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Notebook Religion

A scandal afoot?

A pair of red Air Yeezy 2s (Handout)

Religion

A scandal afoot?

Instagram account showing pastors in expensive shoes gains attention

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?

@PreachersNSneakers

Nathan Finochio of Hillsong Church wearing a pair of $1,100 Gucci tiger slippers (@PreachersNSneakers)

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.”

Comments

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sun, 05/26/2019 04:01 pm

    We certainly should not judge this matter without knowing all of the facts, but it does not look good.  How does it look to the parishioner who can barely afford living expenses who still tithes to these pastors' churches?  How does it look to the unchurched?  Is it an example of the good stewardship that God expects of his people?

  • Katie
    Posted: Sun, 05/26/2019 04:12 pm

    As a pastor's wife, I feel this tension all the time. How will our congregation view our new vehicle? Our kids' clothes? Our vacation? We want to be good stewards but at the same time we don't want to be slaves to others' opinions about our purchasing decisions because only God sees our hearts. That being said, I've never once in my life considered buying a pair of shoes that cost a thousand dollars.

  • Marilyn Jean
    Posted: Sun, 05/26/2019 05:55 pm

    The world is looking for ways to bring down the Christian community. Why should we give them more reason to criticize?  Can’t imagine what is going on in the minds of Christian leaders who choose to flaunt material wealth. This is so diametrically opposed to the image of Christ.

  • PAUL GOELLER
    Posted: Sun, 05/26/2019 08:14 pm

    We seem to be trying so hard to win the lost by being like the lost that we have lost our way

  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Sun, 05/26/2019 09:40 pm

    I'm a little confused by the sentence, "Finochio had been snapped wearing a pair of $1,100 Gucci tiger slippers." It  almost implies the picture was taken without the pastor in question's  knowledge or consent. I first heard about @PreacherNSneakers from another media person who said that all the pictures used by Tyler were originally put up on Instagram by the pastors themselves. So, it would seem to me, the content of the pictures is fair game for commentary. 

  • phillipW's picture
    phillipW
    Posted: Sun, 05/26/2019 10:18 pm

    "Only one pastor responded: "

    1 out of 15.  Congratulations, World Magazine.  Your batting average with getting pastors to respond to your emails is way better than mine ever has been.  I gave up on trying to communicate with clergy over email a few years ago after getting ignored time and time again.  Just one reason out of many why I've pretty much checked out of church altogether.

  • LEIGH WARMBRAND
    Posted: Mon, 05/27/2019 10:22 am

    Your comment struck me and I wanted to respond.  I'm a pastor and I would respond to you.  No perfect churches anywhere, but don't check out.  Jesus is working to build His church.

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Mon, 05/27/2019 09:54 am

    Remember the song, " Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show"?  There seems to be a segment of Christianity that believes that clergy are to be wealthy and show it in order to show that God approves of their ministry.  Somewhere between this extreme and all preachers and families living under bridges is where the Truth is.  Simple is beautiful when it comes to lifestyle but even that can get extreme.  

  • Peter Allen's picture
    Peter Allen
    Posted: Mon, 05/27/2019 12:48 pm

    The worker is worthy of the wages, no doubt.  But if you want to avoid criticism in this area be a "tentmaker" .  Then wear your $1,100 shoes.  But consider the your oportunity to make wealth is a gift of God to be used wisely.  Is is true the the robe of Jesus "woven from a sigle piece" was considered very expensive?  Yet "the Son of man had no place to lay His head"  Thought provoking article as consumerism based on lusting for stuff is a cancer on the church. 

  • Laneygirl's picture
    Laneygirl
    Posted: Mon, 05/27/2019 02:00 pm

    I hope "Tyler" will actually have been given a kingdom-building purpose even as this subject du jour dies out. Perhaps a good bit of healthy dialogue will be generated, as has already been seen in the previous reader comments. It's a shame none of the pastors pictured agreed to enter in.

  • Janet S
    Posted: Tue, 05/28/2019 03:50 pm

    I don't know any of these men or the churches they pastor.  What do the people in their church wear?  Personally there are much better things the money could be used for, but that applies to more than the shoes a pastor is wearing or for that matter any Christain.