Friday, 3/21/14

    1. Inurement
    2. Good fear, bad fear
    3. The CCRC Bubble
    4. Memory Eternal! Metropolitan Phillip Saliba
    5. Fred Phelps is dead, too
    6. Best-sellerdom here I come


James Duncan connects the dots on why people who aren’t certifiably insane would look on benignly as their pastor builds a 14,000 square foot home:

This is a big reason why celebrity pastors love the book business. It’s more comforting to think that the pastor’s five-car garage was paid for by faceless Amazon customers than from a tithe check. Even if the mansion money actually does come mostly from the collection plate, the illusion of Amazon-based wealth is important.

Nothing is better at maintaining that illusion than an author earning a place on the New York Timesbestseller list. Of course Steven Furtick can afford to build his mansion, we think; he’s a bestselling author. So is Perry Noble, whose church attracts 30,000 people each week in South Carolina. So is Mark Driscoll.

But that, too, is an illusion. We have discovered in the last few weeks that Mark Driscoll and Perry Noble each authorized their churches to spend around $200,000 to buy eleven thousand of their books to artificially force them onto the Times’ bestseller list. Steven Furtick’s church also bought enough copies his books so that he, too, appeared on the NYT bestseller list twice. Without the bulk purchases, though, each of the pastors’ books fell off the list after one week.

James Duncan on Megachurches’ Megabucks problem. (It’s actually titled “Celebrity Pastors’ Walter White Problem,” but I assume my readers may be as unfamiliar with Breaking Bad as I am.)

How I detest religiopreneurs! I have a fairly expansive view of the human capacity for self-delusion, but it’s hard for me to imagine that the luxury-living megachurch pastor isn’t consciously a humbug. But wait! They may get their comeuppance at the hands of the IRS!:

The truth, however, is that much of their spendable wealth is generated by laundered tithe money, so the royalties and speaking fees comprise a second, hidden church salary. By using tithed money and their own pulpits to drive book sales and even buy the books outright, celebrity pastors have turned their non-profits into personal profit centers.

The problem isn’t only an ethical one. Tax-exempt organizations are prohibited from contriving special financial gains for their leaders, a violation called inurement that the IRS can punish by revoking the organization’s tax-exempt status.

Although for most of my life I’ve been pretty hostile to the Protestant mainstream and have relished it’s decline, that schadenfreude has diminished as Orthodoxy reworks my life. Better it should flourish than this megachurch crap, which may be largely responsible for the famous if feckless American Exceptionalism in religiosity. How very, very mixed my feelings will be if the IRS takes away tax exemption for some of these churches because they bought the boss onto the best-seller lists.


We have odd criteria for success in areas other than religion as well.

Apparently, it’s shameful to encourage kids to abstain from fornication (the very word reeks of anachronism, but I refuse to abandon it) by warning of eternal consequences. (Not all warnings of eternal consequences need sound like Jonathan Edwards, by the way.)

But it’s okay if distasteful to “remind youthful viewers that babies cry and vomit, scream in the middle of the night and poop with abandon,” so they’ll Google “how to get birth control” the next day.

Yes, reducing teen births is an accomplishment of sorts, but I’d much rather see an increase in actual chastity, not just in consequence avoidance. But that’s because I’m interested in soulcraft and not just in appearances.


A new “bubble” is inflating, it seems. Continuing Care Retirement Communities promise refunds of a substantial chunk of entrance fees but maintain no reserves to fulfill such promises. It all depends on someone being able to buy your unit after that refund promiser, er, matures. That in turn means, for all practical purposes, that the market for sale of potential residents’ current homes remains strong.

But since we all watch HGTV, we know that’s a certainty, right? Real estate prices always rise rapidly, right? Right? (Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.)


Today is historic for Orthodoxy in North America. Metropolitan Phillip Saliba has reposed.

Metropolitan Phillip was the Hierarch with the wisdom (or reckless abandon) to let several thousand not-that-long-ago Evangelicals, associated with the late Fr. Peter Gillquist and his Campus Crusade for Christ compadres, into Orthodoxy tout de suite a few decades back. Whatever else his legacy may be, he thus made Orthodoxy “thinkable” for, at least potentially, millions of Evangelicals who held Crusade in high regard and who, like I, took note when Fr. Peter and company stepped-by-step into actual historic Christian faith.

I’m aware that there is some controversy around the man and his Syrian connections, but I will always be grateful that he made his courageous move. Memory Eternal!


In other funerary news, Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church has died.

I spent way to much time figuring out how to say nothing hateful but nothing falsely kind, either. Then I wrote some words anyway, which I’ve now erased, to replace them with the more apt words of Sand In The Gears:

In the days leading up to his demise there was talk among some, who hate him deeply for his hatred, of picketing his funeral. Of holding signs and repaying his corpse. Someone in his church replied that they don’t have funerals, because this is to worship the dead. I suppose in another generation they’ll be banning crosses as idols, and in the generation after that they’ll be drinking Kool-Aid and waiting for the spaceships, because hatred is a kind of madness.

It’s easy to hate a man like Fred Phelps, and just as easy to say that we should have hearts filled with pity for him, for the sheep who followed him. It’s easy for me, anyway, because that was never one of my sons in a box, body flayed by a roadside bomb, his memory dishonored by shouting, sign-bearing heretics. I can’t imagine that horror without also tempting myself to hate him even now, to hope he burns as he ached to see others burn. Me, who was never wronged by him.

Yes, that second paragraph, especially the italics. Phelps’ people picketed the funeral of a fallen Christian soldier, the son of Christian parents with whom I attended Church. And that’s how he died, in a war I hated without ever hating the warriors. Picketed by heretics unworthy to lick his boots.

But don’t miss the rest of what Sand in the Gears says.


A hearty welcome to all the nubile lasses with WordPress blogs who’ve inexplicably started following me. Maybe it’s the gravatar.

It appeared from the WordPress bar charts that my page hits were down, but I think they’ve adjusted the scale to accommodate as many as 12 hits per hour.

I soon shall be a best-selling blogger with a 15,000 square foot house, huzzah! (And even groupies.)

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.