Jerry Johnston is an evangelical pastor at a megachurch in suburban Kansas City and a leader of many of the anti-gay, anti-science, regressive social movements in Kansas.
He keeps up many of the great traditions of megachurch minister, with the immovable hair, the TV show, the lavish lifestyle, and the dodgy accounting. The Kansas City Star dug into his finances, and found that there is little or no oversight, that Johnston’s family is on the church’s payroll, and late taxes.
A former fundraiser for Johnston’s church told the Star: “What he preaches from the pulpit, he doesn’t put into action. You would have to call someone like that a hypocrite.” The fundraiser, Bruce Shalberg, left the church in 2004, having given hundreds of thousands of dollars, and having seen the projects he raised money for never come to fruition.
Reaction on the blogosphere has been fascinating. Mousie Cat points out that Johnston comes from a traditional path to fundamentalist authoritarianism. Diane Silver points out with surprise that revenue from Johnston’s books and DVDs don’t go back to the church, but to Johnston’s own for-profit corporation. Later, she rounded up the responses from the Christian bloggers, who are rightly outraged.
Tony’s points are well worth considering. His point about Johnston not being of Kansas City, but a phenomenon of the suburbs is exactly right. Megachurches are ways to replace the community feeling that gets lost in suburbs. I’ll have more to say on this point later, but these megachurches play into a culture in which it’s easier and easier to be totally selective in what parts of the national culture you want to engage. Tony writes “I’m actually not surprised that the white folks who were conned into Johnston’s alleged get rich scheme were taken advantage of. People looking for answers (especially women) are always easy prey.” I would just point out that the search is not just for answers, but for community, and a community that agrees on what questions are worth answering.
Johnston’s church is not concerned with the questions that Tony is interested in: how do we make the community of Kansas City as a whole stronger and safer for everyone. Despite his affectations of misanthropy, sexism, racism, etc., Tony brings people together.
Johnston is uninterested in how people live their lives in the public sphere. The murder rate and gang wars of Kansas City are less interesting to him than the private behavior of Jolie Justus and other gay members of his community, or how teachers present science in science classes. Jesus had a powerful gospel of social justice, a gospel which seems completely absent from what I’ve seen of Johnston’s sermons.
At the end of the day, I wish there were more of a discussion of that hypocrisy, which seems more fundamental than his fleecing of the congregation.