Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Eating the Sheep

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

"Elevator - elevator
We got the shaft!"
       Old Sports Cheer

 My grandparents, Dan and Sis (Nancy Jane Roark) Sreaves spent the better part of their lives farming and raising seven children in an area of rural Newton County, Missouri, called Swars Prairie.   The Sreaves family and their neighbors were so poor, and self-reliant by nature, that the Great Depression did not impact them nearly as much as it did their city cousins.  One old family story relates that Granddad became so angry at one of his brothers when he learned his errant sibling accepted some government “relief,” that the two quit speaking to one another.

The old farm couple attended a small community church – one of those where the minister followed someone home every Sunday after morning services for a noon meal, undoubtedly as a way to supplement his meager income.  The preacher’s salary was paid in full by the congregants, and he was always dependent upon their faithfulness and generosity.    I heard that once when circumstances were unusually dire, my grandfather took over paying the preacher’s entire salary out of his own pocket.

In those days the minister was seen as the shepherd, and those attending his church constituted the flock.  It was the preacher’s job to guide the flock in religious matters, and in return for his guidance, the flock gave him the protection of an insignificant wage with which to maintain his family.  It was an arrangement that would hopefully lead to a moral life and salvation, but nobody expected to get rich from the process.

That was all back in the days when preachers still warned about the rich having less chance of entering the Kingdom of Heaven than a camel did of passing through the eye of a needle.   Those who became burdened with money were expected to rid themselves of it by helping the less fortunate.  Seriously.

Sis Sreaves has been gone now over sixty years (I barely remember her), and Dan departed this life a little over forty years ago.  If there is a Heaven, Dan and Sis are surely there.  They spent their lives working hard, being good parents and grandparents, and caring for others.

That’s what Christianity used to be all about – helping others – doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Now, of course, Christianity has, in many places, morphed into a greedy monster that would be unrecognizable and appalling to good people from years ago, people like my grandparents.

There’s a story out of Charlotte, North Carolina, that has been getting quite a bit of play in the news this week.   It regards a “mega-church” minister who has been trying to explain to the press why he and his family need a 16,000 square foot (more or less) new home safely hidden in 19 acres of dense forest – a project with a price tag estimated somewhere north of a million dollars.  The minister, thirty-three-year-old Stephen Furtick, of the Elevation Church told his congregation that the lavish, new, seven-and-a-half- bathroom home is a “gift from God,” and that he was sorry if the new mega-home had forced them to have “uncomfortable conversations” in recent days.

Congregants of the Elevation Church are called "Elevators."

Pastor Furtick contends that his mansion in the woods is being paid for from money he earned on books he has written and his worldwide speaking engagements.  He also notes that some of his book money is given back to the church.  Skeptics note that he should be returning money to the church since his books are written on church time and advertised in his sermons.  The rub is that the church finances are controlled in such a way that it is hard to follow the money.

The pastor’s salary is a secret, and it is not controlled by the church.  Even the most faithful "Elevators" are left in the dark when it comes to salaries paid out by their church.

Salaries are set by an appointed group of five other mega-church pastors.  These pastors also appear and speak at each other’s churches for a fee.  It appears to be a tight little circle that circumvents the members of the church who generate much of the income.  The church recently posted its 2012 annual report on its website, a report that did not include any information on salaries.

Ole Anthony is president of the Trinity Foundation – a group that examines religious fraud.   He feels some ethical issues exist, particularly in regard to the book business and the pastor’s obvious personal wealth.  In speaking of mega-church pastors, Anthony laments, “The idea of being a servant is lost.  It’s just a job and they try to make more and more money, and the congregations are losing out.  It just infuriates me.   It’s the opposite of the pastor being the servant and feeding the sheep, the pastor’s eating the sheep.”

Somewhere Jesus weeps.

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.
Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
       Mahatma Gandhi

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