In a world weary of get-rich gospels, the motto of the Revelation Corporation of America still promises "the Spirit of Prosperity."

Since 1996, the for-profit, Delaware-based Revelation Corporation (CT, Feb. 3, 1997, p. 72) has been using the institution of the church to streamline portions of client revenue back to individual congregations and to finance home-ownership programs.

Revelation receives a commission every time a member of the organization buys a Revelation-endorsed product or service. Of that commission, 30 percent goes back to the church and 70 percent goes to help moderate-income families buy new homes.

Since its inception, Revelation has helped about 4,000 families secure long-term apartment leases and 1,000 families purchase homes.

Now Revelation is extending beyond its endorsements of insurance, clothing, and travel companies to entertainment services, including a TV network dedicated to gospel programming and an Internet monitoring service that blocks violent or explicit Web sites. It anticipates $100 million in revenues this year.

Five of the eight largest African-American denominations in the U.S. are majority shareholders in Revelation: the National Baptist Convention USA; the National Baptist Convention of America; the Progressive National Baptist Convention; the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University also has partnered with Revelation for the past three years.

Still, not everyone is convinced that mixing profits and pews is in the best interest of the church. C. Eric Lincoln, professor emeritus of religion and culture at Duke University, told Fortune magazine that the black church should not be devalued for a business proposition. "[The church] is the blackest institution we have," Lincoln says, "which means it has certain cultural investments that are important beyond the dollar."

Lincoln fears that as the amount of money flowing through the church increases, so does the possibility of fraud or misuse. "The black church has a long history of vulnerability to rapacious individuals," he says.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.