by Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor
Rainbows and Lilacs
I have always wondered whether preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or the ‘gospel’ or philosophy of any deity for that matter, was a social calling of humanity or a profession-- which reaps massively grotesque amounts of financial benefits. I am not sure, but I do believe some ministers tend to get into the business as a means to create a self-worth and societal relevance that they could not acquire within the normal realm of social standing and hierarchical positioning.
The older I get, the more I realize that the preacher’s preaching is not necessary for one to live a ‘good’ life or to be smiled upon by God, or whatever name one calls their Creator and Higher Power. I come from a family with a history of males who have made a comfortable existence through the discipline of Christian Theology (i.e. Baptist, Lutheran), but I have yet to comprehend the notion of being ‘called’ by God to preach this Gospel. I believe ministering and preaching is a chosen field of occupation, a profession if you will. Living in the South, where ministers are as prevalent as maggots in a wet garbage can, I can hardly differentiate a preacher from a pimp. From their usage of smooth, if not slick, sounding words of manipulation to their chosen attire of peacock-colored suits to their jewelry to the vehicles they navigate through the city streets, a preacher is synonymous with a pimp in my book. Sure, a pimp manipulates the bodies of women by selling the sex of a particular whore for profit, but doesn’t a preacher do the same by sending members of his congregation or flock out into the workforce for five or more days a week only to bring their tithes back to the preacher’s church or ‘God’s storehouse’ so that the church can maintain their utilities and general maintenance? And in most churches, the head minister/preacher, or pastor, draws a salary that, in some cases, mirrors that of a Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 company.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘minister’ as “one officiating or assisting the officiant in church worship” or “a clergyman especially of the Protestant communion.” ‘Pimp’, as defined by Merriam-Webster is defined as “a man who solicits clients for a prostitute.” Now, by no means am I equating God to a ‘Lady of the Night’, but who are ministers soliciting parishioners for—God or themselves? Now, if the job, for lack of a better term, is for the preacher to preach the Word of God as a means to bring lost and wicked souls to salvation, then why is it that the preacher or minister, be they male or female, take a salary? Why do these ministers not live meagerly like the revered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or even Jesus the Christ for that matter? I thought, from my Judeo-Christian upbringing, that the goal of Man is to be more Christ-like? If so, would Jesus be riding clean in a high-end vehicle or dressing like a GQ model (although tackily with the fluorescent suits) or going around preaching for funds by being paid to preach at another pastor’s church? Why is monetary reciprocity always on the voucher submitted by ministers of the Gospel?
Well, maybe because the Bible tells us so; I Timothy 5:17-18 “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” Basically, doing God’s work is the equivalent of doing our secular jobs. Need more scriptural evidence? 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 says, “13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”
Even Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke 10:7-8 (and Matthew 10:10) suggested that the worker of his Father be given a stipend or payment for their duties; “7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.” Now, Jesus said to eat, not gorge, and some of these so-called ‘prosperity preachers’ or ‘poverty pimps’ we call men of God who claimed to have been ‘called’ to preach are gorging the communities, that are often times economically depraved and disadvantaged, of the little wealth they may have in hopes of being saved from their conditions. Not through Christ’s salvation, but through the preacher’s duplicitous rhetoric emitted weekly from the pimpin’ pulpit.
The American Preaching Pimp dates back to the 1930s when tent preaching became a huge draw for the desolate and displaced families and workers trying to recover and find some comfort in the word of God during the Great Depression. The tent preachers, who traversed from town to town, made their living by garnering donations from the crowds that attended their outdoor concerts (oops, I meant sermons). We can even go further back than the tent preaching and trace the popularized and celebrity version of our ministers to S. Parkes Cadman who was one of the first preachers to be broadcast on radio in 1923, and was eventually given a weekly radio spot on NBC radio and reportedly had a listening audience of over 5 million Americans (it goes without saying that donations were accepted). Though radio made celebrities out of preachers, the advent of the television in the 1950s and the popularization of the television in the homes of our average U.S. citizens in the 1960s would make little gods out of the American Minister.
From Fulton Sheen to Billy Graham to Oral Roberts to Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker to Creflo Dollar (what a name) to T.D. Jakes and Joel Osteen, it is difficult to separate the salaries, and sometimes the opulence—particularly T.D. Jakes and his private jet, of these Holy Men from their ‘calling’ to preach the Gospel. Yes, many of these ministers, pastors, and preachers mentioned have done much for the communities in which their congregations reside and have probably saved countless souls from moral decay and an eternity of playing Marco Polo in the Lake of Fire, but why must they live better than the average parishioner?
I would bet a dollar to your dime that in most of these mega-churches (churches with an average weekly attendance of at least 2000 people) in the United States of America the pastor is one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, individual there (and there are politicians, CEOs, CFOs, professional athletes, entertainers, doctors, lawyers, and Indian Chiefs who are members of their church, and they all give their tithes!). There are 50 mega churches in Tennessee, the state in which I reside, alone and ten of those are either in Memphis or the surrounding suburban cities that many consider a part of the Memphis-metro ‘area.’ The list is as follows: Christ United Methodist, New Salem Missionary Baptist, Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church, New Direction Christian Church, Temple of Deliverance, Pentecostal Tabernacle-COGIC, St. Stephens Baptist, Mt. Vernon Baptist, Central Church (Collierville), Germantown Baptist (Germantown), Bellevue Baptist (Cordova), and Hope Presbyterian (Cordova). This is interesting and alarming information for a city whose poverty level is 67.2% greater than the national average and has an average household income of $41000 per year (per the 2009/2010 census).
I guess the question is “What are these ministers peddling?” Do we really need a preacher to guide us to God? Is he or she a better discerner of the biblical texts than we are? I’ve even heard of a mega-church in Memphis that offers an automatic pay plan for their monthly tithes. Since when are our tithes a bill or the Church a creditor? How can we really know that the churches we attend are adequately allocating our monies to the people and places that need those monies the most? I think I can give my time and money in my own way and honor my God? You don’t have to fool or scare me into thinking that I must tithe to a specific ‘Church’ on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis (depending upon how often I get my direct deposit from my ‘secular’ or ‘worldly’ job) in order to gain favor and receive blessings from God. Don’t pimp me, pastor? I’m not naïve, and I’m not a whore.