Matthew 19:24 says “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” but some religious leaders actually teach that Jesus will reward you with money if you’re a good Christian. Murray Watkinson is one of these pastors, and former members of his church are calling him out.
Watkinson is what’s called a “prosperity preacher,” which means he teaches that God bestows wealth and financial blessings on those who have faith… and donate to the church, of course. Watkins owns property worth $4 million, a Maserati, and a lot more, and people who attended his services think he needs to be more transparent about his finances.
Watkinson, who claims to have encountered God “in a supernatural way,” founded Celebration Centre church in New Zealand in 1990. The church now has 2,000 members and gets more than $1.1 million in donations from members each year.
While former members give Watkinson and his family credit for helping to turn lives around, they question whether the church tells its members enough about what the family earns from church activities.
“I think if your congregation is a lower socio-economic one and you’re asking for money, you should be completely open about how much you are making out of it… Jesus says don’t make a profit out of preaching,” a former member, who asked not to be named, said.
“Murray and his family are not very open about where all the money goes and don’t respond well to questions. It’s hard to know what’s going on.”
I think this ex-member of Watkinson’s church is right on target. If you are a millionaire, and you get that money from exploiting your poor church members, they have a right to know it. This is especially true for prosperity preachers like him, who teach that tithing to religious organizations will actually make you more wealthy (because that makes sense).
Another former member of Watkinson’s church says his finances are well known, even if he doesn’t often answer specific questions, but admits that the church is “not really about God.”
Another ex-member said: “The church is not really about God. It’s more a second-hand experience of God where they say this person has got a big house, so you can too… everyone knows Murray is rich but they don’t mind.”
Watkinson denied the claims that he lacks transparency, saying much of the church’s financial portrait is available via a search of public records. Still, not every one of his followers has the inclination or understanding (and possibly not even the internet access) to access that information. I’m sure if they were aware of just how much money he makes, and how much of his extravagant lifestyle is funded by repeated donations of their hard-earned money, they’d feel differently. In the U.S., many megachurches are notoriously opaque about their finances, not even making that information available to members of the congregation.
My hope is that stories like this start to get more attention. If pressure from church critics doesn’t force megachurch pastors to be honest about how much tax-free money they get and where it comes from, maybe pressure from their congregations will do the trick.
(Image via Shutterstock)