If you haven't heard of the scandal gripping the City of Bell, California, you should take a close look to see what can happen when leaders who are supposed to be servants of the people operate with no transparency and accountability to the very people who give them the money, and whom they are to serve.
Those of you who are members of mega churches where the total compensation packages of your pastor and family members, and payments to former pastors are a closely guarded secret, take notice: there is a reason why they don't want you to know their salaries.
Because they know you would be absolutely disgusted to know the details of their total compensation.
Bell, California is a case in point: this small town of about 38,000 people, 90% of which are poor Latinos, has a corrupt city government whose leaders voted themselves gigantic raises. The city manager earned about $800,000 per year, the city manager's assistant earned about $375,000, the police chief a hefty $450,000, and the part-time city council members earned $100,000 per year each.
Now that the people of Bell know, they are ticked off. They are revolting against their government officials as well they should. The people trusted their leaders, and the leaders abused the trust by taking unbelievable sums of money from the people they were to serve in order to enrich themselves. Of course the Bell officials did this while the government sought to get even more of the people's money through higher taxes.
Sound familiar? Mega church pastors are notorious for preaching the legalist Old Testament tithing doctrine, that to be a good Christian you must fork over at least 10% of your gross income, undesignated, to your church. God requires it, they say - as a starting point. Then, your spiritual maturity is measured in part by how much you trust the leadership to spend it with minimal accountability. To ask questions about details of how the money is spent, especially on the wealthy pastor and his family, well, you aren't trusting Jesus.
When you read the details of how these clowns in Bell bilked the taxpayers for these outlandish salaries, you realize how absolutely important it is for there to be transparency and accountability when it comes to salaries and compensation packages for those in positions of public trust. Not just government, but non-profit organizations like churches where the income is derived from the generosity of people who trust the organization to spend their money for their chosen cause.
What is just as disgusting is the dollars paid to these people, is their attitude that they deserve it! As reported in the Los Angeles Times, city manager Robert Rizzo says of his nearly $800k compensation:
"If that's a number people choke on, maybe I'm in the wrong business...I could go into private business and make that money. This council has compensated me for the job I've done."
Right. Go out there, big boy, and see who will pay you $800k per year, then come back and tell us about it. Even the Bell mayor defends Rizzo's outrageous salary:
"Our city is one of the best in the area. That is the result of the city manager. It's not because I say it. It's because my community says it."
Unbelievable. They deserve it, they think. But make no mistake about it: these mega church pastors view themselves as talented rock stars, ordained by God himself, and think themselves deserving of the large incomes they draw from their churches, their speaking engagements, books, and gifts given to them by their star-struck followers. Ed Young, Jr, the jet-setting pastor of Fellowship Church views himself as the church's "franchise player"
, responsible for "raising" the millions needed by the church. Who can forget the image of Jerry Vines and Mac Brunson high-fiving and hugging on the platform during the 2007 FBC Jax Pastor's Conference when Vines was preaching about people complaining about preacher's salaries - and Vines' comment of "you don't pay me enough to be yo preacha, brutha" - easily one of the most uncomfortable sermon moments in FBC Jax history.
The solution? It's so easy. Public disclosure of ALL sources of income of people who are public servants. We do it in Jacksonville, Florida. With about 3 mouse clicks the salary and overtime pay can be obtained for any government employees. Any. From the mayor, to the sheriff, all the way down to the lowest-paid city worker.
The same should be for these "men of God". If they trust God so much, trust God to let their total comp be known. If they fear their salaries being made public, then they are absolutely earning too much. They are using their position to gain financially, wasting God's money that church members faithfully fork over. If they don't do it willingly, I hope the day will come when the IRS demands it.
And not just "salary" should be known of these mega church pastors, but their entire compensation packages. One of the ways the Bell council members were able to earn $100k a year was their "salary" was broken up by parts, a separate income from each board on the city they sat on. So we don't just want base salary of these mega church rock stars, but how much is their salary, housing allowance, travel allowance, clothing allowance, etc. etc. And please, disclose any large gifts you receive from your members, just like our Congressmen must.
One humorous side note on the Bell story as reported by the LA Times:
"Councilman Luis Artiga, who was appointed to the council 15 months ago to fill an unexpired term, said he had no idea how much he would be paid. When he received his first check, he thought it was "a miracle from God." Artiga, who is pastor of Bell Community Church, said he uses about half his salary to pay the church's mortgage."
Yep, praise Jesus, a $100,000 salary for part time work. And yes, Ed Young's jet, a miracle of God, too. And a land gift of $300,000 to Mac Brunson; praise the Lord.
I pray for the day when Senator Grassley or someone else in Congress will finally require these mega churches to disclose detailed financial records including pastor compensation. The day will come, I'm confident, the only question is how much money will be wasted in the mean time.
Lastly, I became aware of the Bell, California story over at SBC pastor William Thornton's blog
, where he wrote the following blurb about it:
"Scenes of vein-popping outrage ensued when citizens of the obscure town of Bell, CA found out that its manager was being paid over $800k, police chief about half-a-million, and part time councilmen $100k annually. Rightly so. What would happen if Baptist Press published the total compensation package of all SBC entity heads (and don’t give me a ‘salary’ figure, most clergy are onto that game)? apoplexy? Raised eyebrows? Ho hum? Let’s do it and see. It’s our money."
I agree with William. It is our money. Let's see what the total compensation package for these men who lead the SBC agencies, and the mega church pastors also. Not just "salary" - total compensation.
If they don't want to, let them go with Bell's Robert Rizzo into the private sector searching for the $800,000 salary. The preachers will be shocked when they realize they have to compete in a cut-throat employment market, where no one kisses their hineys and calls them "God's man".