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Friday, March 25, 2011

Whose Faith is a Joke?

Is Atheism the True Path to Peace?
© 2011 By Tom King

Examining the elephant of religion!

There's a video on Youtube that my liberal and atheist friends like to send me on occasion when I get too “religious” on them. It's an intellectual argument in favor of being disrespectful to the idiots that practice religion. The snippy little Englishman who delivers this pithy little diatribe has earned a devoted following among snippy little liberals who love to show off how smart they are for rejecting the faith of their fathers and how stupid you are for falling for the whole fraud.

According to the gentleman* in the video (and yes I watched it to the bitter end), faith is the cause of all the troubles in the world. He also suggests that a proper acceptance of atheism would end all the troubles of the world. Let's examine that.

Okay, I will give him that religious symbols ahave been pasted on the shields and bucklers of countless armies throughout history. So what? People stick up eagles on poles and seals and flags as symbols of all sorts of evil empires. Does that mean that eagles are inherantly evil, merely because people use them as symbols of their evil enterprises?

Religious motives have been claimed by despots and despoilers time and again throughout history. Claiming a religious purpose does not make that purpose religious, any more than claiming to be a representative of “true Islam” while blowing yourself up means that you were doing it on behalf of all your fellow Muslims. Terrorists seldom ask for a vote from their fellow faithful before blasting themselves and some farmer's market to smithereens. Claiming you represent something means little or nothing. Madmen do it all the time.

I find the claim that atheism induces peace to be a bit far-fetched. For instance, can anyone remember what was the official religion of the guys who had nukes pointed at every civilized country in the world and whose leader once pounded his shoe on a desk at the UN and threatened to "bury" us all. A little hint. He was an atheist! No believer in religion him. In fact, the USSR was “officially” atheist. They were also not shy about funding terrorism, revolution and murder – officially. Their leaders murdered tens of millions of their own citizens. Stalin and Mao alone were responsible for a 20th century communist death toll exceeding 100 million human beings. That doesn't even include the peripheral slaughter in communist inspired revolutions worldwide.

And does anyone remember the religion of the folks who held that “peaceful” atheist power in check for 4 decades and finally induced it to stand down its hair-trigger missiles and tear down "that wall"?  I'll just tell you. It was Christians living in a country that allows for the free exercise of all religions including atheism, led by a devoutly religious president. That faith was behind our firm resolve not to attack and conquer an enemy, even one that had openly promised to destroy us as the Soviet Union did.

And isn't it strange that Christianity tolerates atheism, while atheism does not tolerate Christianity – a least not in officially 'atheist' countries.

And read your history. The despots that led virtually every tyrannical nation in history never bothered to actually practice the religion they espoused. It was used as a means to an end. Folk like France's Cardinal Richelieu never believed in God for a moment or they would have never behaved the way they did. Richelieu plundered France, plotted intrigue, assassinations and took bribes. He had mistresses (he was supposed to be celibate), his own private goon squad and his own private castle. He dripped gold and he was no more a Christian than Beelzebub.

And lest you think atheism or "nonreligion" is inherantly good, please remember what happened in France when they tossed off the shackles of "religion". The guillotine spilled rivers of blood in the streets. So much for the whole "peaceful atheism" theory. Oh, and by the way, France wasn't throwing off a faith in scripture or the Judeo-Christian God. The church at the time didn't allow the faithful to look at scripture for themselves anyway. What the French were “throwing off” was an impossibly corrupt brand of Roman Catholicism whose leaders in France were practicing atheists for all intents and purposes with no real fear of God whatsoever.

And if you are going to protest that Communism or the French Revolution was a misuse or corruption of atheism, I would ask you to remember that what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. Christianity gets misused all the time.

Despite its occasional misuse, Christianity's influence, I maintain, is a positive influence in the world. After all, it was Christian people who induced their governments to be merciful to the vanquished when we conquered Japan, Germany and Italy, despite the horrors they had inflicted on the world. And time after time, it has been Christians at large, horrified by what governments have done in their name, who come in afterward to clean up the mess, bind up the wounds and heal the injured.

