spiritual warfare to describe opposition to wickedness in its early stages, not literal pregnancies.

Most Christians outside White’s particular brand of charismatic faith would not recognize the term “satanic pregnancy” or much of the other lingo from her preaching. With her high political profile as a member of Trump’s Faith Advisory Council and advisor to the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, there’s now a much larger audience for her esoteric pronouncements. In some ways she’s replaced the aging Pat Robertson, another charismatic Christian, as a favorite for oddball Religious Right quotes.

White is an American original, raised in poverty, mother to an illegitimate child, working her way up from church custodian to Florida megachurch pastor, bestselling author, television personality, and presidential advisor. She met Trump years ago as a Trump Tower neighbor. Not many preachers have Manhattan suites. Her prosperity Gospel validates the millions of dollars she earns through her evangelistic empire. Her followers presumably are inspired by her financial success as evidence of God’s blessing, which they understandably hope for themselves.

Most high profile preachers are men. White, as an attractive and stylish woman with flawless delivery, stands out among Religious Right figures. Her political prominence has won her alliances and endorsements from other conservative preachers who otherwise oppose female preachers and charismatic Christianity. Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity, with its strong focus on direct interaction with the Holy Spirit, has historically been more embracing of women preachers than much of the rest of evangelicalism.

It’s become popular and easy to mock White for her esoteric spiritual pronouncements, whose theology is not easily comprehensible to Christians outside her charismatic community, much less to secularists. Traditional Christians are certainly right to critique her when she strays from orthodoxy. And her health and wealth focus invites criticism from non-Christians anxious for evidence of religious hypocrisy.

But White should be seen as part of a long tradition of American self-help enthusiasts who find success by extolling happiness and material blessing. She’s not altogether different from Oprah Winfrey, who’s made many more hundreds of millions of dollars with her self-empowering therapeutic spirituality. And then there are successful New Age self-help gurus like Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williams, among countless others.

America’s penchant for sunny self-help gurus dates back at least to Ralph Waldo Emerson, the New England transcendentalist who was endlessly optimistic about each individual’s ability to seize happiness through individual self-realization and initiative. He preached morality and goodness without an orthodox version of God, but many religionists were unconsciously inspired by his promise of empowerment and success. Emerson himself was a post-Protestant who preached personal redemption through introspection and diligent worldly accomplishment.

Some of Emerson’s evangelistic heirs rechristianized his message. Although not charismatic, Norman Vincent Peale was firmly in this tradition, proclaiming the Power of Positive Thinking. The late Robert Schuller of the soaring Crystal Cathedral was also in this tradition. More charismatic versions include Pat Robertson, an enormously successful entrepreneur who stressed the material prosperity gained by unlocking the secret of God’s blessing. Skankier versions of charismatic Prosperity Gospel include Jim Bakker, who’s PTL empire collapsed in the 1980s amid epic financial and sexual scandal. He now unashamedly hawks survivalist tools on tv and even a purported remedy for coronavirus. Perhaps even more outlandish is Ernest Angley, now age 98, the white-suited, black wigged faith healer who knocked supplicants to the stage floor as he administered their healing before jetting off to his next rally on his private plane. He’s now charged with sexually abusing a young male pastor, which should surprise no one.

Multi-million dollar evangelistic empires built on a personality often degenerate into egotism, scandal and heresy. But they raise money from willing supporters who find hope and empowerment in the offered messages of deliverance and prosperity. Some of these empires are evangelical Christian. Some are New Age or simply popular self-help spirituality, but equally evangelistic in their fervor.

Paula White has not fallen into ruinous scandal. She is, I’m told by people who have met her, a nice person. Her style and theology don’t appeal to me nor I suspect to most traditional Christians outside her charismatic subculture. But she’s not an anomaly in American spiritually. She’s part of a long tradition of preachers of hope, Christian or not, who declare a path to individual enlightenment and blessing. They will always have a following.


29 Responses to Paula White’s Controversies

  1. Robert Hulse says:

    A perfect opportunity to draw a clear distinction between the false gospel of “prosperity” and the gospel of Jesus Christ – and you punted.

    Rather than drill down into the heresies and dangers of her preaching, teaching, and hallucinations, you chose to laud her looks and her place in a long line of gospel heretics and non-gospel “self-help” gurus. Rather than expose the evangelistic charlatan for what she is, you chose to excuse her antics as somehow having authenticity simply because she’s one of many.

    This, in a nutshell, is the hypocrisy of IRD – wanting to be “authentically” gospel oriented, but too aligned to political power to even acknowledge the most obvious of pretenders and corrupters.

    But I’m sure she’ll appreciate your support…

  2. David says:

    Well, we have had the golden tablets found by Joseph Smith that led to a major movement. A science fiction writer created Scientology as a joke according to some.

