I Should’ve Been a Pastor… April 22, 2009

I Should’ve Been a Pastor…

Mojoey can’t figure this out. I can’t either.

Why is the new pastor at Manhattan’s Riverside Church, Rev. Brad Braxton, as good and popular as he may be, getting paid $600,000 a year?

And that’s in addition to that includes the following perks:

  • $250,000 in salary.
  • $11,500 monthly housing allowance.
  • Private school tuition for his child.
  • A full-time maid.
  • Entertainment, travel and “professional development” allowances.
  • Pension and life insurance benefits.
  • An equity allowance for Braxton to save up to buy a home.

(All that for delivering false hope? Impressive.)

It’s actually not too different from the kinds of packages some CEOs get at major corporations… but a church pastor?

What is he doing that warrants the salary?

I’ve met a number of pastors in the past few years. Most of them make next to nothing… hell, I make more than they do as a public school teacher. That’s not saying very much. These pastors get by on what they can. They’re doing what they do because they feel they’re answering a calling from a god, not because they see leading a church as a money-making venture.

On the upside, at least some of Braxton’s new parishioners are filing a lawsuit against the church. But so far, it hasn’t worked:

A group of church dissidents claims the members were never told about the lavish package.

Those dissidents filed suit in Manhattan Supreme Court last week to stop Braxton’s installation, revealing a growing divide among the church’s 1,500 members.

In a hearing Tuesday, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Lewis Bart Stone denied the dissidents’ request to delay Sunday’s installation. The judge urged church leaders to provide the opposition a fair chance to be heard by the church membership.

He adjourned the case until after a special meeting of the congregation scheduled for May 3.

The two sides should find a way to achieve “some form of fellowship and reconciliation between members of the church,” Stone said, to “prevent a split.”

Ideally, enough dissidents would leave the church and opt for another. Perhaps the drop in tithe income would leave the church unable to pay the pastor’s lavish salary.

By the way, anyone know what Jesus got paid?

I assume it was in the low six figures and this story is just a case of inflation…

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  • Alien

    I would not generally expect a court to step into a church’s affairs shy of something overtly illegal going on. A disagreement in what a pastor should be paid would be expected to be completely handled within the church. Churches generally have a constitution or similar founding document that lays out the groundwork for how decisions such as this are made and to what extent the congregation has input (including objections).

    Rev. Brad Braxton, as good and popular as he may be, getting paid $600,000 a year?

    And that’s in addition to the following perks:

    Also, the $600,000 is the value of the entire package, including the following perks (not in addition to the following perks, though I think the point of the post remains unchanged).

    But, as Hemant said, if the dissidents want to keep going to church but don’t agree with this church’s actions in this matter, they should start shopping for another church.

  • jemand

    They are providing “entertainment”

    I think.

  • Mark

    You wrote:
    >”What is he doing that warrants the salary?

    He is bringing in cash to the organization. Christianity today is all about the cash. It stopped being about God a long time ago.

  • Erp

    I agree the courts are extremely reluctant to interfere unless there is a broken legal contract or a criminal matter (and sometimes not even then). Riverside seems to be an independent church which means no overseeing church body to appeal to for dissident congregation members (though there may be standards for maintaining an affiliation). It is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches (both liberal).

    It is also wealthy and expects to have ministers with national clout. According to Wikipedia it has a staff of 130 people and an annual budget of 14 million dollars. Wikipedia also says the congregation is 2400 not 1500 (though that may be the difference between individuals and families). Given this and given that this is Manhattan, the package might not be too out there (though it is twice what his predecessor was paid according to the article).

    Not sure what Jesus got paid but according to one of the Gospels, Judas was the treasurer and had been skimming off the top.

  • Just like Wal-Mart is more successful than a small “mom and pop” store, mega churches are more successful than small churches. If you don’t like the way the church is run, then stop tithing or find another church. If the board of directors (or whatever the church calls them) wants to give their pastor a $600,000 annual compensation package, that is their business. They are also free to say his word is infallible and that his shit doesn’t stink but people don’t have to believe it.

