Money Driven Life

An Associated Press story this weekend fetes Saddleback Church’s Rick Warren’s ability to raise 2.4 million dollars at his megachurch in an economy where many are suffering because of our national plague of greed. I find the story distressing not because people are willing to put out money for what they believe in — that is human nature — but because what they believe in is so shallow. Oral Roberts is not yet a month in the ground, and megachurches are again begging for money. Worse, they are getting money.

The greatest stumbling block to the humble message of the teachings of Jesus has always been the greed and concupiscence of the church. Whether it be the Vatican or some evangelical Crystal Cathedral, churches that stockpile wealth, although they may indeed distribute some to worthy causes, ultimately become a major part of the problems that create an unjust society. The concentration of wealth into the hands of any religious body will corrupt it. I have known clergy to purchase vestments costing hundreds of dollars per piece while their children were fed with food stamps. I have seen televangelists wearing suits that cost more than a month’s salary for many of their parishioners. I have heard them giving God the praise for their personal glorification.

Glory to God at what cost?

Once the glitz is removed, whether it be priceless Renaissance art or the supreme comfort of a Rocky Mountain resort or southern California ranch, the real purpose behind such driven lives becomes clear. No amount of prevaricating will make the working-class founder of the religion touted by wealthy clergy a friend of the rich as long as the poor continue to suffer.

9 thoughts on “Money Driven Life

  1. MH

    I’m not criticizing your view in this article because I certainly agree with you. Religious institutions are not immune to financial gluttony and lofty spending.

    But I’d like to take this a step further. What would you say is an appropriate amount for a church to make? Believers aren’t always pressured to give generous donations. Usually they’re generous of their own free will and are not penalized should they decide to withhold a donation.

    If churches lowered their budgets and spent less do you think they would be able to still run all the ministries they do to help the communities in which they are located as effectively? Peace be with you.


    • Steve Wiggins

      Welcome to the discussion! As a perpetually financially-challenged individual, I am not the one to project how much a church needs to get along or to meet budgetary commitments. I am well aware that many churches provide valuable social services. Unfortunately, I have also personally examined the dark underbelly of hypocrisy. My real concern is with churches that maintain sumptuous settings while the real needs of society continue unheeded. The term “whitewashed tombs” comes to mind. What does a church need to be a place of spiritual enlightenment and growth? Does it require a large, expensive building, fashionably decorated with costly art? Or a flashy auditorium with large-screen projection and high-tech presentations? I think that the church long ago slipped its moorings and has been adrift, run by individuals who feel the inevitable pull of power and gain when thrown into lifestyles of privilege. In the Middle Ages it was the Catholics in such a place, now it is the Evangelicals. Either way, the outcome remains the same — those in charge strutting about in the limelight while those who do not know any better pass along their scarce worldly goods in hopes that they will get their share as well. My sense is that Christianity is truly present where people are willing to give up the little they have until everyone has enough. As a professor of mine once metaphorically put it, “no one should have two pair of shoes until everyone has one.”


  2. I think a church needs to make just enough money to pay for expenses (electrical, water, etc.) and salaries. Any excess should be used for the church’s ministries and social works programs. And save some for a rainy day.

    Massive building projects are just vanity and diverts funds which could’ve been used to set up a soup kitchen or a school-church in a third world country.


  3. Pingback: Losing the plot

  4. Steve Wiggins

    Having been a seminarian, I recognize that most clergy salaries are not extravagant. Many struggle in underfunded situations. My issue is not with such people, but those who sully the whole point of the Christian movement by their self-promotion. In our society, however, there are many that are taken in my the glitz and glamor.


  5. People love their leaders dressed well. They love their celebrities dressed well.
    Clothes are like feathers, they are displays of power and who want a weak leader?
    Genes are scary things.


    • Steve Wiggins

      Herein is one of the great ironies of Christianity. Jesus is presented as just such a “featherless” leader — humble, promoting others’ welfare, not putting himself in the limelight. I can’t picture Jesus ever even attending a megachurch. Not even in the very back pew.


  6. Lola

    I am enjoying your blog. I had to comment because although I am in agreement with you on Mr. Warren’s chuch, I remember watching Rev. Larry Rice on Channel 24 in St. Louis while I was growing up.

    I don’t expect perfection from religious leaders, but Rev. Rice is such a contrast to so many in television ministry. The St. Louis area has Rev. Rice on one hand and Joyce Meyers ministries on the other.


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