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On March 18, a tech employee who goes by the alias Tyler started an Instagram account with the username @PreachersNSneakers and posted a photo of an American pastor in tennis shoes. Sounds harmless, but these weren’t scuffed-up lawn mowing shoes, they were Yeezys, and Tyler happened to be a sneakerhead.
For the uninitiated, Yeezys are a line of footwear that rapper Kanye West designed with Nike and then Adidas. The shoes often resell online for thousands of dollars. A sneakerhead, according to Urban Dictionary, is “a person who collects limited, rare … or exclusive kicks” or is knowledgeable about sneakers. Tyler posted another photo. And another.
Pastor Chad Veach of Zoe Church in $1,045 Saint Laurent Jodhpur boots.
Pastor John Gray of Relentless Church in a pair of red Air Yeezy 2s that resell for over $5,000.
Pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr. of Vous Church in FoG Jungles with a Neiman Marcus price tag of $995 (FoG stands for Fear of God).
Eight weeks later, @Preachers NSneakers had fewer than 40 pictures, but had gained over 160,000 followers. The site set off alarm bells about consumerism, and followers were going nuts with comments: a wide mix of condemnation, chiding, and claims that it’s a sin to judge others because only God knows the heart.
Some of the photos show pastors in expensive clothes or accessories instead of shoes, like the one of televangelist Jesse DuPlantis in a $1,300 Louis Vuitton bomber jacket.
It raises an important question: Christians aren’t called to be paupers, but the Bible clearly commands against loving money. How should Christians hold that tension?
WORLD asked 15 pastors featured on the site to respond to that question and also share the circumstances of their shoes. Were they a gift? Did they buy the sneakers before they were vintage?
Only one pastor responded: “How’d you get my email?” asked Nathan Finochio of Hillsong Church. Finochio had been snapped wearing a pair of $1,100 Gucci tiger slippers.
The silence of the pastors doesn’t mean Christians should assume the worst. But Christians are called to follow the Way, not the world, and serve a God who is into washing the feet of others, not adorning our own.
Sneaker collector Dre Copeland, 36, of Springfield, Va., wondered if his pastor wore “status shoes” to connect with others. Clergy robes or even a suit with loafers doesn’t relate well these days, Copeland says. “Megachurch pastors try to appeal to a younger crowd, and a lot of young people emphasize what people wear,” he says. He thinks the real question is whether wealthy pastors are living out their life’s work: helping other people.
“I’m not sure why preachers need to wear any shoe that is like a light show and draws attention,” says Pastor Michael Easley, who hosts InContext, a radio show designed to help others understand and apply the Bible. “What I’d love to hear is that men and women who are wealthy are also men and women who give generously, provide jobs, and live as good stewards.”
Easley isn’t a sneakerhead, but he recalled a time when he bought a $9,500 used car and caught flak from church leaders. They viewed his wheels, a 1971 Oldsmobile convertible, as a muscle car and wished he’d bought a Chrysler minivan instead—for $15,000.
Even Tyler has struggled with the proper response to his posts. His photos suggest the pastors are hypocrites. But he knows to “judge not.” So on May 1, Tyler launched a podcast where he plans to talk about “culture, Christianity, preachers, sneakers, [and] materialism.”