Wednesday, May 06, 2009

New pastor at Riverside Church, NYC, is a money grubbing capitalist pig and should be fired

The Washington Post reports that Brad Braxton, the new pastor of Riverside Church, will be paid total compensation of over $260,000. Riverside is a church of 2,000+ members; priests of large churches should get low six figure salaries and NYC is an expensive place to live. However, Braxton's compensation seems on the high side. His response to members' concerns is a bit distressing.

The Market Cost of Discipleship

Historic and influential Riverside Church in New York City installed its new pastor Sunday, despite a congregational conflict that ended up in court and exposed the new pastor's annual compensation package to public scrutiny.

According to news reports, the Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton, who follows in the laudatory footsteps of James A. Forbes, William Sloane Coffin and Harry Emerson Fosdick, will receive an annual base salary of $250,000, a monthly housing allowance of $11,500 (the Braxtons are living in a luxury high-rise), monthly entertainment and travel allowances, and free tuition at the church's day school for his 3-year-old.

It's not investment banker money, but who knew preaching the gospel of a man who told his followers to sell their possessions and give the money to the poor could pay so well? Should it?

Congregation members, embroiled in controversy since Braxton was selected last fall, are divided again on whether the church's board is paying their pastor too much.

"Where's the social justice in this?" said Diana Solomon-Glover, a member of the church choir and one of the petitioners in the suit, told the New York Daily News. "We have an economic crisis in the country, and none of the church staff are getting raises this year, but a few people at the top are getting these huge salaries?"

Dr. Billy E. Jones, council chairman of the 2,700-member congregation, said in a statement that the new pastor's compensation was "in line with other religious leaders in Manhattan who minister to congregations of a similar size and scope."

Scott L. Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research told the New York Times that the average base salary of 105 megachurch pastors surveyed in 2008 was about $150,000, with the highest-paid receiving about $300,000. That doesn't include compensation from TV or radio programs, book sales or stadium shows.

Again, that's not CEO or rock star or pro athlete money, but should it be Christian ministry money? In a world where 25,000 children die every day because of factors related to poverty, should Christians be paying or earning $11,500 a month just for one family's rent? In a world where a billion people live on less than $2 a day, should Christians be paying or earning the same annual salary of 125,000 other people?

Associated Baptist Press published a fascinating story on the subject of pastor pay back in 2007. Ohio pastor Steve Clifford argued that gospel ministers should be paid even more than pro athletes and CEOs. "What value can you place on someone who regularly leads others to eternal life?" Clifford asked. "Ballplayers and Wall Street executives get a lot more money for doing something that's not nearly as important."

Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, on the other hand, pays all of its staff members the same annual salary of $26,400, plus $400 a month for a spouse and $275 a month per child for up to four kids. "Our view is that God doesn't value the work of the pastor more than he does the secretary because God called us all to use our spiritual gifts," Jeff Abshire, Antioch's administrative pastor, told ABP. "Aren't we all called to fulfill the Great Commission? Aren't we all called to preach the gospel?"

In his sermon Sunday, Braxton, 40, said critics of his pay package were "mistaking molehills for mountains." He told the congregation that his priority would be "the sacred business of moving mountains."

It seems his moving expenses are covered.

Editor: The New York Daily News reports that Braxton's total comp is either $450,000 or $600,000. Some congregants have filed a lawsuit alleging the higher figure. The chair of the church committee says the lower figure is right. I say it's way too high.

If I was on the board, I'd fire this guy's ass. If I were in the congregation and the board refused to do it, I'd fire their asses. I certainly wouldn't tithe a single fucking cent.

1 comment:

David Waugh said...

While one may rightly question and oppose the salary which Dr. Braxton is being paid by Riverside, to rush to judge Dr. Braxton in this way is way off track. For one, it makes it sound that Dr. Braxton took the position only because the congregation agreed to a high salary. That would not be the case. In congregational setting, the congregation (or those whom they have authorized) make the decision as to what the salary offered will be. Second, there has been no indication of how Dr. Braxton uses that salary. Why is it that some folk feel those in ministry should have their "contributions to charitable causes" should be determined on the front end by paying them less rather than paying them a salary in keeping with their counterparts in the professional world in which the congregation expects them to mingle (and recruit and fund raise) trusting that the minister will in turn be the good steward of those finances in such a way as to set an example. I have little doubt that the percentage of Dr. Braxton's income which goes to charitable causes far outweighs the percentage donated by the writer of this critique. He is by far a less "money grubbing capitalist pig" than most folk whom I know who make far greater or far less salaries. As one who pastored in NYC for years and who now continues to pay off the indebtedness that was gratefully accumulated for the joy of doing so, I am also one who knows that a "workman is worthy of his hire" and this workman is to be trusted. Dr. Braxton needs our prayers rather than our attacks as he takes up the mantle of leadership at Riverside. He has not only a church to lead prophetically but a ministry rivaling in size many big businesses to run ethically in a hostile environment.