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  • Writer's picturePastor Liz

Sneakers & Flipping Tables

A compilation of Matthew 21:14, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-17.

When Jesus entered the Temple, he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. He drove out all those who were selling and buying. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the stalls of those selling doves.

He said to them, "My house is called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of violent ones."

Those who were blind or couldn't walk came to him in the Temple and he began teaching and healing. When the chief priests and teachers of the law saw the wonderful things Jesus did, and heard the children shouting, "hosanna" throughout the Temple area, they become indigent and began looking for a way to destroy him.

This week, an anonymous guy started an Instagram account pointing out the price tag of some high-profile mega-church pastors’ shoes. Sneakers and boots that cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Shoes that cost more than many people earn in a month! I’ll be honest, I’m not cool enough or in the right theological circles to know who these pastors are, all of which are male and most of which are white*. But they all have an extensive social media presence and hang out with some notable celebrities. Preachers-n-Sneakers, the Instagram account, posts a picture of the pastor wearing these luxury shoes next to a screenshot of the sale price. It has gained an extensive following and a lot of attention. On the surface, it’s hilarious comedy. But these pastors and their shoes leave me with so many questions and a general sense of disease. When nearly half-of households in the united states have revolving credit card debit and the cost of living is out-pacing income, I worry that we cannot theology or finically afford “prosperity gospel.” [1]

I question what sort of Gospel, good news, can spoken to the poor, marginalized and forgotten while wearing $1,000 shoes. I question the stewardship and the social ethic of these pastors and their churches.

In response to being featured in one of the posts, one pastor commented,

"Wanna know what's crazy? I legit did not pay for one thing I am wearing,"

Which raises even more concerns for me! Did a congregant give them to you? Was it given to you by the company because you are an “influencer”, the new word for product placement and advertising? And, if that’s the case, who and what are you trying to influence?

Now, while it may seem contrary to what I’ve just said, I don’t want to use my platform, or “pulpit”, to criticize people. Pastors are just people. We are not holier or better than anyone else. But I do think that we have an obligation to an awareness of our impact and the weight our voice carries. This work is a privilege. One I, and most clergy I know, don’t take lightly. Most clergy I know don’t make a lot of money and most of us have a huge amount of academic debt and are probably a part of that growing number of people in our country with revolving debt. So, I understand taking advantage of an opportunity to supplement income with side work. But many of these men are celebrity pastors of for-profit churches that tote a toxic and concerning theology that perpetuates economic disparity, promotes capitalism and upholds supremacist ideals.

This story of Jesus flipping tables falls in two different places in the timeline of Jesus’ life and ministry. In Matthew and Mark, this happens right after Jesus as arrived in Jerusalem for Passover, immediately preceding his arrest and death. According to the writers of John, it happens following the wedding in Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. In either place, it is a pinpoint in Jesus’ theological development, and intensifies the desire among Jewish leaders to silence Jesus.

The Temple was a place where Jews from all over would come to make offerings to God. There were merchants and money changers in the temple courtyard so that those who were coming from long distances could exchange their money and purchase an animal or bird necessary for worship. The offerings to God had to be holy. First, you had to exchange your “profane” money, Roman coins, for “holy money”. Then, you could use your holy money to purchase a holy bird, to make your holy offering. Marcus Borg writes,

“These ‘ecclesiastical merchants’ manifested the clear-cut distinction between sacred and profane, pure and impure, holy nation and impure nation, that marked the ethos and politics of holiness.” [2]

Jesus flips over the tables and quotes ancient Jewish prophets, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Jesus was arguing that the Temple should be for all people including Gentiles (those who were not Jewish) and those who had been outcast. By dismissing the money changers and bird-sellers, Jesus is dismissing the holiness code of purity. Not only is he dismissing the code of purity and proclaiming the Temple a Temple for all people, Jesus provides healing to those who experienced blindness and those who experienced physical limitation both of which would have prevented them from being able to worship in the Temple, Jesus restores them to wholeness in the community. So, in my reading, Jesus kicks out those “in service of the ethos of holiness”, dismissing the separations of purity, and then invites in those deemed unclean and impure, for prayer, worship and healing. He removes the barriers to the temple, he literally flips the tables, and throws open the doors, “This house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” Jesus, again and again, prioritizes people over purity and profit, community over conformity and consumerism, preaching an economy of love. This is the foundation of the beloved kin-dom, this kingdom of God that Jesus foretells.

What concerns me most about these designer shoe wearing pastors, more than the economics of the issue, they tout a lifestyle of elitism and supremacy. Our world is toxic with white male supremacy and we’re suffocating under the ideals of “whitemalegod”. I think I’ve mentioned before, I have been deeply appreciating the insight of Christina Cleveland as she explores the idea of Christ embodied as a black mother. In her reflection this week she coins the phrase, “Theo-BRO-gian: white male theologian who is also a dudebro."[3] I also heard for the first time this week, BRO-vangelical, that dudebro-evangelical, presumably with quaffed hair and designer shoes. Now, while I know some very nice pastors with hipster hair and stylish shoes, but this particular brand of dudebro pastors tend to preach a theology that upholds white supremacy through any means necessary. The beloved kin-dom, the kingdom of God, preached through word and action in the person of Jesus breaks down the structures of purity, Jesus flips the tables of the "holy nations" that are built on purity codes that exclude. As followers of that Jesus we cannot run around righting the tables of the money changers and bird sellers in hopes of maintaining the status quo.

I really don’t care what shoes a pastor wears. And I enjoy clothes and shoes too. What I care about is how we are living out a life that models the teachings and actions of Jesus. And if an Instagram account can shed light and attention on pastors who use their position to build up their own authority as a means to influence and uphold the supremacy of the "whitemalegod"and its limiting theology, then I say flip those tables.

* While the Instagram account does call out a few African-American men, I know that clothes and particularly shoes have a different cultural context for Black Culture. I do not believe that the critique that is held against these white pastors is or can be the same for the Black pastors. Context matters. And it is not my place to critique a context I do not know or have belonging in.


[2] Borg, Marcus J. Jesus, a New Vision: Spirit, Culture and the Life of Discipleship. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004. p. 175.

[3] Christian Cleveland, Patreon subscription.

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