Preachers & Their $5,000 Sneakers: The Pricey Sole of Religion Revealed
Televangelists and megachurch operators Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Franklin Graham and many others like them have amassed massive wealth by sucking millions and millions of dollars out of their believers’ wallets. Under the dubious banner of “religious organization” they are within the law to spend those tithes on the private jets, mansions, jewelry and designer clothing that their donors never could afford. All tax-free.
And then there’s the shoes. A couple of years ago, while watching worship songs on YouTube on a Sunday morning, Ben Kirby of Dallas took note of the shoes being worn by the lead singer at Elevation Church, a Charlotte-based megachurch. By Kirby’s estimation the musician’s Yeezy sneakers were worth almost the amount of his first rent check. Kirby is an evangelical churchgoer and posted to his 400 Instagram followers, “Hey Elevation Worship, how much you paying your musicians that they afford $800 kicks?” He also wondered how it was that the church’s pastor, Steven Furtick, could afford a new designer outfit for each week’s gathering.
Kirby started a new Instagram account – @PreachersNSneakers – and began posting shots of the footwear of pastors along with the price tags of what they were wearing. Within a month he had attracted 100,000 followers. Today he’s up to more than 200,000.
In an interview with the Washington Post he said, “At the beginning, it was easy for me to make jokes about it. Some of the outfits are absurd, so it’s easy to laugh at some of the designer pieces. The price tags are outlandish.”
Kirby has showcased Seattle pastor Judah Smith’s $3,600 Gucci jacket, Dallas pastor T.D. Jakes’s $1,250 Louboutin fanny pack and Miami pastor Guillermo Maldonado’s $2,541 Ricci crocodile belt. He also spotted Paula White, former president Donald Trump’s most trusted pastoral adviser, sporting a pair of $785 Stella McCartney sneakers.
Harkening back to his origins, Kirby also has posted about Furtick’s $1,095 designer boots being “blessings on his feet.”
“I began asking, how much is too much?” Kirby said. “Is it okay to get rich off of preaching about Jesus? Is it okay to be making twice as much as the median income of your congregation?”
Kirby’s now written a book, “PreachersNsneakers: Authenticity in an Age of For-Profit Faith and (Wannabe) Celebrities.” He holds a degree in marketing management and an MBA. He told the Post he attends a nondenominational church and considers himself an evangelical, he said, “not as in, ‘Trump is the chosen one,’ but I believe in sharing my faith.”
In the book Kirby examines the trend of pastors now wearing oversize glasses, tight jeans and expensive footwear, looking like they are dressed for “your local craft-cocktail watering hole instead of church.”
“Gone are the days of a choir, suited up pastor and random people sitting in velvet chairs onstage. No,” Kirby writes. “Now it’s a U2 incarnate worship band, perfectly placed LED wash lights and a pastor … motivating, edgy and might even let a cuss word slip if you’re lucky.”