What I believe is at the center of the angst over Creflo Dollar’s $65 million fundraiser drive for a private jet is expectations about what men and women of the cloth are supposed to be about.
Chief among them is the expectation that these leaders of ministries are supposed to take a vow of poverty. Or maybe not a vow of poverty, but certainly they’re not supposed to live in excess, particularly more than their congregations. But is that a fair assumption?
Personally, I’m on the fence about the ethics of Dollar’s fundraiser campaign. On one hand, there is nothing wrong with asking. As nihilist as it all sounds, the folks of his congregation are all giving on their own free, and possibly, stupid wills. And as noted by George Chidi in the piece, The brilliant strategy of Rev. Creflo Dollar’s request for a $60 million private plane:
“A 2007 AJC article pegged World Changers at about $69 million a year in revenue. If that seems outlandish, consider what 50,000 people putting a $20 in the offering plate once a week means: $50 million a year, not counting sales at the gift shop. Dollar’s congregants aren’t poor. That’s a myth. They’re gullible, and they’re committed. But they’re not poor. Dollar wouldn’t bother ministering to poor people. That’s not where the money is.”
Personally I have noticed that the kind of people who follow behind these flashy ministries are looking to buy into a certain lifestyle built around status and prestige. In short, everything is about image to those folks including the type of church they go to. You won’t find them at no storefront church with unnecessarily long names. Nope, they only fellowship at the most popular tabernacles in town. And they don’t mind their pastors looking good and having really nice things – and nicer than what they personally may own – because, and by extension, their pastor is a reflection of them.
And in general, it is not unusual for congregations to support their pastors. In fact it is a tradition as old as the Bible itself (and actually encouraged in it too). And when you have a big church with a massive congregation, which spans continents, I can see how reliable and easily accessible air transportation can be justified.
Still, there is always coach. Or heck, even business class. And commercial airlines go just about everywhere. Plus, riding with us mere commoners is likely cheaper than what he has to be shelling out, not just to purchase the plane, but for maintenance, salaries and gas. I mean, hasn’t he ever heard of frequent flyer miles?
Even for a non-profit business that still manages to generate millions of dollars in revenue, it is just fiscally irresponsible, needlessly extravagant and somewhat selfish. I mean, he could have at least purchased an actual commercial jet. According to Boeing.com, he could have gotten a medium-size one for a little over $10 million more than what he was asking. That way, all of his congregation could come along on these amazing international ministries too.
Likewise, there is the entire ickiness of people of the cloth preaching this philosophy of prosperity, which teaches folks that riches and power are only a prayer and a few tithes away, when it seems like the only ones getting rich from the philosophy are the preachers themselves.
But what do I know? I haven’t been to church in years…
“To suggest that God wants us to have “things” is an interesting concept since, to the majority of the world’s population, the fact that we have lights, shelter, good jobs and running water makes us “wealthy,” said Felix Morgan Jr., pastor of Temple of Empowerment Church in Philadelphia. I decided to reach out to Morgan for a more anointed take on the matter. And as he reminds me in our discussion via Facebook chat, prosperity is just a matter of perspective.
But he also called it “asinine” to expect a pastor to take a vow of poverty. He points to Paul in the New Testament, who stated that “If I (as your pastor or spiritual leader) share with you spiritual things, is it a big deal for me to receive your carnal?”
In other words, “If I spend my time studying and giving you the principles of God that enhance your life and make you prosperous, why would you feel as though it’s a terrible thing to share your resources with me? It’s a good thing to give to your leader as your leader gives to you every Sunday.”
However, Morgan is also adamant that those who have been outraged by Dollar’s request have a right to be offended as it is not just a jet he is asking for, but a top of the line Gulfstream G650 private jet. “If a car is needed for ministry, is a Maybach required? If not, then why would anyone (in their logical mind) feel that asking people to contribute to this purchase would make sense,” he questions.
Morgan is in favor of pastors, ministers and other spiritual leaders using prudence in their standard of living, particularly when evoking the name of God. Otherwise, it just comes off as arrogant. Likewise, the perception hurts the other pastors out there, who, he says, are being good stewards with the generosity of their flock.
As he notes,”A shepherd rarely looks or smells differently than the sheep that he leads. The Lord will judge us all according on how we lead the people. He will also judge our hearts and our motives. Sadly, it becomes more and more evident that these motives are gravitating towards pleasing man (including ourselves) than pleasing God.”
But that’s what we say. What says the peanut gallery: should pastors, ministers and other spiritual leaders take a vow of poverty? What about a vow of prosperity? Leave your comments below.