No airplane for this preacher

I don’t watch televangelists. I worship with a live congregation on Sundays. And I don’t follow them on the Internet. I have other priorities for the use of my time. And, usually, I don’t criticize other Christians because I know that the Church of Jesus Christ is a very wide community with many different expressions and many different interpretations.

On the other hand, when I talk with people who do not participate in churches, something that I do on a family regular basis, I often get stories that chronicle the abuses of churches. They tell me of pastors and congregations who practice bigotry. They report congregations that are blatantly homophobic. They speak of pedophile priests and ministers who are shielded by the hierarchies of their churches. They tell me about preachers who are far more interested in the contents of the offering plates than the truths of the Bible. And they speak of the financial excesses and abuses of churches and church leaders.

The churches these people describe bear no similarity to the congregation I serve. Still there is no doubt in my mind that churches have contributed to the open animosity towards religious institutions that is common in our society. Sociologists of religion report that the fastest growing segment of American religion is “no religious preference.” It has become acceptable, and even fashionable, to answer the question of religion with the word “none.” These “nones” are not evil people. They are thinking people who have had negative experiences with the church. They are also people with whom we are called to engage in ministry. Read the Gospels. Jesus spent a lot of time with the poor, the sick, and those marginalized by society. Jesus chose of life of poverty, trusting God to provide what he needed and he urged his disciples to do the same. The evangelical call of the church continues to invite us to spend time with those who see themselves on the outside.

Our work with those who do not have a connection to a church is made more difficult by some of our colleagues - by some who claim the title of Christian minister.

Televangelist Jesse Duplantis, with his wife, founded Covenant Church in Destrhan, LA, just outside of New Orleans in 1997. He now heads Jesse Duplantis Ministries which includes a weekly television program that reaches 106 million U.S. Households, according to the author biography on amazon.com. That’s a fair bit bigger than the congregation I serve. He says that the “real” Jesus is approachable, personable, compassionate and full of joy.” He may be right with that, though I’m always a bit suspicious of those who claim to divide the “real” Jesus from the views of other Christians.

He also says that if Jesus were to descend from heaven to earth today, he wouldn’t ride on a donkey. “He’d be on an airplane preaching the gospel all over the world.” And since, Duplantis doesn’t see Jesus on earth today, he has decided that he (Duplantis) is the one who should be traveling by airplane. Specifically, he told people on “This Week with Jesse” “We believe in God for a brand new Falcon 7X so we can go anywhere in the world, one stop.”

The price tag on a Falcon 7X is $54 million. It travels at near the speed of sound, has noise-limiting acoustic technology, a Bluetooth-enabled entertainment center and an in-flight shower. It tops the narrow field of super-luxury executive aircraft.

It wouldn’t be the only airplane in Duplantis’ fleet. It would be the forth paid for by donations from his followers. “Now people say . . . can’t you go with this one?” he said, pointing to a picture of the plane he currently uses. “Yes, but I can’t go it one stop. And if I can do it one stop, I can fly it for a lot cheaper, because I have my own fuel farm. And that’s what’s been a blessing of the Lord.”

Let me go on record to say that I don’t think it is accurate to say having one’s own fuel farm is “a blessing of the Lord.” And I don’t think Duplantis is following Jesus’ advice to “store up for yourself treasures in heaven.”

What Duplantis is doing with his taste for luxury and his belief that he should engage in the most exclusive form of travel, is giving critics of the church more reason to be skeptical. Duplantis may have plenty of television viewers, but the net effect of his ministry is fewer, not more believers. His narcissistic lust for luxury exceeds all bounds.

So much for the televangelist who thinks that he deserves a $54 million private jet.

He also believes that he needs a team of full-time pilots to operate his jets.

I am no longer current, but I am a licensed private pilot. I’m certainly not qualified to fly the kind of airplane that Duplantis desires, but there was a time, long ago when I rented a small 2-seat plane on occasion. And I was a partner in a slightly larger four-seat plane for a few years. Once, as a joke, I added a $40,000 item to a draft budget and labeled it “pastor’s aviation expenses.” I used $40,000 because I knew it was a ridiculously large number that would be quickly spotted and easily removed from the budget, which it was. It was a joke and it got a laugh. That’s all.

I wouldn’t make that kind of joke today. Critics of the church don’t need more reasons to tell stories about the extravagances of clergy and the excesses of congregations. I’m trying to attract those who don’t participate in churches back into the fold, not drive more people away from religious practice.

I won’t be asking my congregation to pray for or donate to any luxuries for me. They have been very generous with my salary and benefits over the years. My family has had a meaningful life and a secure home for all of the years of my service to the church. We have not been rich in things, but we have been blessed nonetheless.

I don’t have any airplanes for anyone on my prayer list.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!