Historic and influential Riverside Church in New York City installed its new pastor Sunday, despite a congregational conflict that ended up in court and exposed the new pastor’s annual compensation package to public scrutiny.
According to news reports, the Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton, who follows in the laudatory footsteps of James A. Forbes, William Sloane Coffin and Harry Emerson Fosdick, will receive an annual base salary of $250,000, a monthly housing allowance of $11,500 (the Braxtons are living in a luxury high-rise), monthly entertainment and travel allowances, and free tuition at the church’s day school for his 3-year-old.
It’s not investment banker money, but who knew preaching the gospel of a man who told his followers to sell their possessions and give the money to the poor could pay so well? Should it?
Congregation members, embroiled in controversy since Braxton was selected last fall, are divided again on whether the church’s board is paying their pastor too much.
“Where’s the social justice in this?” said Diana Solomon-Glover, a member of the church choir and one of the petitioners in the suit, told the New York Daily News. “We have an economic crisis in the country, and none of the church staff are getting raises this year, but a few people at the top are getting these huge salaries?”
Dr. Billy E. Jones, council chairman of the 2,700-member congregation, said in a statement that the new pastor’s compensation was “in line with other religious leaders in Manhattan who minister to congregations of a similar size and scope.”
Scott L. Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research told the New York Times that the average base salary of 105 megachurch pastors surveyed in 2008 was about $150,000, with the highest-paid receiving about $300,000. That doesn’t include compensation from TV or radio programs, book sales or stadium shows.
Again, that’s not CEO or rock star or pro athlete money, but should it be Christian ministry money? In a world where 25,000 children die every day because of factors related to poverty, should Christians be paying or earning $11,500 a month just for one family’s rent? In a world where a billion people live on less than $2 a day, should Christians be paying or earning the same annual salary of 125,000 other people?
Associated Baptist Press published a fascinating story on the subject of pastor pay back in 2007. Ohio pastor Steve Clifford argued that gospel ministers should be paid even more than pro athletes and CEOs. “What value can you place on someone who regularly leads others to eternal life?” Clifford asked. “Ballplayers and Wall Street executives get a lot more money for doing something that’s not nearly as important.”
Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, on the other hand, pays all of its staff members the same annual salary of $26,400, plus $400 a month for a spouse and $275 a month per child for up to four kids. “Our view is that God doesn’t value the work of the pastor more than he does the secretary because God called us all to use our spiritual gifts,” Jeff Abshire, Antioch’s administrative pastor, told ABP. “Aren’t we all called to fulfill the Great Commission? Aren’t we all called to preach the gospel?”
In his sermon Sunday, Braxton, 40, said critics of his pay package were “mistaking molehills for mountains.” He told the congregation that his priority would be “the sacred business of moving mountains.”
It seems his moving expenses are covered.