Religious Celebrities

Many years ago I was appointed to a local newspaper committee chaired by the editor of that newspaper. One of the purposes of the committee, called a “circle”, was to assist the newspaper which was owned by a national chain in being responsive and innovative in the communities that it served. Being a cleric in a faith tradition that most of the folkes on the committee were not familiar with, “Catholic and Reformed” I was nonetheless afforded a certain “professional” status. Neither the editor or his staff knew that at the tender age of 19 I was working as an op ed writer on a rural newspaper and even held a N C Press Association membership card! But none of that really mattered especially when it came to changing the “religion section” of the newspaper. It was in reality a “whose who” of the local church scene with a Reader’s Digest kind of approach to “devotional” stories and not much of anything else.
When I had the audacity to suggest that the newspaper in conjunction with those faith communities who chose to participate sponsor a faith in media conference with religious notables such as Archbishop Tutu or Bill Moyers or whomever but not pay the invited guests there was an audible gasp and a shaking of heads. I was quick to add that we could enlist the assistance of our hotels to offer free food and lodging while paying for transportation. Naturally the suggestion was defeated but the why was most interesting.
In the words of one local clergyman who was part of the good ole boys and girls clergy club “Why would they want to come if we aren’t going to pay the going rate for their participation?”! I said “well can you imaged Jesus saying to the multitudes Blessed are you who oh wait a minute have you paid your 15 dollar membership fee on my website?” or Paul chatting with the movers and shakers of ancient Athens telling them that he had some very profound insights to share but only after they paid him a couple of thousand drachmas!
I have a real issue with religious celebrities. In fact the very term should be an oxymoron. I remember an Episcopal bishop telling his diocesan executive committee that he just could not live on 85 thousand dollars a year salary. This despite his travel allowance his grocery allowance and his insurance being paid! He got an increase to over a hundred thousand dollars and even was given at his request a stipend of over 10 thousand dollars “to study Celtic spirituality” abroad. How in the name of heaven can a man being paid this much and given such privilege possibly relate to the poor and folkes working three jobs just to pay rent and to eat! No I have no respect for a country club Second Estate dancing around with those in power in the name of some kind of false inclusivcity.


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