  • Luther Weeks

    Those religious folks are just after money, money, money. Stomp on the next person, fight to the top of the heap. Do whatever it takes. Then ask for forgiveness in the last moments of life. They just don’t have good moral values. What is this country coming to.

  • Many years ago the first person of all my friends to get a company car wasn’t the accountant, the IT manager, the teacher, the engineer, it was the Catholic priest!

    What did that say about how we value real professions?

  • Gavrilo

    Although I really think that each penny that goes to religion is a penny too much, one should really consider today’s religions as enterprises.

    If this particular pastor is able to persuade people to give millions of dollars to his church, even though he does not produce anything concrete, he’ll have his huge salary…

    After all, people get huge salaries for making money out of various other kinds of crap, so this does not surprise me a lot…

  • Richard Wade

    Religions reproduce the way amoebas do, by splitting. We’re witnessing the creation of another addition to the nearly 34,000 Christian denominations. A momentous event. (yawn)

  • Not defending this pastors salary by no means, but I wonder how much money Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris or the Hitch made this past year on royalties alone?

    I don’t favour the obscene amount of money some megachurch pastors make but I think when criticising people who do make a lot of money we should include everybody and have a bit of perspective wouldn’t you say?

  • gribblethemunchkin

    True Lex Fear, but the difference is that those atheist writers you mention earn money due to outstanding book sales. i.e. they did some work that was highly successful and are earning money from continued sales. This seems fair and none of us would complain if this Pastor had earnings that high from royalties if he were a best selling author. Likewise, someone like William Lane Craig probably earns a fair packet from his books, lectures, paid speaking engagements, etc. None of us begrudge him this.

    But what does this pastor do for a compensation pachage of $600,000? Is he selling vast numbers of books (and hence making money for his church)?

    We don’t know.

    But $600,000 is a hell of a lot of money. As a comparison, its 3.5 times as much as a US senator is paid, and they kinda run the country. Of course Senators earn more dosh from other jobs, but then, this pastor might too for all we know.

  • mikespeir

    This story needs another counterpoint. I have a part time job cleaning a church. An atheist myself, I don’t get involved with this congregation except as an employee. Frankly, I don’t know how they manage to pay me even the little bit they do. I know for a fact that the place isn’t really even keeping its head above water. (I’ve been told that on a good Sunday maybe 80 people will show up.)

    I’m sure the pastor is making a mere pittance–absolutely no trappings of wealth. I’m not close to the man at all (I spent too many years as a Christian myself. I know that one of the main tactics is to suck you in by first making a friend of you. I don’t even want to let him think he might get the chance.) Nevertheless, he does serve as a counterexample to this grasping megachurch megapastor. As much as I disagree with him, I have to appreciate that “mammon” doesn’t motivate him.

  • Larry Huffman

    Not only do I think courts will be reluctant to step in…I do not think they should step in. I would tell them that their tax exempt status and the very improvable nature of the product they are selling means they have not paid for the system they wish to use…and they get what the deserve anyway, respectively.

    I mean…when the guy is selling a story of virgin births and zombie gods…just what is the price tag on such a thing? I think they are getting a bargain. Not just anyone can make that sale and keep a straight face.

    Maybe pastors will become like professional athletes…and instead of this guy losing his high pay, we will see other pastors asking for new, larger contracts on scale with this guy…and others opting out in order to try the pastor free agent market.

  • Larry Huffman

    But…I cannot feel sorry for these people. I do not feel sorry for anyone who gets ripped off by religion…for the painfully obvious reason. Do I need to state it?

    OK…I will…

    You believe in a fairy tale! Of course you will get taken by them! Are you surprised? He is telling you virgins gave birth…and expecting you, an intelligent adult to believe it. He is telling you there is a supreme creator and master of the universe…and that that master wants you to give money to him, the pastor. Of course you are getting ripped off…but that did not start with his salary…that started with you saying “I believe”…anything after that is all on your gullible head.

