Friday, April 24, 2009

The chorister's complaint about the pastor's plush pay

According to the NY Daily News, Manhattan's illustrious Riverside Church is paying its new pastor more than $600,000 in annual compensation. Church sources say Dr. Brad Braxton's annual package is to include:
  • $250,000 in salary.
  • $11,500 monthly housing allowance.
  • Private school tuition for his child.
  • A full-time maid.
  • Entertainment, travel and "professional development" allowances.
  • Pension and life insurance benefits.
  • An equity allowance for Braxton to save up to buy a home.
"Where's the social justice in this?" cries Diana Solomon-Glover, a chorister and one of several church members who filed suit to delay Braxton's appointment while the question of compensation is debated further.

We should social justice be more likely found in a church than elsewhere in society? Given the reality of the nonexistence of god, no church can claim the singular virtue of being inspired by ethical purity straight from the source. There ain't no source, of course. A church is merely a community come together as a congregation to share their peculiar values -- medieval, silly, humanistic, benign, etc., depending -- and to pursue communal goals. If the majority membership of this community has determined that its goals are best met, and its values best represented, by hiring a pastor who commands such a salary, then all the complaints of the choir are misplaced. I would hope that the Riverside community can muster charity enough to address the concerns of those irritated by the prospect of vasty sums wafting above the altar; a community should foster discussion when faced with dissent. I would hope that Dr. Baxter earns his salary, which in light of the Gospel message does strike this uninformed and disinterested nontheist as excessively grand. His scholarly and clerical credentials are sound <*knocks on wood*> and he might well apply this collective capital of Riverside, concentrated as it is in his paycheck, toward benevolent ends. Think of all the good the Rockefellers and Carnegies did, and weren't they religious leaders of a kind? Note the depth of meaning here.

Finally, while I am expressing hope, I would hope that rationality blooms among the Riverside congregants. Wouldn't it be nice if the resources of this 1,500-member-strong flock of well-to-dos were able to see that gathering regularly as People Who Care About One Another need not be done under the banner of superstition?