The golden rule as taught by Jesus and by someone in virtually every corner of the globe in some form or other, has reduced the level of violence and evil in this world. The guiding principle behind all faith, stands like a great dike holding back the flood waters of evil. Does it get swamped sometimes? Yup! Does it spring leaks? Man is fallable. But faith struggles unrelentingly against evil, even evil that springs up within its own ranks

That's why Christians react with horror to the David Koreshes**, the Jim Joneses and other phony, power-mad lunatics that seek to use religion as a tool to lord over their fellow man. But I tell you this. Those whose relationship is not with "religion", but with God Himself are not fooled. Those who look for a human being to follow are inevitably led to destruction - often literally.

So, I politely disagree with the guy in the “Your Faith Is a Joke” video. I've heard it all before and it doesn't wash. He knows nothing of faith. He is like one of the blind men and the elephant in the Kipling poem. He has formed his whole opinion from the fact that as far as the religious elephant is concerned, this snippy little blind man has managed to position himself so that his hand is shoved up what the Church Lady would call the elephant's "naughty parts". And from this one aspect of the religious elephant, he forms his whole opinion of faith. And faith is not even the elephant at all, but what the elephant of religion seeks to discover. Faith is what feeds religion; what gives religion its reason to exist. Religion, like the elephant, without the nourishment of faith is dead! And that food is only available directly from the hand of God and not from any human being or human power.

There's a fine distinction between religion and God. I know God and have a relationship with Him. I practice religion***.  Religion is an organizational structure that like-minded believers create for themselves - a government if you will, that helps the faithful manage their shared business. To say that "religion" is bad is to say that "government" is bad. They are one and the same thing, just organized for different purposes. I maintain that big religion is every bit as unhealthy as big government or big corporations or any too-large, power-wielding entity. The temptation to corruption is too great for those who run the show as history tirelessly demonstrates.

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King
*  I do not use this man's name here because I don't think he deserves the publicity and I refuse to contribute to his self-marketing campaign or attempt to establish himself as a credible spokesman for any philosophy.
** The members of the church I attend every week recognized the evil purpose within Vernon Howell, the man who later took the name David Koresh. We cast him out of the church and warned others about him. We got bomb threats during the Waco standoff simply because he had once been among us. He did not represent us. We did not teach him to be as he was. He simply passed through our midst and attempted to use us to gather followers. We flatly rejected him and the evil work he was doing, but even so, later, some people still attempted to tar us with the same brush they used to condemn Koresh.

*** A lot of folk do it backward. They know religion and practice God, an entirely ineffective method for making you a better man or woman.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bluto Gets What's Comin' to Him.

(c) 2011 by Tom King
Illustrations Max & Dave Fleischer Studios
(c) Turner Entertainment

A recent viral video that has, not surprisingly, been banned from YouTube, shows an overweight high school kid being tormented by a smaller bully. He absorbs a direct hit to the face and stomach before he loses his temper and body slams the little twerp into the concrete. Casey, the child being bullied was suspended along with his attacker, but I suspect Casey thought the punishment darn well worth the satisfaction of making the young thug stop tormenting him. It also made him a hero to every persecuted kid in the nation.

My middle son tolerated a lot of that sort of nonsense when he went to school. When one young thug bloodied the inside of his eyeball, Micah could no longer hide the bullying from us.  He'd been held down by this kid and punched in the face till he his eye bled. I approached the school and they would not give me the name of Micah's attacker or the name of the boy's parents. BUT PRACTICALLY EVERYONE ELSE IN THE SCHOOL WAS HAPPY TO PROVIDE THAT INFORMATION.  The school did not call the police. They treated it as a "boys will be boys" incident - no harm done  Only I had to take Micah to an expensive opthamologist to have his eye treated.

Having been bullied myself, I decided this would stop. My eldest son was already being persecuted in an attempt to drive him off the school basketball team by these same gang wannabes - including this boy that viciously punched my younger son.  I went to visit the boy's parents. They were nice people but did not speak English. The kid who had hit my son translated for me.  Knowing the parents were getting a watered down version, I did not hide my anger much. That they would understand no matter what the boy told them I was saying. AND I didn't even try to aim my comments at them. It was obvious who was in charge in that home. Instead, in my best Dirty Harry impersonation I explained what I would do if the boy every laid a hand on one of my kids again. There were no threats, only a solemn promise to carry him bodily to police station and file charges personally while I sat on him until they could get the cuffs on. Whether he told his parents that or not, HE heard it.

