Yesterday was the 110th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s birth. Reading a short biographical essay about her I was reminded of her remarkable life and life’s work – a life we should be celebrating. Born with a club foot into a poor Albanian family, she joined the Sisters of Loreto order in Ireland at age 18 taking vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty, promising to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” While teaching at a school outside of Calcutta she learned nursing and began ministering to the poor, sick, and hungry on the gritty streets of Calcutta.
She had no income, had to beg for her own food and supplies for her ministry. After two years she started a congregation that became the Missionaries of Charity, and by the time of her death in 1997 it had grown to more than 4000 workers in 133 countries. In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize which she accepted but asked the Nobel Committee to cancel the dinner and donate the money to charity.
She was canonized by Pope Francis in 2017.
What really struck me as I was reading Saint Teresa’s bio yesterday was the contrast between her life and the life of America’s evangelical religious leaders – many of the proponents of the “Prosperity Gospel.”
Last week we were treated to the sordid details of Reverend Jerry Falwell Jr.’s sexual exploits – a photo of him with his arm around a woman, not his wife, both with their pants unzipped and drinks in their hands, followed by the revelation that his wife had carried on a 6 year-long affair with a pool attendant they befriended while guests at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami 8 years ago, and the final(?) revelation that Jerry enjoyed watching his wife have sex with the aforementioned pool boy.
First question: what were a religious leader and his wife doing hanging out at the Fontainebleau pool in the first place? No…seriously, don’t we expect our spiritual leaders to live modestly as examples to their “flocks”? Apparently not in the time of the “Prosperity Gospel.”
Here’s what we know about today’s evangelical leaders:
- Jerry Falwell Jr., son of Jerry Falwell its founder was paid a salary of $926,634 as President of Liberty University (a Christian university with a strict moral code for students but not apparently for its president).
- Mr. Falwell’s net worth is estimated to be $100million. (International Business Times)
- Reverend Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, was paid a salary of $622,252 as CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to “hurting people around the world with the purpose of sharing God’s love through his son Jesus Christ.”
- Reverend Graham’s net worth is estimated to exceed $10million (Wikipedia)
- Pastor Joel Osteen, the Houston televangelist, no longer accepts his $200,000 annual salary apparently because with a net worth of more than $50million he is able to live comfortably without it.
- This is the same Christian pastor who turned away evacuees of Hurricane Harvey flood victims in 2017 though he claims he “is a victim of misinformation.” His Lakewood Church has the ability to accommodate 17,000 of the faithful.
The contrast between the life of Mother Teresa and the lives of today’s evangelical leaders is astonishing. They claim to be Christians but only Mother Teresas is similar to the life Christ modeled. Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:24.)