  3. Slalom5 says:

    As you stated – those mentioned are self help gurus who continually place the focus on oneself, oneself’s personal happiness, and attaining wealth (for oneself). Yet Jim Baker is the skanky one? The point of Christian belief is instead placing one’s trust in the risen one, the joy of serving and placing others first, and focusing on God’s will instead of “unlocking the power” (putting God in stranglehold until he gives me what I want). And I’m willing to bet Paula W. and company would (like Olsteen) lock the doors and make excuses when hurricane victims show up.

    • Ric Walters says:

      Not going to defend Joel Osteen’s preaching and teaching, but I’m tired of critics who weren’t on the ground in Houston lambasting him and Lakewood for not opening the doors during some of the worst flooding in Houston history.

      In addition to being a pastor, I’m an emergency management professional. I understand what it takes to open a shelter, and it’s not as simple as throwing the doors open.

      Lakewood Church was not a good choice for a shelter. Just a few reasons: it’s too large to manage the number of refugees it would attract, it was not set up or designated as a shelter, there was no possibility of training staff in shelter management in the time they would’ve had, and for a part of the time, the roads around Lakewood were flooded.

      The people of Lakewood pitched in across this metro area to assist flood victims, while having to deal with flooding in their own homes.

      Pick on Joel for his poor theology. He’s earned that.

      • binkyxz3 says:

        I remember that distinctly. Those were Katrina refugees sent to Houston. They did not all arrive at once and many of them went to the Astrodome which was made useable. People found it odd that Osteen’s white robe cheerleading stopped at the door of his newly renovated mega church.

        • As for the reply re: J.O.’s rejection of Katrina victims: there’s no defending him in any way as it related to the lack of his duty to answer the “knock” on the door from the Katrina victims. Nothing was said about his people not helping elsewhere so that deflection won’t fly. Trying to justify by saying the facility was too big, the training was absent, and there was flooding around the facility sounded like you were just grabbing for straws to defend your boy. Even a person of average intelligence knows what that was about so please don’t insult those with above average intelligence with such poorly constructed arguments.

          As for P.W., we judge the tree by its fruit all the time and in doing so, there’s no need to “get to know” the tree. Unless of course you’re delusional.

      • Cyndy T says:

        I suggest Joel contact the local Mosques and request lessons on how to prepare for emergencies. The local Muslims begin preparing for the storm days before it hit. And their doors were open as soon as the storm passed. They also had Muslims from across the US be there to go out into the hardest hit areas with food, water , medical care and strong arms if needed to help those whose lost everything.
        As a Christian I was ashamed of the self described ” christians” in that area. They may be great Capitalists, profit before people, but they stink as Christians.
        Considering you are defending Joel, maybe you too need lessons on preparing for emergencies . Without a doubt, the Muslim community were a better example of Christ’s love then any of the “Christian Churches” in Houston.

  4. Sam says:

    An impressively fair evaluation of White. I know little of her, but for the past six years I have had one foot in the charismatic/Pentecostal world and the other in the orthodox Baptist/Presbyterian world. Both of these worlds are filled with passionate believers committed to faithfully following Jesus and faithfully following the Word of God. But they are often at odds and highly critical of each other. The biggest points of contention appear to be the gifts of the Spirit (healing, deliverance, tongues) and female pastors. I do wish the battle between them would end. The gifts are clearly mentioned in the Bible. There is plenty of evidence for both healing and deliverance. I can happily give first-hand testimony of both, for others and myself. The Word also gives us instruction on the leadership of the church in Timothy and Titus that makes it plain that at the very least pastors are to be male. I understand that may be a position many Christians are embarrassed to defend in this day, but how can we not be faithful to the Word?

    • David says:

      One should never underestimate the role of paganism in early Christianity. In the Greek tradition, unlike that of Rome, women were treated in a manner not unlike that of present day orthodox Islamic societies. While men went about naked, women had to be covered from neck to ankle even from an early age. Greek women lived in the back of the house and never received male visitors. Those you see cavorting at parties on vases were “professional ladies” and not respectable women. Indeed, an expression of the time was that a virtuous woman was one whose very name was unknown outside the house.

      Jews did not have priestesses and I suspect fear of menstruation had much to do with this. However, when the king sent the high priest and scribe to “inquire of the Lord” (2 Kings 22:14–20 and 2 Chronicles 34:22–28), they went not to a man, but to Huldah, the prophetess. If a woman can convey literally the Word of the Lord, it becomes difficult to consign them to a lesser position.

    • JR says:

      “I understand that may be a position many Christians are embarrassed to defend in this day, but how can we not be faithful to the Word?”

      https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+25:43-45&version=NIV

      Buy any slaves recently?

      https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+21%3A15-17&version=NIV

      How about polygamy?

      https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+21:6-8&version=NIV

      https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+19:7-9&version=NIV

      Know any divorced or remarried pastors?