He stopped tormenting my son for a while, buying Micah time to grow almost a foot taller and put on an imposing 50 pounds in the next two years. When he became too large to risk attacking anymore, they left him alone. I also taught both my boys to defend themselves without injuring their attacker. It was a technique I taught working at a treatment center for disturbed kids. I was doing 8-10 interventions and restraints a day at first. The boys learned a lot about verbal methods for deflecting bullies, but they also got thorough training in how to physically manage and deflect an on-coming attacker.

THEN, I got together with a group of parents whose kids were also being tormented and we made a cause celebre' out of replacing the school board with angry parents. School board elections are notoriously poorly attended, so about 25 of us were able to swing the vote and put a majority voting block of those angry parents on the board.  They promptly created a zero tolerance policy toward violence and young bullies started having to be picked up from the police station by their moms and dads. Violence subsided dramatically.

When I was in elementary school, I had a former friend decide he would increase his rank in the school's thug pecking order by singling me out to torment. I was the skinniest kid in the class, wore (usually) broken glasses with tape in the middle and made good grades. I was the perfect target. He kept going after me in front or the bigger boys, more than half of whom eventually went on to serve time when they grew up. At first I ignored it which only encouraged him. Then I pinned him down on his face in the grass and explained that I wasn't going to hurt him, but that I would appreciate it if he would stop. About then I looked up and realized my teacher, Mrs. Webb, was watching the whole thing out the window of our classroom. She never said a word to me about it.  The would-be bully attacked me on the playground a second time and pinned my arms behind me. The bell had rung and we were supposed to be going in. I warned him that I needed to go inside and he told me I couldn't escape. I told him I could but he wouldn't like how I did it. He dared me to try it, so I head butted him in the nose.  He followed me inside, blood pouring down the front of his shirt.

Again, Mrs. Webb said nothing to me about it.

Desperate to win back his manhood, my tormenter attacked me again in the restroom putting me in a head lock in front of some big boys. The bell rang and they left and again he tried to get me in a head lock. When I twisted free a second time he tried to knock me down and pin me. I asked nicely for him to let me go. He came at me again. I'd been watching Saturday night wrestling the previous weekend with my step-dad and decided on the spur of the moment to try something I'd seen. As my attacker bored in to ram me, I pushed down his head and his momentum drove his head between my knees.  In one surprisingly smooth move for an awkward kid, I pinned his head between my knees and jerked his feet off the ground by the back of his trousers.

With his feet waving in the air, I again asked him to leave me alone. He threatened to kill me.

So, I hopped over to the toilet and sat down, driving his head down into the bowl. I flushed. With water swirling around his ears, he finally promised to leave me alone.  I lowered him to the ground and went on my way. He showed up for class 15 minutes later with his hair only partially dried (we only had paper towels in the olden days).  I never told anyone why his hair was wet and he never came after me again. Again, my teacher never said a word to me about it, though I found out later that she did find out about it.

I still have scars from the bullying I endured in elementary school from the bigger bullies, so my sympathies are entirely with the young man in the video. It's true he might have seriously hurt the kid who was punching him in the face, but as someone pointed out, if you attack another person, you lose your right to protest that they have defended themselves too well. 

Dave Fleischer, the director of the old Popey cartoons, actually did one called "Assault and Flattery" in which Bluto tries to sue Popeye for all the times Popeye had defended himself and pounded Bluto into submission. The cartoon was strangely prescient of how we treat bullies today.

Years later, when I became a teacher, I persecuted young bullies unmercifully. If I caught them in the act, and I often did, I came down on them like a ton of angry bricks. The punishments were always much worse than the crimes.  I learned that with bullies, the only way to make them stop is to make the consequences outweigh the satisfaction their egos derive from tormenting others. Attempts to negotiate with bullies are only seen as weakness by bullies.  You always have to follow up diplomacy with, as Teddy Roosevelt so colorfully pointed out, "A Big Stick".

