By James A. Haught
Among sleazy occupations, is anything worse than big-money evangelists with their private jets, garish diamonds, piled-up hairdos and $5,000 suits?
A new book, to be released April 27, is PreachersNSneakers: Authenticity in an Age of For-Profit Faith and (Wannabe) Celebrities. It exposes TV pastors “who get rich off of preaching about Jesus.”
It’s written by Ben Kirby of Texas, a born-again Christian who watched gospel television and noticed that many leaders flaunted outlandishly expensive clothes and shoes designed for the super-wealthy. He posted his findings on Instagram and drew 200,000 viewers. Now he has turned it into a book.
A Washington Post report said: “In 2019, Kirby posted a picture of Pastor John Gray wearing the coveted Nike Air Yeezy 2 Red Octobers, selling at the time on the resale market for more than $5,600.”
Astounding. What kind of narcissist pays $5,600 for a pair of shoes? The Post added:
“Kirby has showcased Seattle pastor Judah Smith’s $3,600 Gucci jacket, Dallas pastor T.D. Jakes’s $1,250 Louboutin fanny pack and Miami pastor Guillermo Maldonado’s $2,541 Ricci crocodile belt. And he considers Paula White, President Donald Trump’s most trusted pastoral adviser who is often photographed in designer items, a PreachersNSneakers ‘content goldmine,’ posting a photo of her wearing $785 Stella McCartney sneakers.”
A report by London’s Guardian added:
“Pastor, author and religious personality John Gray appears in a recent post… sporting a Gucci sweater that cost more than $1,100. In another photo, Pastor Steven Furtick sports a pair of thousand-dollar Saint Laurent boots.”
More than a century ago, sociologist Thorstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption” for the flagrantly rich who paid glaring sums to show off their wealth. It became a popular label of contempt.
When preachers do it, there’s a double reason for contempt – because evangelist money comes from gullible believers who are sold a fantasy of make-believe. The megachurch message says an invisible god will reward worshipers (donors) in an invisible heaven after death – and burn others in hell. Intelligent, educated, modern people know this is a fairy tale. Religion isn’t true. Its purveyors commit a form of fraud.
I ask again: What’s more sleazy than a charlatan wearing $5,600 sneakers paid for with money from naïve believers?
(Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine.)