Acton Institute Powerblog

BBC: Should Religious Leaders Live a Modest Life?

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Image Credit: BBC

I had the opportunity today to take part in a discussion on the BBC program World Have Your Say, discussing the recent suspension by the Vatican of the Bishop of Limbu, Germany, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van-Elst, known in the German press as the “bishop of bling.” He is under investigation regarding expenditures of 31 million euros (roughly $41 million) for the renovation of the historic building that served, in part, as his residence. This story (which can be read here) served as a springboard for the broader question: Should religious leaders live a modest life?

I have written in the past on Christianity and wealth (here and here), and I think the discussion was quite fruitful and thankfully free of strong contention.

One point I wish had been examined a little more (though it is briefly mentioned at the end) is that of redemption. Much was said of how one needs to handle one’s wealth well, but little was said of what hope there may be for someone who has misused their wealth or even who may simply be overly attached to it. While Christ warned, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” he continues to condition this statement by saying, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:25, 27). As St. Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9) — rich in holiness and virtue, heavenly treasures that do not wear out.

Listen to the interview at BBC World Service here.

Dylan Pahman Dylan Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, where he serves as managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He earned his MTS in Historical Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. In addition to his work as an editor, Dylan has authored several peer-reviewed articles, conference papers, essays, and one book: Foundations of a Free & Virtuous Society (Acton Institute, 2017). He has also lectured on a wide variety of topics, including Orthodox Christian social thought, the history of Christian monastic enterprise, the Reformed statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper, and academic publishing, among others.


  • Mike R

    Interesting talk – perhaps the lack of contention was due to the bishop’s alleged behavior being largely indefensible.

    A more interesting question for me is ‘How did it come to this?’ Does the German church have so much money it simply saw the matter as a minor one, and/or are the controls on expenses so lax no one had any idea as to what was going on. Neither reflects well on the governance of the church, IMO

  • I found a website related to this in that it published the income of the leaders of Christian organizations that serve as parachurch institutions. The amounts made by these people were surprisingly high though they could have been worse. But this tie to wealth doesn’t just have to do with the wealth any individual makes, it has to do with the economic system and its rules. That the Conservative Church needs to add to how it examines how an individual makes, regards, and handles wealth, it needs to challenge the system too. But the Conservative Church has not only failed to do this, it has refused to do so. The blowback from this refusal is a further loss of credibility to the Gospel it preaches. This refusal to challenge the system has a lot to do with what you correctly cited here regarding individuals who misuse wealth, that too many in the Church have grown too attached to wealth. And it is up to the Church to bring the Gospel message to both these individuals and our system.