I'm just sayin'


*Read Orson Scott Cards "Enders Game" for a novel length treatment of the subject.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who Would You Walk a Thousand Miles With?

One of my favorite weblogs "The Art of Manliness" is running a contest for a pair of Wolverine 1,000 Mile Boots. Brett and Kate ask the question "What man, real or fictional, would you like to walk a thousand miles with. A bunch of possiblilities immediately jumped into my mind.  My own Dad took a powder on us when I was 5 and he was not much of a role model for me. I wound up choosing characters from books as my models of how to be a man. But to choose one in that vast crowd was tough. Of course, Jesus is always at the top of such a list, but since he was more than a mere man, I figured he didn't quite count in this particular context.  Then, suddenly, I knew exactly who I wanted to travel with.

King David of Israel - Here's why.

You remember the story of David and Goliath?  Everyone was too afraid the giant warrior, Goliath, but here's this teenage kid who volunteers without hesitation, convinced that God would protect him.  He even turned down a free suit of armor, preferring to take the giant on wearing sandals and a loincloth.  On the way to the fight, David stops by a dry streambed and picks up five smooth stones for his sling.

This is what makes him a man's man in my opinion -- the reason he picked up exactly five stones.

So, why five? Well, in those times, it was tradition in that part of the world that if you killed someone, his family had the right to take a run at you and kill you. Well Goliath of Gath had 4 giant brothers.

David took one rock for each of 'em, just in case they all decided to take a run at him that same day. As it was, David and his men eventually had to dispatch all four brothers before they quit coming after him. Talk about guts, that kid had 'em.

Another time, King Saul was hunting David, believing him to be a dangerous rival and intending to kill him. Along the trail, Saul stepped into a cave to relieve himself, not knowing David and his men were hiding there. While Saul was taking a tinkle, David whacked off the tail of his cloak with a very sharp knife. When Saul stepped out of the cave, David followed him out and called to him, holding up the fragment of cloak so Saul could see it.

"I could have killed you, but I did not," David told him. "I am not your enemy." Saul was so shamed by David's courage and his mercy that he went back home and left David to go his way in peace.

David was a man of courage, a man of honor and a man of faith. He made big mistakes in his life, there is no doubt, but he always had the guts to admit when he was wrong in front of God and everybody.

I would be proud to walk a thousand miles at the side of such a man.

Tom King - Tyler, TX

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Song for St. Patrick's Day

This is one I'll listen to at bedtime as I'm driftin' off to sleep.  "Will Ye' Go' Lassie, Go" by the wonderful Clancy Brothers and my favorite Irish banjo player - Tommy Makem.  Give it a listen. It'll do your soul some wee bit o'good.

Click on the title above and it will take you directly to the Youtube page

My Annual St. Patrick's Day Joke - The Ocean Cruise

    Retold by Tom King (c) 2011
Art by Tom King (c) 2011
(please include credits when stealing)

An Irishman walks into a bar and sees a large poster on the back wall that says, "Ocean Cruises - $200" with an arrow pointing to a door in the back.
    "I could use a bit of a vacation," he tells himself and knocks at the door. He's ushered in by a large man with a heavy blackthorn sheleleigh wearing a badge that says, "Security". He's taken to a small room where there's a little man sitting at a table with a cash box and a stack of papers. The tiny man motions for him to sit down.
    "Is it true you offer ocean cruised for only $200." Paddy asked.
    "Aye, Bucko, it tis," the man replied. "Put your money in the box and fill out an application while I get your travel documents in order."
    Figuring he couldn't go far wrong at that price, the Irishman fishes the $200 out of his wallet and drops it in the box.  He's just picking up the pen to fill out an "application" when the world goes suddenly black.
    The Irishman wakes up with a huge knot on the back of his head, sitting stark naked in an inner tube floating down a river toward the sea, which he spies off ahead in the distance. "What a grand fool I've been taken for," he thought resignedly when he suddenly notices another apparently naked man in an inner tube floating a few yards away.
    "Och, and isn't this a fine cruise we've purchased for ourselfs?" he shrugged ruefully at his fellow traveler. "Do you suppose they'll serve those little umbrella drinks on this trip," he joked.
    "I dunna think so," the Scotsman answered, his thick brogue identifying his nationality.
    "And why is that?" the Paddy laughted good-naturedly.
    "Well," the Scotsman shot back with some irritation. "They didna have 'em last year."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Healthcare's on First

Abbot and Costello on Obamacare
(c)2011 by Tom King

Abbott: Now, with the new Administration, President Obama has a lot of new names for things.