    (I shamefully gave a full 10% of my gross salary for almost 20 years to the mormon church…not to mention another $75 a month or so in chartible contributions…so I know what it is like to be gullible in this area.)

  • Larry Huffman

    Lex…writing a successful book…one that the masses buy at the level those authors did…well, they deserve what they earn. The pastor…well, he repeats the same drivel over and over…as does any clergy in the christian religion. There just is not that much material there…and you can bet it has all been done before. So…nothing new or original…just sermons based on a moldy old book about fictional events and false promises that cannot ever be confirmed, as it all takes place after death…conveniently.

    The people who buy the books actually get something tangible. Who cares what is on the inside (christian authors also deserve the money they earn…for the same reason)…they wrote a book that people are buying. Tangible. An item. A purchase that does include an exchange of money for an item. The more people want to read the mateiral…the more they buy…the more the authors make. Seems like it fits a pretty sound and fully acceptable economic model to me.

    The pastor makes his money by telling fairy tales and selling them. The people get nothing for the money they give. They believe the fairy tale god will be happy with them for doing it. So…they are buying the approval of the fairy tale god the pastor is selling them. Rather like a con man…no? Snake oil salesmen.

    When it is all said and done…the authors deserve what they got and the comparison you made makes no sense whatsoever…as they do not compare in economic terms.

  • RobL

    The two sides should find a way to achieve “some form of fellowship and reconciliation between members of the church,” Stone said, to “prevent a split.”

    Interesting comment from a judge – dont really think it’s his place to promote fellowship and prevent splits. Maybe a split is what they need.

  • Desert Son

    Jeff, Lex Fear, and mikespier have made this point in various ways, but to reiterate:

    This is basic economics, supply and demand. Think of this particular pastor as a member of the entertainment industry (I do). He may not be particularly entertaining to many of us, but evidently he is entertaining enough to enough people that they are willing to pony up the cash to see this guy and catch the light show and the fog machine and whatever else he does that’s so spectacular to whatever group of entertainment attendees like his particular brand.

    I have no use for the music of The Eagles, and I could care less about their reunion tours, or post-reunion tours, or re-reunion tours, or whatever. Yet folks go to shell out hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars to hear Seven Bridges Road and Peaceful, Easy Feelin’. I don’t understand it, but if they can get the audience (and they can), they sell the tickets. Had I the money, I would have seriously considered buying tickets to the Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert in London in 2008 that witnessed the reunion of the living members of Led Zepplin (actually, I’m almost certain I would have gone); but there’s tons of folks who wouldn’t. Another example: prices for tickets to professional sporting events haven’t exactly been declining in the last 15 years. I’m impressed with the prowess of professional athletes, to be sure, and cheer many on in the sports I’m interested in, but some of them make some crazy salaries. Why? People will pay it.

    NOW . . . the big difference in all of this, of course, is potential effect. Sure, the music of Led Zepplin, live, with all surviving members playing, is to my mind an awesome experience, but at the end of the night I don’t go home thinking that, having heard the show (if only!!!), I’ll leave this universe upon my death and dwell in eternity somewhere else, restored to the bosom of all those I love who have died, and eternally praising a supernatural figure for which there is no evidence.

    But alot of the folks that walk out of the church do think that.

    And they think that enough that many are willing to act as the entertainer says on issues that do affect others, like Proposition 8 in California, or the creationists on the State Board of Education here in Texas, busy undermining science textbooks for the nation at large.

    Still, there’s no law protecting people from believing things they want to believe, nor should there be (note I say believing, not acting on beliefs, which gets into a whole other area). Besides, the interesting economic times we’re due to experience in the next 10 years may make salary adjustments of their own over which the pastor has no say.

    No kings,


  • “I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is!”

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