      I can do this all day…

      • Keith says:

        Do what JR? Demonstrate inability to differentiate between old covenant and new covenant? Assert that pastors, or any Christians for that matter are supposed to be sin free? If that were the case we would not need Jesus. We believe that all have sinned. So go ahead and mention eating lobster and wearing cotton poly-blend and congratulate yourself on how clever you are. Don’t worry in the slightest about eternity. And please don’t figure out that I’m trying to get through to you.

      • David Taylor says:

        Yes, you could do this all day, but your argument would be no less fallacious if you cited 100 verses. This is the kind of hermeneutic used by Rachel Held Evans, who rode to fame on her “year of biblical womanhood” book by criticizing a “literal” view of Scripture practiced by no one.

  5. Dan says:

    Reminds me of Aimee Semple McPherson.

  6. John Kenyon says:

    Meh. The Beav attacks Ralph to attack Paula. Rather watch Tyson Fury vs. Wilder 2.

  7. Jim says:

    It would be most beneficial if the pulpit pastors who teach and exposit the scriptures would preach on the subject of false prophets like Paula White; Benny Hinn; Creflo Dollar; Joel Osteen; Joyce Meyers, et. al. Too many Christians get caught up in their nonsense and hearsay. Come on pastors, teach it and name names.

  8. Eric Lytle says:

    It’s worth noting that there are no “stars” in the mainline and/or liberal churches – the stars are all either evangelical or Pentecostal/charismatic. When I hear people in the mainlines complain about a “cult” of personality in conservative churches, I always suspect that they’re speaking out of envy – what liberal pastor writes best-sellers or pastors a megachurch? What mainliner has written fiction best-sellers like the Left Behind series? When Obama was POTUS, old Jim Wallis got to hobnob at the White House, but most Americans, even Christians, have never heard of Wallis.

    One exception: Rachel Evans, a layperson with only a BA in English and not a day or grad school of seminary. It’s very telling that she had a much larger fan base than other religious left authors like Bart Ehrman and John Shelby Spong.

  9. Rich says:

    I haven’t read all the comments but it needs to be said that Dr. James Dobson – and I hope I’m mistaken – and therefore many others believe that Paula White led President Trump to salvation

    • Jennifer Grinberg says:

      Salvation? Trump? While he states he has no need to ask for repentance? What she led him to was the “appearance” of being one of them. One who is fulfilling Gods word. Fulfilling prophecy according not to the gospel of Christ but that of Paula White. Pray, pay & grow rich! What a mockery!

  10. I keep harking back to the Biblical phrase which is quite explicit: “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (I Cor. 14:40) That makes for adhering to worship which pleases our heavenly Father.

  11. Stan Jefferson says:

    Paula White et al sells well in a prosperous United States, now in the middle of a financial upturn, but I always wonder: What about believers in Haiti or Afghanistan? They are without God’s blessing? Or our brothers and sisters in China or North Korea? I think not. No, those strong followers of the risen Jesus have blessings we cannot comprehend. Wealth and success should never be used as a sole barometer of blessings. It is as much a responsibility as anything else.

  12. TW says:

    It’s interesting how many professing “Christians” comment about people they have never met judging them on hearsay from others who have never taken the time to fact check their gossip. They probably can even quote what James says about the tongue but ignore it.

  13. mike says:

    Interesting that throughout scripture humans, even the prophets and disciples, cannot behold the face of God (the burning bush, the transfiguration) but apparently Paula is holy enough she can. Paul is clear in several of his letters that while religious servants deserve compensation they are not to seek worldly wealth. The megachurch and prosperity preachers are the people Jesus drove from His temple with a whip.

  14. Rich Gathro says:

    Thanks, Mark. This is an articulate and fair analysis of not only Ms. White; but also the theological, historical context of her worldview. Sadly, there are always people who want to live vicariously through the life of a person such as you describe. We easily fall prey to Jesus PLUS something, instead of the centrality of Jesus Christ for our lives.

  15. there will be hundreds and thousands of false prophets. As for the face of God, just read poem High Flight and you will know where I and hundreds of other pilots have been….

  16. Philip Smith says:

    I look more at Paul when he was taken to the third heaven, I think, and had a very special vision, God gave him a very painful “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from being proud. I know God has not changed.

  17. Nick Stuart says:

    Carrying on in Aimee Semple McPherson’s footsteps.

  18. C Whitmore says:

    Paula White proclaims another gospel, another Jesus. Been married three times, the last to a rock star and says she is a pastor. Says she is holy and everywhere she walks and everything she touches is holy. Plus all the other antic, health, wealth, name it claim it Charismatic lies…I could go on and on…..What really bothers me is….THAT SHE CLAIMS TO BE THE PRESIDENT’S PERSONAL PASTOR! Yikes, that sounds like it came out of the Old Testament when each had his own prophet or priest. And this woman is whispering into our President’s ear! Sounds like sorcery and witchcraft to me… Remember the Bible is the foundation for all truth and it it doesn’t line up with the Word (the whole counsel of God) from Genesis to Revelation….RUN FROM IT!

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