Costello: Funny names?

Abbott: We like to call them “clarifications. Now, first we’ve got the term “popular mandate”.

Costello: Like the all those people out there on the sidewalks with the signs and the tea bags?

Abbott: Exactly. We call what they are doing “schilling for big corporations” instead. See, those people are not really grass roots protesters.  Instead, we call them astro-turfers. The big insurance companies pay them to march up and down and pretend to be mad about health care reform.

Costello: You mean they’re not really mad?

Abbott: Nooooo, they’re just pretending to be mad so the insurance companies can make more money.

Costello: They sure look mad to me!

Abbott:  That's why we call them astro-turfers. That way we make sure everyone knows they are only artificially mad so they can earn those corporate dollars for "schilling for big corporations".

Costello: Hey, I need a job. Do you think they’ll pay me to do that.

Abbott: Now why would you want to do that?

Costello: Cause I haven’t had a job since 2009.

Abbott: Well why didn’t you get one of those new green jobs created by the stimulus?

Costello: They must have not been stimulating in my neighborhood.

Abbott: Well you can’t work for the astro-turfers.

Costello: Why not?

Abbott: Because they don’t tell you where to go to sign up.

Costello: Why?

Abbott: They don’t want everybody to know who’s paying them.

Costello: Then how do the people know where to go to get their paychecks?

Abbott: Oh, that’s easy. They just go to the corporations.

Costello: So, couldn't I go to the corporations and get paid?

Abbott: No

Costello: Why not?

Abbott: Because you couldn’t find them.

Costello: Why not?

Abbott: Because they’re secret?

Costello: Then how do the people that schill for the big corporations know where to go get paid?

Abbott: They just go to the corporations!

Costello: Now don’t you start that again!

Abbott: I was just trying to tell you…..

Costello: You’re trying to confuse me…………

Abbott: Hey, I just thought of something. Maybe you could work for the Community Healthcare Standards Board.

Costello: Now that sounds like something I could do. What does a community healthcare standards board do?

Abbott: They decide who gets health care and who doesn’t.

Costello: Is that like those death panels the people outside schilling for the corporations are talking about.

Abbott: No, no. These are community healthcare standards boards.  There is no such thing as a death panel. The community healthcare standards board determines whether or not it's worth spending the government's healthcare money on treating your illness or not.

Costello: I thought everybody gets health care.

Abbott: They do, unless, of course, the community healthcare standards board says they don't.

Costello: What happens to them? Do they die?

Abbott: We don’t like talk about that.

Costello: I'll bet you don't. But what about the people that the community healthcare standards board says that they don't get health care - let me ask you something...

Abbott: Shoot!

Costello: They shoot them?

Abbott: No, no, I didn't mean they would shoot them. I meant....well, They just die of natural causes that's all. We call it a successful outcome of an end-of-life planning process.

Costello: End of life planning? So the board says they don't get healthcare for whatever reason and then they die. Is that right.

Abbott:  Mmmmmmm, that's about right.

Costello: Then how is that not a death panel?

Abbott: Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh, they’ll hear you.

Costello: Who?

Abbott: The people outside delivering a mandate, I mean, schilling for the corporations.

Costello: I know, I’d like to deliver somebody a mandate!

Abbott: Why?

Costello: Well one of those mandate guys....

Abbott: You mean corporate schills....

Costello: I mean one of those guys out there that looks like he's not just pretending to be mad, told me that that if I didn’t want to pay the government to be on this health care plan that I'd get audited by the Internal Revenue Service!

Abbott: We call that "health care program cost recovery-analysis".

Costello: Are they still going to look at my books?

Abbott: Yes

Costello: Then how is that not an audit?

Abbott: Because it's a health care program cost recovery-analysis.

Costello: Why not call it an audit? It's easier. People know what an audit is. It wouldn't be so confusing!

Abbott: Exactly!

Costello: So you call it something else so people won't know what you are doing?

