The Lord wanted me to have nice things

These words were uttered by Reverend Jim Bakker, who founded the Praise The Lord (PTL) Club, shortly before he went to prison for defrauding donors and accounting irregularities. He was being interviewed on a local TV station at his home when the focus came on his solid gold faucets. “The Lord wanted me to have nice things,” he said on camera. For several years before that moment, one of the local DJs used to do a skit called the “Pass The Loot” Club, as many locals caught on to his act before the national TV audience did.

This week, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta has come under fire for building a $2.2 million, 6,400 square foot home. His house was built primarily with funds donated to help those in need. After the notoriety, the church will likely be selling the residence. This is on the heels of the even larger spend in Germany by Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst on his residence mansion, whose repairs totaled over $40 million in US dollars.

Pope Francis has been a staunch advocate for the impoverished and has not been too fond of over-indulging priests and bishops. By taking the name of St. Francis who focused his life on helping the poor and by choosing to live in more austere settings than the Pope’s usual residence, Pope Francis has sent a clear message that is still being heard. My guess is many church leaders are laying very low. Hopefully, the message will resonate with all members of the Catholic clergy and other religious sects.

But, as Bakker has shown, the indulgences are not limited to those leaders in the Catholic faith. The minister of a prominent and growing church in my metro-area has come under fire for his opulent house, which exceeds the price of the Atlanta Archbishop’s. Two years ago, two married ministers in my area went to jail on tax evasion. The congregation is still in disbelief after they were arrested for not reporting their very fine way of life. And, not to be outdone, even Reverend Franklin Graham came under fire for receiving two million dollar (approximately) salaries for two different organizations he leads. He has remedied this to my knowledge, once it became public, but it did not seem to bother him before the press.

However, the one who takes the cake is Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh of Oregon. He was eventually arrested in Charlotte for immigration fraud, but had a knack for courting wealthy donors who would give up millions of dollars to his organization. When arrested, he had a fleet of many Rolls-Royces and several private jets. You can read more about the Bhagwan with attached link: http://www.ohs.org/the-oregon-history-project/biographies/Bhagwan-Shree-Rajneesh.cfm

As someone of faith, I do not begrudge ministers and religious leaders for receiving a reasonable income. They work long hours and are constantly on call. Yet, I do feel it is hypocritical to take advantage and live extravagantly at the expense of others. Like the above, some have been too keen on living well. It likely starts as self-justification for doing good. This happens in politics, business and other organization leadership, as well. That is why “stewardship” is a key word to me. The people who oversee these leaders and the leaders themselves have to be good stewards with peoples’ money. Otherwise, you breach their trust and sometimes, break the law.

 

 

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9 thoughts on “The Lord wanted me to have nice things

  1. This is an interesting topic. When pastors or clergy have to use money given by members for the advancement of the work of God, great care should be taken on how much is spent on living. Yes, they must have a decent wage … but define ‘decent’. Having said that these ministers who go way overboard clearly do not have the spreading of the gospel as their top priority. Thanks for the post.

    • Vincent, thanks for your comment. You are so right about “great care” being needed. I serve as a volunteer on a couple of Board of Directors for charitable agencies helping homeless people. I use the word stewardship, as we must take great care with the money, goods and time of many donors, including those in the faith community. We owe it to them and to our clients. The same stewardship is needed of our religious leaders, as well. There are so many who do the right thing day in and day out. It is the ones who make the headlines who do a disservice to the many faithful stewards. Thanks for writing, BTG

  2. Ahhh…the Bhagwan. Quite the story. My neighbour, and former Oregon Secretary of State Norma Paulus, has numerous accounts about that particular era of Oregon history that continues to curl hair. Her biography soon to be published will be well worth the read…
    Bang on the Friday drum, BTG and enjoy your weekend.

    • Raye, I had a feeling you might have insight into the Bhagwan. I think the number of Rolls Royces was very high, but I cannot remember the final tally. I look forward to Ms. Paulus’ biography. Have a great weekend yourself. BTG

  3. Oh, that love of money thing. Would that everyone could ask and answer how much is enough? Am I taking good care of that which was entrusted to me? Personally, I would much rather hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” than “What were you thinking?!”

  4. I left the church looonnnnnggg ago over the extravagances of the clergy while begging money from poor parishioners. (I grew up in a very poor parish that had 3 priests with 24 hour servants and new Cadillacs every year). I believe there is another church official in trouble over a $2 million expansion to his retirement residence. Those church leaders approved it because “It would go to the church upon his death.”

    Great post, great topic and I believe the Bhagwan got into trouble for driving amongst his poor contributors, waving to them out the window of a Rolls. Sad what people will put up with.

    • While the trappings are new, the story is old. The example of where the two ministers married to each other that went to jail, there were still a few members of their flock that supported them and felt the IRS was being too harsh.

  5. Note to Readers: I was retelling a related story in comment to a similar topic on another blog. A colleague and I were doing some consulting work for the minister of a large church regarding how much he was paid versus what would be fair in contrast to the marketplace. When we inquired as to the scope of the project and did he want to include other church positions in the market comparison, he uttered these words. “Your job is to look after the shepherd, the Lord will take care of the flock.” His words are remembered verbatim as they floored us.

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