‘Unpimpable’ to those pastors who prey on the poor

Originally Published Oct. 17, 2013 - Chicago Sun-Times
Unpimpable, I am. Unpimpable by those “pastors” who prey on the poor, who dwell in opulence, or strut like peacocks in the pulpit, wearing flashy designer suits, lizard or gator shoes, their necks dripping with golden crosses. Those who more resemble gaudy pimp-like creatures than humble men of God.
I am unpimpable by those flamboyant pastoral leaders who in an age of a bling-bling Gospel areescorted through the sanctuary by “armor bearers,” wearing two-way radio earpieces and blank faces, as if they are the Secret Service protecting the president. Those pastors who live in suburban meadows while their sheep dwell in urban ghettos.
Unimpressive are those pastors who stand aloof — as if their title and position grants them celebrity status, places them snootily above the drivel and piddly existence of us commoners. Untouchables.
Uninspiring are those pastors who launch capital campaigns for the erection of multimillion-dollar churches while the community crumbles. While murder rises. And poverty flows. And yet, the collection plate is passed — again and again and again. And again. A tenth commanded. Special offerings demanded.
So the church — and the pastor’s car and house — gets bigger. But nothing outside the church’s four walls ever seems to get any better.
Slick, fast-talking, Bentley-driving, prosperity-preaching pastors. Zip-lining through the church during offering. Pastors. Bringing live animals into the pulpit for lavish Easter productions.
Lights. Camera. Action. Religion-tainment!
Like Maximus, in the movie “Gladiator,” I want to stand in the middle of a mega-church one Sunday and yell, “Are you not en-ter-tainnnned?”
Lately, the pulpit pimp show has unfolded on cable’s Oxygen network: “Preachers of L.A.” The controversial series follows the lives of several “real” preachers in Los Angeles, capturing their holy bling. It launched this month. October also just so happens to be National Clergy Appreciation Month.
Maybe I’m wrong. But it seems that big preaching has become big pimping, and pastoring a sure means to earthly ends.
It wasn’t always this way. On this a good friend, who, like me, also grew up in the church, agreed while talking recently about what drove us away from church and to declare ourselves unpimpable. Actually, “unpimpable” was his word. One that I believe captures the sentiment of so many brothers — and sisters — who now stand apart from the church we once loved — disheartened and somewhat disillusioned.
We remember a time when “real” pastors had a day job. Walked    modestly. Lived in the neighborhood. Greeted members — and complete strangers — with a handshake and a smile. Walked without an entourage.
A time when they made house — and hospital — calls. When they gave more than they took. Lived by the Book. Saw themselves as servants rather than kings.
Amid my criticisms, I admittedly have sometimes neglected to acknowledge that not every pastor acts like a pimp. That there are still good men — and women — who love God.
Pastors with a heart for the poor and broken. Many pastors who, even if not faultless, have sacrificed, worked tirelessly, and given compassionately. Pastors who believe that shepherds care for the sheep, not sheep for the shepherd.
Pastors like my grandfather Rev. George Hagler; like Reverends Vincent Allen, William H. Copeland, Clarence W. Hopson, James Hudson, Rex Peel, Lori Holmes, Marshall Hatch, Father Michael Pfleger and many other unsung heroes.
They are pastors who stood. Pastors who stand — steadfast, unmovable . . . Unpimpable.