Fellow Christians: I'm Rich and I'm Sorry
Elevation Church pastor Steve Furtick recently came under media scrutiny for building a 16,000 square-foot-home for his family in Charlotte, North Carolina. After making news, he apologized to his congregation—not for the luxury of the home—but for the "uncomfortable conversations" resulting from the headlines and criticism.
Furtick is one of many Christian pastors, preachers, and authors who have prospered from their ministry, whose wealth often does make us as Christians feel uncomfortable. Stanley Hauerwas, of Duke Divinity School, called Furtick's lifestyle an "offense to the gospel." Shane Claiborne implied that Christian leaders who've accrued wealth "missed the simple commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves."
Do pastors owe apologies for getting rich? That's the way we'd prefer to word the question, especially to avoid examining our own stewardship responsibilities. It's legitimate and healthy for Christians to question pastors who collect offerings and live significantly above the majority of their congregants. And we must challenge those who preach the distortions of the prosperity gospel. Jesus never claimed that following him would make us rich. But, as my father once wisely told me, "Be careful when you point a finger. There are three fingers pointing right back at you."
I, too, am a fat North American cat. A rich Christian who gives away more than 10 percent, but still has much to spare. I haven't ever needed to worry about how we would pay for groceries or keep the electricity from being shut off. When one of our children outgrows a bicycle, we buy a new one. When a school fee is due, we write a check. When the co-pay for one of our children's surgeries registers $200, I don't decide what necessity we'll temporarily live without.
I wake to clean water running from my faucet. I have multiple toilets that flush. The nearest hospital is minutes from my house, and the neighborhood where I live is safe. We own two cars and two refrigerators. In the winter, all seven of us leave the house in goose-down coats. In the summer, we afford the luxury of keeping cool. Worse, my husband's executive salary affords many of our wants as easily as it affords all of our needs.
We are rich. And I am sorry. I admit to feeling a secret shame for the money my husband makes. I admit to feeling that there is someone to whom I should be apologizing. Maybe it's to my friend whose husband is a pastor, who can't afford the new washer and dryer they desperately need? Maybe it's to my friend whose husband is a professor, who must return to full-time work (when she'd prefer to be raising her children) because his (arguably enviable) tenure-track position earns him less than $40,000 a year? Maybe it's to my young pastor in Toronto who wonders if he can afford to live and minister in this city where the median home price nears $900,000?
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