Money, Sex, and Power: Politicians and Pastors

Gary North (, September 05, 2014

Money, sex, and power: these are the traditional temptations associated with politics. To this list, add alcohol. Alcohol seems to flow wherever political money, sex, and power become temptations.

The same list constitutes a litany of sin for the pastorate. Here, however, alcohol is not usually a problem. In church circles, alcohol is not usually associated with the triumvirate. This offers at least one layer of institutional protection to the pastorate.

Power attracts women. This has been known for a long time. There is a name for such a woman: Jezebel. She was the king’s wife. She was the power behind the throne. She was far worse than he was. Women gain political influence through men who possess power. They also gain status through men who possess power. This is why men who possess political power are in a position to exercise normal masculine lust. This is why one of the Ten Commandments has to do with adultery.

With respect to politics, money is a problem because, in democratic societies, raising money is fundamental to being elected. People who want to be successful in politics have to have the ability to raise money. But this ability is easily transferred from a political action committee to a bank account, or to junkets, or to other kinds of favours. There is nothing new about using a political office to enrich oneself. Ancient Rome was legendary in the final years of the Republic for this practice. It is a common affliction. The essence of politics is to sell political favours. The power of the state to gain preferential treatment. People are willing to pay a lot of money to those agents who can use political power to re-direct tax money or special legislation to favour a special-interest group. The flow of money into political coffers is constant, because the flow of money out of the public treasury is equally constant.

Pastors do not have access to the kind of money that politicians can spread around. The budgets of churches are usually rather small. Even in the case of mega-churches, budgets are nothing in comparison to local political office, let alone national political office. But the lure is still there. It is especially prevalent with respect to pastoral housing. Churches provide pastoral housing for free, and pastors who oversee mega-churches are in a position to take advantage of this special relationship. Also, their salaries may not be a matter of public access. One of the classic signs of a pastor who is headed down the dark path is a restriction placed on congregation members to find out how much he is paid, and what the value of his home is if the church is providing the home.

Pastoral scandals involving church secretaries are so common as to be run-of-the-mill scandals. The pastor who runs off with the church secretary is a familiar figure, as is the pastor who gets caught with the secretary, and who then tells the congregation that he has repented, Jesus has forgiven him, and therefore he should not be fired. The basic line is this: “Jesus has forgiven me. So should you. I deserve my salary. Don’t fire me.” This is the unstated plea: “I don’t want to sell life insurance for a living.”

Pastors do not have anything like the degree of power that politicians possess. But they have considerable influence. They can be mini-tyrants. But they do not control the flow of money that has been coerced out of people, and church members who get upset with a pastor have the ability at any time to transfer their membership to another church. This does not act as a restraining factor in the realm of politics. In any case, when you’re talking about national politics, you are talking about universal confiscation and misuse of funds. All over the world, this is what civil governments do. So, you have your choice among organizations that violate the commandment against theft. The commandment is universally violated today. You have your choice of thieves. You have your choice of justifications for theft. But you cannot escape this theft by transferring your citizenship elsewhere.

The great difference between pastors and politicians is this: politicians do not face the threat of scandal for a violation of money, sex, power, or booze. The public assumes that all three major temptations, and maybe even the fourth, will be succumbed to by most politicians at some point in their careers.

Anyone who thinks that there are serious negative sanctions for misusing money, sex, power, or alcohol, should think of these words: Teddy Kennedy.

In contrast, if a prominent pastor or electronic church preacher gets caught in a scandal involving any of the three, it is going to hit the newspapers and maybe even primetime evening news. He is going to see his ministry drastically curtailed. Pastors are not allowed to get away with serious violations of sex. There can be debates over the degree of power, and probably half the congregation will stand by their man. But, mortgages being what they are for mega-churches, if one half of the congregation leaves and takes its money with it, there will be a change of administration in the pulpit. Taxpayers cannot escape the taxman. Congregation members can escape a particular pastor’s administration.

If a pastor wishes to remain squeaky clean, if and when his church becomes a mega-church, he had better do whatever he can to separate himself from the temptations of money, sex, and power. While churches will not accept a pastor who has an alcohol problem, especially fundamentalist churches, they will tolerate violations of power and money for quite a while. A sexual scandal usually spells the end of his ministry.

This double standard for politicians and pastors is legitimate. A pastor’s moral responsibility should be greater than a politician’s. In politics, morality is not at the top of anybody’s list of political requirements. It is widely assumed, correctly, that politics is corrupt. The only debate is this: “What should be the official justification of the theft by government of the taxpayers’ money?” With the rise of mass democracy in the 20th century, the level of confiscation, corruption, and organized theft expanded beyond anything seen in human history. If you can justify theft by stealing in the name of the poor, you can transfer enormous amounts of money to the rich and the super-rich, and you will get re-elected by the poor. By this time, politicians have known this for at least a century, and only the highly paid defenders of the poor seem to be oblivious to this fact.

The public holds pastors to a higher standard than it holds politicians. It is correctly assumed that the state is corrupt. It is not assumed, nor should it be assumed, that the church is corrupt. The church is a voluntary institution. This places limits on the extent of any corruption. People can vote with their feet and their wallets quite easily.

Money, sex, and power will remain the permanent temptations of politicians and pastors for as long as there are civil governments and church governments. If pastors are not expected to perform better in the face of these three universal temptations, then society really will be in trouble. The day that pastors are allowed to pursue their temptations with the same abandon that politicians are, the moral foundations of society will be pretty much obliterated.

Let us never forget who is ultimately responsible: the people. In the Old Testament, in a much neglected passage, Leviticus 4, it is clear that the priests were held to a higher level of performance than the king was, precisely because the priests were expected to have greater moral authority. But ultimately, the people had to monitor both. The people had to offer sacrifices in the Temple for the sins of priests and civil rulers, and the value of the sacrifices for a priest was greater than the value of the sacrifices for the king.

Ultimately, the people get the government they deserve. This is true of civil government, and it is true of church government. The people want to transfer responsibility to their pastors and their politicians, but they cannot do it. They will ultimately pay the price when they wink the eye at the deviations of pastors and politicians.

Government will reflect the moral condition of the people. Flip Wilson was famous for his character Geraldine. “The devil made me do it!” She always wanted to get off the hook. The audience was not fooled.

Once people have the vote, they cannot transfer responsibility to the governments that rule over them. The governments will reflect the hearts of the people. If the people did not secretly tolerate adultery, theft, false witness, and coveting, their rulers would be allowed no slack.

Money, sex, and power are everyone’s temptations.

Corrupt leaders are not the corporate cause of our plight. They are the corporate symptom.

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