Abbott: Not exactly.

Costello: How is it "not exactly"?.

Abbott: Because we're doing it for their own good.

Costello: I'd like to give you something for your own good......

Abbott: That's only because you don't understand it.

Costello: (aggravated) Because you're trying to confuse me!

Abbott: Exactly.

Costello: I don't think I like this Obamacare thing so much.

Abbott: Oh, we don't call it Obamacare anymore.

Costello: Why not?

Abbott:  We call it "Affordable Healthcare".

Costello:  Why?

Abbott: Because that's what we want people to think it it.

Costello: And what do you want people to think it is.

Abbott:  Affordable.

Costello:  So is it?

Abbott:  Is it what?

Costello: Is it affordable?

Abbott:  It will be once we get all the young people signed up.

Costello: Why do they want young people to sign up?

Abbott:  To pay for the old people's healthcare.

Costello: Isn't that going to make the young people's healthcare cost more?

Abbott: We don't talk about that.

Costello: I be you don't.......................So tell me this. I'm a young person. How do I sign up for Obamacare?

Abbott: Affordable Healthcare

Costello: (with a snarky tone) Affordable Health care then?

Abbott:  You just go to the website and sign up.

Costello:  I went to that place on my computer. It's broken!

Abbott:  You broke a website that cost the taxpayers 677 million dollars?  Shame on you.

Costello: I didn't break the website. I was just going to sign up for Obam....Affordable Healthcare like they told me to. It was already broken when I got there.

Abbott: Well you know you only have another month to sign up.

Costello: (defiantly) Or what?

Abbott:  What do you mean or what?

Costello: What happens if I don't sign up?

Abbott:  Well, if you don't sign up the IRS will make you pay a fine.

Costello: So how long is it going to be before the website is fixed?

Abbott: The White House says it should be up and running in just 90 days.

Costello: (incredulously)  It's going to take them three months to fix it?

Abbott: Just three months and it's only going to cost another 400 million dollars.

Costello: And if I don't sign up in one month I have to pay a fine.

Abbott: That's right.

Costello: So let me get this straight. The government spent 677 MILLION dollars on a website that is broken and won't be fixed so I can use it to sign up for another 3 months and if I don't sign up in one month, I have to pay a fine and they're going to spend another three or four HUNDRED million dollars to fix it?

Abbott:  But you'll save money.

Costello:  My friend Joe signed up for Obamacare.

Abbott: (interrupting) Affordable Health Care

Costello: I DON'T THINK SO.

Abbott: Calm down, calm down.

Costello: Tell my friend Joe to calm down.

Abbott: Why is he excited?

Costello: Because his healthcare went up $300 a month.

Abbott:  But it's better healthcare...

Costello: It must be, because Joe's deductible is $5000

Abbott: But that will make sure everybody gets quality healthcare.

Costello: How are they going to make sure everybody gets all this healthcare we're supposed to get?

Abbott: All healthcare will be managed by the government.

Costello: So the government is going to ration health care?

Abbott: We call it allowing time for adequate patient processing.

Costello: Why?

Abbott: You see people will have to go down to special centers to be qualified for healthcare and there will be long lines.

Costello: You're making people stand in long lines on purpose?

Abbott: Suuuure! If people are standing in long lines, they aren’t using up all the health care. The more people standing in line, the fewer people actually using health care. That way no one will be using up more than their share of health care.

Costello: How will they know if I’m using more than my share?

Abbott: Because you’ll have an ID card? That way everywhere you go and use healthcare, a big computer in Washington will know how much you used.

Costello: Just me?

Abbott: No, no, no. Everyone will have a healthcare ID card. When you get that it will be so convenient. Why with your own ID card, the government can go straight into your bank account to take out money to pay for your health care and you don't have to lift a finger.

Costello: What? So, now the government is going to hire bank robbers to take money from my bank account to pay for something I don't want in the first place?

Abbott: Oh, no. Those aren't bank robbers. We call them IRS agents.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Are Christian Pastor's Making Too Much Money

(c) 2011 by Tom King

According to a recent survey by Dallas-based Leadership Network, the average salary for a lead pastor in a megachurch is $147,000. That probably seems like a lot to the folk out there struggling to pay a ten percent tithe or to the widow with the mite and comparatively, it is. But that's not all.

