COLUMN: How rich pastors justify their wealth for God

Does the Christian community believe that divine blessings are monetary, or is it a “religious wallpaper” to hide the greed of church leaders? This is just one of five questions that author Benjamin Kirby asks readers in his latest books about prosperity gospel and rich pastors.

On April 27, Kirby published “PreachersNSneakers: Authenticity in an Age of For-Profit Faith and (Wannabe) Celebrities” as a commentary on “how faith, capitalism, consumerism and (wannabe) celebrity have collided” with the church. The title – albeit comedically long – derived from Kirby’s Instagram account, @preachersnsnreakers, where he posted pictures of pastors’ attires adjacent to the price tag with a snarky caption.

Some of these posts include Mike Todd, a pastor from Oklahoma, wearing $1,090 Balenciaga Triple S shoes while standing in water; John Gray, a pastor from South Carolina, wearing blood-red Air Yeezy 2s worth $5,600, in collaboration with Kanye West; and Troy Grambling, a pastor from Florida, shown in a Gioelleria print Versace shirt worth $775 and Louis Vuitton ankle boots priced at $2,020.

What started out as a satirical page in March 2019 has amassed into a movement of over 260,000 followers to help “thousands of Jesus followers [to] wrestle with the inevitable dilemmas created by a culture obsessed with image and entertainment.”

The price tags attached to a pastor’s attire is not the only topic the Church has to suffer through when discussing the presentation of church leaders. Prosperity gospel, also know as the “health and wealth gospel” or the “Word of Faith” movement, is defined as “a perversion of the gospel of Jesus that claims that God rewards increases in faith with increases in health and/or wealth,” according to Joe Carter, writer for The Gospel Coalition.

David W. Jones outlined the five statements practitioners use to justify these teachings:

  1. The Abrahamic covenant is a means to material entitlement.
  2. Jesus’ atonement extends to the “sin” of material poverty.
  3. Christians give to gain material compensation from God.
  4. Faith is a self-generated spiritual force that leads to prosperity.
  5. Prayer is a tool to force God to grant prosperity.

Church leaders who indulge in this practice include Oral Roberts, Kenneth Copeland, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Jim and Timmy Faye Baker, Robert Tilton and Joel Osteen. Most of these pastors occupied cable networks as televangelist from the charismatic movement and reside within megachurches across the United States.

The fundamentals behind prosperity preaching is simply flawed due to the quid pro quo impression it offers Christians’ relationship with God.

In his 1990 Christianity Today, writer James Goff stated this perception reduces God to “a kind of ‘cosmic bellhop,’” which makes His will dependent on us. Moreover, he highlighted how these preachers distort and take Scripture out of context to justify their theology and – in more serious matters – reject medical science.

In instances where prosperity pastors are called out, they attempt to defend their lifestyles with the previously described deflection points or justify their acquisition of the products.

Copeland is an American author, televangelist, public speaker and musician who – according to Celebrity Net Worth – has a net worth of $300 million, but speculated to be $750 million to $1 billion. Kenneth Copeland Ministries is located on a 1,500-acre area near Fort Worth, Texas with the grounds including a private airstrip and hanger bay. The hanger contains a $17.5 million jet and other aircraft, like a $20 million Citation 10 and a Gulfstream V jet purchased from American director Tyler Perry. Cheat Sheet reported that Copeland lives in a $6.3 million lakefront mansion funded by his church.

In 2009, Copeland remarked he sought to avoid commercial airfare to avoid “this dope-filled world and get in a long tube with a bunch of demons.” When pressed by Lisa Guerrero, Inside Edition reporter, he justified it as a quicker transportation method to “touch the lives” of people around the world and used to travel to his vacation homes. During the interview, Copeland used the same prosperity outlines as verification for his actions with Galatians 3:29.

Although these actions are deplorable to Christian values of aiding the poor and giving up material possessions to follow Christ, this should not poorly reflect on the pastors themselves.

Pastor Gray told the New York Times, “I don’t think you can judge a man’s heart based on their attire.” “What a person wears doesn’t determine what their value system is.”

Understandably, it would be immoral to accuse or scorn these pastors for their lavish lifestyles within their churches but Scripture – and Christ Jesus – commands something different from Christians.

Just as Jesus stated in Matthew 19:24, “Again I tell you it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” (NIV).    

Photo courtesy of Paul Volkmer