Pope Francis took some church action this week that should be an example for other religious leaders.
Perhaps the ministers featured in Oxygen’s new reality series “Preachers of L.A.” could learn something from the modest-living pontiff.
“Pope Francis temporarily relieved a spendthrift German bishop of his post Wednesday, taking an extraordinary step against a church official whose penchant for luxury living appeared to clash with the new pope’s efforts to foster a more humble church,” wrote The Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum.
Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst is caught in a scandal over a multimillion-dollar renovation of his official church residence in the western town of Limburg. The media has dubbed him the bishop of bling.
Charles McPhedran, reporting for USA Today, writes that among the reported $42 million in upgrades in the home is a $20,000 bathtub and $34,000 conference table.
Birnbaum reports that prosecutors in Hamburg have opened an investigation into whether the bishop had lied in an affidavit after the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported in 2012 that he had flown first-class on a trip to India for a church mission to the poor.
I thought about this bishop as I was watching the “Preachers of L.A.,” which is generating controversy over the pastors’ own bling, which they boast about on the show.
“Men of the cloth cruise Southern California in lavish cars weighed down by their gold watches and tiny dogs,” Kate Bowler, an assistant professor of the history of Christianity in the United States at Duke Divinity School, wrote in a blog post for CNN. “Even to sympathizers, the show seems to reaffirm all the negative stereotypes about greedy prosperity preachers more interested in bling than the Bible.”
Still, Bowler argues, “underneath all the hype about the lifestyle of its preachers, there is serious theology at work . . . If you look past the Rolexes, Mercedes, gold chains and monogrammed pocket squares, you might see something surprising. These pastors, bejeweled as they are, would never want their lifestyle to be a barrier to their evangelism. As my own research shows, millions of American Christians have turned to the prosperity gospel to help them understand God as deeply invested in their everyday lives. They want a God who cares about their heath, their mortgage payments and their ability to afford a better life.”
Still, a recent blog post on oxygen.com reads: “If you’ve seen ‘Preachers of L.A.,’ you’ve most likely seen some incredibly hot rides. Preachers have to get from point A to point B, too, and these men of faith happen to be living in L.A. -- aka the greatest car city in the world.”
The blog contains a gallery of photos of the ministers primping in front of their cars, which include a Porsche, Bentley and Ferrari.
I don’t object to religious leaders prospering if they haven’t taken a vow of poverty. But I do find it distasteful when people brag about their bling. You can show people that you live well without overly glorifying your prosperity.
Color of Money Question of the Week
What are you thoughts about the action Pope Francis took or about religious leaders’ boasting of their opulence? Send your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “The Bishop of Bling” in the subject line, and include your full name, city and state.
Speaking of opulence, Kim Kardashian, one of the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” reality stars, is engaged to rapper Kanye West.
West proposed with a 15-carat diamond ring on Kardashian’s 33rd birthday. West rented out San Francisco’s AT&T Park and hired a 50-piece orchestra for the announcement, reports E! News. The couple has a 4-month-old daughter, North West.
Kardashian’s previous marriage, to NBA basketball player Kris Humphries, lasted just 72 days. The coupled reportedly earned nearly $18 million for the televised nuptials, reports the New York Post.
Earlier this month, Humphries auctioned the 20-carat diamond engagement ring that he gave his former wife for $749,000, reports US Weekly.
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My Girlfriend Is Watching My Wallet
In a letter to The Washington Post’s Carolyn Hax, a reader asked for advice on how to deal with a girlfriend who didn’t think he spent enough for their second anniversary.
Here’s Hax column.
For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “What advice would you give the boyfriend?”
“Why would anyone purchase a gift that cost several hundred dollars for a person that they have been only dating for only [two] years unless both persons are multimillionaires? They are not even married!,” wrote Susan E. of Tallahassee, Fla. “I believe the girlfriend was trying to buy the boyfriend’s love and wanted to see proof of his love by the amount he spent on a gift. . . I think it’s more a lopsided relationship than anything else because the boyfriend is having to apologize over and over again to a girlfriend who appears insecure and needy.”
Kimberly Rotter of San Diego thinks this situation is a good test for the couple’s relationship. She wrote: “On the one hand, she would benefit spiritually from reducing the value she places on money and gifts, instead seeking validation in the heart rather than in the display case. On the other hand, he would do well to start thinking in the context of being one partner in a relationship ‘How will my actions affect her feelings or our household budget or our ability to make plans together?’ They are not doomed. Relationships take practice. This is a wonderful opportunity.”
Tia Lewis contributed to this report.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or email@example.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to www.postbusiness.com.