The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23 NRSV

Saturday, November 17, 2007

How much is too much?

I am neither gloating about nor lamenting the investigation of 6 televangelists' ministries by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). While I frequently criticize the materialistic mentality that so many television ministers both preach and embody, I am in no way counting on a senate probe to unearth details about financial practices that will reform the behavior of clergy or their congregations. At the same time, I am not buying the "governmental persecution" and First Amendment protection line some have offered in defense of their extravagant lifestyles. What I am doing is using the media focus that has centered on these ministries to raise and discuss the question that is at the base of Grassley's queries and that all who minister need self-critically to consider: How much is too much?

This question goes deeper than the salaries and perks offered to the pastor(s) and their families. It is a theological question that speaks to the essence of what and who we believe God is, and what and who God calls us to be and represent. When they brandish their "bling" and flaunt the piece of God's creation they have requisitioned for their use, prosperity preachers demonstrate their allegiance to a God who is defined by what God owns and by the way that God makes them owners. What those of us who dispute this distorted vision of God need to represent is the God who is known by what God gives and by the way God makes givers of us. While I certainly appreciate the material comforts and consider them to be blessings, especially as I remember times of want and moments of concern about how and whether I would be able to make ends meet, I do not want to measure my life by what I have. I want to measure by what I give.

What feels most distorted about the lifestyle of the rich and famous televangelist is that nothing about that lifestyle is actually accessible for the bulk of their membership. What makes their houses, planes, cars, jewels, and $30K toilets most offensive and excessive is that the people whose tithes, offerings, and even purchases make those extravagances possible have not a hope of ever having anything remotely that "fine" for themselves. It's the exclusivity and the elitism that send the wrong theological and social message. No matter how many "kingdom principles" their hearers employ, they will always be separated materially from their pastor.

Some argue that church people want their pastors to represent something that is "above" them, that they delight in knowing that their pastor drives a Bentley and lives in a section of the city that they have never even visited. There is some truth to this perception. But the job of spiritual leaders is to be a part of the mental transformation the reminds people that Fortune 500 CEOs are not our model - Jesus is our model. In one of Paul's finer moments, he tells us what the Jesus model represents:
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." 2 Corinthians 8:9

The beauty of this model, that measures the grace of giving rather than the blessing of owning, is that it creates interdependence and balance in the body of Christ and in the human community.


Anonymous said...

i'm going to use my $0.99 Bic pen to write you a check, because that was on point!!!

but on a serious note, i have little to no confidence that this investigation will get to the root of the matter. i agree in that, i see very little change in the future for those being investigated (or anyone who has a "fear" of being investigated). call me a pessimist, but i honestly believe that they believe they are doing nothing wrong. i see them making this into their next big conference platform "The devil (in the form of the Gov't) is trying to stop me, but I'm going to make it to the next level and put the devil under my foot!"

can the real preachers please stand up? but wait, they are standing up...but you have these fluffer nutters blocking my view! how about those preachers and their shenanigans sit down :-/

Leslie D. Callahan said...

I think I'll use that last line for a post at some point. You're right that there is a type of preaching and preacher that blocks the view, not only of preachers who are speaking truth but also of the Christ who is the truth.