Here’s the question: Is it ethical for a pastor to receive a salary that is over $500,000.00?
If this were a paper for a class, my thesis would say something along the lines of, “It’s unethical for a pastor to receive half a million dollar salary that is comprised of lower-income congregants tithes and not made readily available as public information.” – also this isn’t an academic paper so #grace.
But, as our nation is changing economically the evangelical’s salary has moved to the forefront of the news revealing that “bible based” pastors has spend 1.7 mill on a luxurious mansion, while single moms in their congregation struggle to feed their children. Alongside this news of Steven Furtick’s epic mansion, as if the guy had not taken enough of a beating, it recently came out that Mark Driscoll made about $650,000.00 dollars annually, not including the $200,000.00 of housing allowance and benefits. DAMN!
Before Driscoll’s salary was revealed blogger Rob Smith warmed us all up for this forthcoming news with the executive salaries from various evangelical organizations that included World Vision and Samaritans Purse. It turns out Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, makes $622,252.00 from Samaritan’s Purse while World Vision’s CEO Richard Stearns makes just under half a million.
Here’s the thing, I’m really not against a pastor, para-church, or evangelical leader of a nonprofit making 6-figures [100k]. Relative to others, I’m pretty lenient on this topic as I’m far from inciting any extremist or militant perspective which mandates the pastor to live a life of impoverishment.
Now on the opposite end of what would be an extremist perspective stand the guys listed above. Especially if you run an organization whose sole focus and very mission is to extinguish malnutrition, hunger, and the overall lack of basic needs because of rich greedy assholes hoarding all of the worlds goods.
I think Ron Sider is fair in saying that, “It is a sinful abomination for one part of the world’s Christians to grow richer year by year while our brothers and sisters ache and suffer for lack of minimal health care, minimal education, and even—in some cases—enough food to escape starvation.”
[Side note: if you haven’t read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity, by Ron Sider you should probably get it right now, it’ll change your life]
In an attempt to give these leaders the benefit of the doubt, for all I know Stearns or Graham could be taking 90% of their income and giving it away. The Seattle Pi in 2006 went on to praise Stearns, prior to signing with World vision, for taking a pay-cut moving from previously making “$1 million per year,” to giving him accolades for then “only” making 400k per year. I personally have a hard time praising the dude for moving from filthy rich to, well, a lesser version of filthy rich .
My personal hang up is not the money or salary itself, as I do not believe making lots of money is inherently unethical, but as Christians in an age of hunger spending all of that money on yourself is unethical. Seemingly, these men are using the gospel to increase their personal net worth. Even in instances in which pastor’s like Joel Osteen decline a salary from their congregation, and he does in fact decline his salary, it’s all wronged by their proclamation of a prosperity-driven version of the gospel that is manipulating [intentional or not] the vulnerabilities of others while leveraging them to gain profit (again, even if it is unintentional, it is still unacceptable).
How are they manipulating the vulnerabilities of others while leveraging them to gain profit? Read this… this is how.
From a purely sociological perspective those with a lower income are the primary demographic in which latches onto a prosperity centered gospel. Desperate for hope they spiritually, mentally, and of course financially buy into a promise that has no return. For the more concrete minds, ethically speaking, this is comparable to a used car salesman selling off a car that he knows won’t work very long after they drive it off the lot.
This is why the Church and these people confuse me so much, this is also why I left and probably won’t return anytime soon. I mean did not Jesus say to the Rich Young Ruler “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor…?” Did not Jesus say to his followers in Luke 14:33, “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples,” and what about the whole, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God…?” Is it not fair for one to read these verses step back and say to the super rich and supposedly “biblically-centered” Christian leader:
If you’re going to uphold the verses on homosexuality to such a high regard, then you should also consider upholding the verses Jesus spoke on riches to just as high of a regard. #justsayin’
These salaries of well-known Christian leaders, that the media uses as the “face” of US Christendom, are troubling, to say the least. Especially in our present time where there is such a drastic disparity between the rich and poor.
All of the above is a clear example of an exploited and under acknowledged shrinking middle and growing lower-class. It’s more than unethical, but quite abhorrent, to claim Christ – a man who was homeless – as your Lord and Savior while at the same time living in a $1.7 million dollar mansion, making 500k/year, unbeknownst to your congregants who you expect to give up 10% of their low-income salaries… [I would say I’m left with no words, but I did just type a thousand of them on this topic, so that’d be a lie].
 I’m sure a quick google search of “Franklin Graham Estate” would answer the question as to whether or not he gives 90% of his income back.
ANDY GILL is currently studying theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. He has no clue what he wants to do after that, but for now he pretty much lives in the library & Starbucks. His goal is to challenge the status quo of Christianity, and to encourage the church towards living an authentic, biblical faith, loving our neighbors, acknowledging the poor, and going out and making disciples, all while considering that not all of Christianity is meant to be lived so safely, comfortably, and securely.