The survey found that salaries for lead pastors in all churches can range from $40,000 on the low end to $400,000. There are probably outliers that make more or less, but the survey only sampled large churches salary and benefits reports. Churches with a weekend crowd of 2,000 or more averaged $99,000 a year. Even assistant and worship pastors made around $75,000.

These kinds of numbers are not unusual in churches with a congregational financial model. In these churches, a church board sets the pastor's salary, not the central church leadership. Many of these church boards consist of well-heeled members of the congregation who, themselves make very high salaries. It's not at all surprising that a church board chairman who reeled in ten million last year with stock options would consider a $200,000 annual paycheck at all unreasonable.

I live in the Bible Belt. You can't throw a cat in Tyler, Texas without scratching the paint off a church. Churches are probably the second largest business in East Texas after prisons and prison accoutrements (we make most of the nation's razor wire here – I bet you didn't know that). Many southern churches encourage tithing and even if only a third of any congregation actually do that, it's still a lot of money flowing through the collection plate. A mid-sized country church with a couple of doctors or lawyers in attendance can rack up a million dollar budget in no time. And managing all that money, often with the help of maybe one paid church secretary and a bookkeeper – the pastor.

It's not surprising that church board members, many of whom are well acquainted with the headaches of managing an operation the size and scope of a church, feel that, as the Bible says, “the laborer is worth his hire” and compensate accordingly. I know pastors of relatively modest churches who make $95K easily. Their boards evidently think that's an acceptable price for a Doctor of Divinity.

When I sat on a nonprofit board, one of the well-heeled businessmen on the board with me explained to me (patiently as though I were a slow-witted nephew) that business executives routinely draw a salary of around 10% of net company revenues. It doesn't take much for a church to have a one to two million dollar budget, especially if the church is tithing. If you have just ten million dollar execs in your congregation, tithe from just those members alone can hit a million in no time.

The situation with nonprofits may be more shocking to some of their contributors. NPOs often have execs that draw more than 100,00 in salary and benefits, especially if the director is a talented fund-raisers. A board member told me once when I was hired as a development officer for a children's charity that he had not problem paying me a couple of hundred thousand a year if I brought in the contributions.

You'd think there'd be a willingness to sacrifice in people who elect to work for churches or nonprofits and there may well be. Line staff in nonprofits and churches are often highly underpaid, if not entirely volunteers. But these aren't the folk who do well at fund-raising and, let's face it, church and nonprofit boards want CEOs and pastors who are good fund-raisers. One thing I've found over the years is that good fund-raisers often have a really powerful sense of self-interest. You almost need that to raise that kind of money. It certainly explains why the very folk that Jesus said should be the “least” if they wanted to be the first, make so much money.

I think that's one reason God instituted the tithe. It makes sense. If God sets the rate of contributions, then that leaves churches free to choose leaders for churches that might not necessarily be good fund-raisers, but who are, instead, Godly men and women who care more about their people than they do about their pocketbooks.

It's worked pretty well for my own church where pastors are paid, not on the size of their churches, but on the length of their service and experience. It also protects us from leaders who would build a cult of personality around themselves. There's no reward for doing that other than an ego boost and, in practice, it would take a pretty needy ego to be willing to do the kind of work it takes to build a cult of personality without any monetary reward.

In the end, local church and nonprofit boards have to decide how much to pay someone that you are going to trust with a multi-million dollar budget. An underpaid executive is an invitation to embezzling, not because pastors are inherently greedy. A low salary for someone handling large amounts of money won't attract many honest, competent folk who can make a more livable wage elsewhere. At the same time, it is too easy for such a job to attract grifters who would accept low pay in exchange for access to unsupervised loose cash (like offering plates).

What to pay your pastor or nonprofit director is a tough problem that's best left to local boards and congregations to decide. The system is surprisingly free of such shenanigans considering how many churches and how much money is involved. I don't think the government or large corporations have nearly as good a record.

Hmm. Maybe I ought to list that Theological Doctorship I got on-line for ten dollars from the Florida Institute of New Age Theology on my resume'. 

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King