Pastor quits church--and his $600,000 salary

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The New York Times reports that the pastor of a famous church, a "renowned bastion of liberal theology and social activism on the Upper West Side of Manhattan" has resigned from his job after just nine months on the job.

I don't know anything about the internal politics of the congregation that led to his early departure, but I did find it interesting to note that the pastor, who described himself as a "progressive Christian" in his resignation letter, was making over $600,000 a year, "including a $250,000 salary and a housing allowance." What I also found interesting was the statement from the article that "experts on American churches said the pastor’s compensation was well above average among pastors nationwide, but within the range of packages for senior pastors of similar major churches in other big cities."

Wow. $600,000 is within the pay range for senior pastors of major churches in big cities? Major progressive churches?

I'm more familiar with the opposite problem--I've seen churches that are small and which can't even afford to pay their pastors full time salaries. I am certainly in favor of pastors being fairly compensated for their work, and I realize that New York is an expensive city to live in, but even given all of that, I am finding it hard to see how a salary of $600,000 a year is compatible with a progressive social vision. The fact that "other churches do it" hardly seems like a justification. This is not about market economics, and I think that other considerations besides the going rate should be in play here. Instead, it might be useful to ask what is consistent with the vision of a religion whose founder once famously said something about wealth and camels and the eyes of needles.

7 comments:

Cynthia said...

Holy camel dung!

But then I also question why the church needs a place to worship that requires more of the budget for maintenance, heat, electricity, etc. than is alloted for the mission portion of the budget.

Mystical Seeker said...

I agree with you, Cynthia.

There seems to be some confusion about how much salary Braxton actually made. According to an open letter published on the UCC web site, it wasn't $600,000, but rather $460,000. There, don't you feel much better now? :)

I find this quote from that open letter pretty interesting: "Among the factors the church took into account in setting the compensation package for the senor minister was an independent study of twelve religious organizations in Manhattan who minister to congregations of a similar size and scope. The study was conducted by Fletcher Consulting Group in 2003. Our staff trended it forward at our request. According to that study, the package that we initially discussed with the congregation last year, prior to even the selection of a candidate for the new Sr. Minister, and the package that the Rev. Braxton now receives, is in line with compensation packages of those religious leaders."

In other words, it was purely a matter of market considerations. Whatever. My feeling is that the "market" is a rather impersonal and poor judge of what is just and fair, and that the market is cause of a fair amount of the social injustice that is going on in our society. I frequently see the market rate being used to justify the obscene salaries that many corporate CEOs are being paid--"our salary is in line with market rates" seems to be the standard party line.

Maybe it's just me, but I think that a church ought to be acting according to a higher standard than just a slavish adherence to the impersonal forces of the market. Using going rates is just an excuse. And a lame one at that.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Mystical Seeker,

Keep in mind that the amount quoted likely includes salary, housing, medical insurance, pension, and professional expenses -- such as travel. The Riverside pastor has a very different job portfolio from a typical pastor -- CEO is a major part of that job.

Is it a lot. Yes. But is it outrageous -- consider that a relatively mediocre baseball player probably makes twice what he was making.

But the debate at Riverside isn't about the money, it's about control -- and obviously a group within the church had lost control and they weren't going to go down without a fight! Ah, church politics -- see Randy Balmer's comments at Religion Dispatches, which I've commented upon myself!

Frank said...

The gospel call challenges all of us... not just those with 600k salaries, but everyone. It is easy to blame the very rich, but we all have luxuries we can do without.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Do I think that the package is excessive? I expect that some would feel mine is excessive. The question is -- what is appropriate to the context. I'm assuming that most of the package was set before he was selected.

My concern is with the power politics that is driving this. I'm wondering about the nature of the congregation at this point -- it's spiritual health.

Did the people who oppose him now vote for him? Was there a large dissenting block going in? If so, then I would never have taken the position. My own congregation voted unanimously to call me -- but that doesn't always happen. So, what is that make or break number?

My sense is that the package offered is probably in line with large church packages -- and remember again, only a portion is salary -- there are a lot of other elements in there. The housing allowance was 11500 a month. That sounds like a lot, but maybe not in Manhattan.

Mike said...

I hate man made chruch government but I love Jesus and I love his Church (His People) and I want to be with them all the time cause we are not of this world. So a bunch of money for whatever is not a big deal what is a big deal is living Godless lives that compromise the word of God and then acting like you know Jesus and His word when all you want to do is be lazy and live like the world and excuse it by saying things like who needs to meet in a building.

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