As most of you know, a local Dallas TV station aired a scathing investigative story during their ratings sweeep week, on Ed Young, pastor of SBC-affiliated Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX. Young posted his response to the story on his blog, with the post entitled "No Secrets".
Perhaps a better title would be "No Answers".
The news reporter claims credible sources have told him details of business transactions benefiting the Young's, the purchase of an 8-million dollar Falcon 50 private jet, and a total compensation package of $1.24 million.
Well, I want to focus not on the allegations or the news report...if true, its no big deal, just another millionaire preacher getting rich off of money given sacrificially by Christians who've been duped into thinking they're giving it to God. We've seen lots of these in the past 20 years. Nothing new there.
It is instructive, however, to examine the initial response of Young at his blog site 2/4/10, and the comments posted by his loyalists (counting over 130 as of this writing). They are using the same general template that other mega church pastors use when there are serious questions cast on their ministry. It is a template that hurts their ministry more than if they would be open and honest and transparent...and worst of all: its a template that demonstrates hypocrisy and arrogance on the part of the minister, and stupidy and gullibility on the part of the minister's followers - both of which do as much harm to the cause of Christ as the accusations themselves.
Here's the template response:
1. Whatever I did, my motives are right because I am called by God in my ministry.
You'll notice Ed starts off his response on his blog by saying he was called into the ministry by God. So what? That matters zilch when accusations of lavish spending and secrecy are raised. Every single minister who gets in trouble can make the same claim and it just has no relevance. I'd like to see a corporate CEO try that line of reasoning to address serious allegations against him.
2. The followers say: It doesn't matter, you're doing great things for God.
When a ministry has questions raised in the media, the minister's supporters will tend to not even want the questions answered. They instead express support by citing all the wonderful deeds the minister has done, and how their lives were blessed by him/her, as though any of that has relevance.
The vast majority of commenters on Ed's blog support him and cite all the wonderful things he has done for them and the Kingdom. Samples:
"Don't ever quit!!! Jesus is victorious!!! You and your family have had a significant impact on the lives of many."
"Pastor, I came to Christ because of a sermon you gave. My boyfriend and I chose to live a Christian life because of your teachings. Please, have no doubts as to why you became a pastor. The church is behind you and believes in you."
"My wife and I stand in support of you, Lisa, and your family during this time and are praying relentlessly against the wiles of Satan."
"The news piece was ridiculous. Since when do you have to disclose everything you own? Your members know that you have been signed on for amazing book deals because of the communicator you are and that has nothing to do with spending the church's money. "
"The salary and house doesn't bother me. Everyone who attends the church knows you make a lot of money. It's not like you or Lisa hide the bling, nor should you hide it. Like the old saying goes, 'If you’ve got it, flaunt it.' "
"The report was one-sided and clearly uneducated as to the vast amount of work done by both Fellowship and Ed Young to bring the Word to the entire world. Ed works harder than anyone I know - preaching, speaking, writing and being a father/husband. "
"At the end of the day I know that I am being obedient by tithing and serving the church. Whether or not these funds are being misused is not for me to judge. "
and my favorite:
"Immediatly after watching the news cast my husband and I went on line and tithed. We trust you Ed and Lisa and are continualy blessed by your leadership and teaching."
3. I absolutely will not answer your questions
Instead of answering questions like: yes, we do have a jet, and here's why...and no, we didn't take a vacation to the Bahamas and Mexico on the jet, or we did and we reimbursed the church for the cost of the plane...instead Ed states that he will not even so much as read or watch the news report! Imagine that, his ministry is on the news about HIS spending habits, and an airplane that HE rides in, and money HE takes from the ministry, and he will not watch or read the news account? Again, imagine a CEO giving that sort of response to allegations about his company. Ed's blog entry is entitled "No Secrets", but it really should be "No Answers".
These mega church pastors would sooner burn the place down than answer questions from lay people much less a pesky reporter. Does Ed really make a million and a quarter per year? Did the church or some ancillary 501(c)3 buy a jet? Did he take the jet to the Bahamas and Mexico? They will not answer. They owe no one any answers. To answer is to be weak. To answer would invite more questions, and they don't want more questions.
4. I am not accountable to the public or to the donors, only a few close advisers.
Ed says that "proper people" know the facts and hold him accountable. Sorry, but in the church setting that means zippo. Many mega churches have bylaws that essentially allow the pastor to hand pick the trustees and financial officers of the church, thus there is very little accountability. Not saying that is the case here...but the point is open disclosure of finanical records to each and every donor, like pastor compensation packages and gifts and air plane contracts - now THAT would be accountability.
5. My pay is fair and in-line with other similar pastors.
They will never, ever, release total compensation packages of the pastor. They will say things like "we have an independent group that ensures it is fair and equitible based on studies of like churches". Some might even speak of "salary" numbers but not include all of the "allowances". Some might even say statements like "I'm one of the lowest paid mega church pastors in the SBC."
But never, ever, will they release compensation numbers. Unless Senator Grassely asks, then its 50/50.
6. The questioner is "Satan", and the questions are a device of the devil to divide the church.
In the minds of the minister and his/her followers, accusations of impropriety are proof that the minister is doing the will of God. Look at any church scandal, and that is always the initial response. Anybody who dares to publicly call for answers on how money is spent by a mega church will be accused of "doing the work of Satan". The questioners will be told they are just "jealous". Some will warn the questioner that God will bring a plague on them.
This investigative report included an anonymous "former staff member". The template calls for him to be called a coward. If they can find out who he is, there is a good chance he will be slandered and ridiculed.
Again, more quotes on the blog:
"Strangely enough, all the report really did was make one person look like a coward. If you have a problem with your brother, bring it to him. Don't cover your head and have your voice changed. "
"Remember this is part of Satan's schemes to kill and destroy all who serve in the kingdom of God. "
"I can't help but think that this attack came to be at the end of a church-wide month long fast. Satan has to work extra hard to try to overpower the blessings of Fellowship Church."
"One gets attacked the most when one is doing what is right!"
"We are sorry that the devil is dancing and have lifted you up in our prayers. "
And my favorite:
"I am sure that when your and Lisa's feet hit the floor each morning the devil and his minions jump up and scream kicking it into Mach 3 with their hair catching fire because they know they have to 'work like hell' to attack all the advances that will be made in God's kingdom through His use of the gifts and talents He so kindly bestowed upon both of you."
7. The minister will receive a standing ovation in the first church service after the accusations.
Guaranteed. No matter the accusations, the minister will address them in a very vague way, not directly, will claim to not be perfect, will minimize the concerns, will use God's will as a defense, and will say that the devil gets busy when God's man is doing God's will.
And the minister will get a standing ovation from the faithful. He will act humble, maybe shed a tear out the corner of his eye.
What should Ed Young Do?
Ed Young should answer the questions directly. They are easy to answer. He can humble himself and give an answer for the plane and his salary. Maybe they did a cost/benefit analysis on all of his travel expenses and the jet made sense.
But he won't, and likely his congregation won't require him to.