William H. Curtis, senior pastor of the 10,000-member Mount Ararat Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has drawn major criticism after his $230,000 Bentley Bentayga SUV was photographed outside the church.
"If ya pastor driving a Bentley truck ... he's sucking ur community dry with hope and tithes," wrote Jarrell Taylor in a Facebook post sharing his photograph of the Bentayga in a parking space outside the church reserved for the pastor.
While the pastor's assistant acknowledged that the church had received many reactions to the pastor's vehicle, she reported to the Christian Post that a response would not be likely.
According to the church's website, Curtis has served as the senior pastor at Mount Ararat Baptist Church since 1997 and is also an instructor at the United Theological Seminary in Ohio and co-owner of The Church Online, a technology and full-service marketing firm.
Under Curtis' guidance, the church participates in a Community Tithe Program, which returns more than 10 percent of the congregation's weekly offerings to other small churches, para-church ministries, and nonprofit organizations.
Samuel Cruz, associate professor of Religion & Society at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, shared with The Christian Post on Friday that "the Gospel was good news to the poor and I don't know how owning a Bentley that's worth $230,000 contributes in any way to the furtherance of the Kingdom and also how that could be justified."
"To own a car that expensive you have to be among the top 10 percent of income earners or even higher of these United States of America, and I can't consider how preaching could lead someone to so much wealth," Cruz continued.
Noting that Curtis also earns income from his marketing firm, Cruz added that "at a minimum, I think that for a pastor to go to his church in a car that is worth twice the median of what homes are worth in his neighborhood, it shows me that this person has no common sense."
Cruz concluded, "I think it's really immoral to be able to make so much money out of ministry, or any organization that is ministry-like and that to some extent is being supported by a church. I think it's outrageous. ... I just feel you can't justify it, in my opinion."
Estranged church member Damon Young who is editor-in-chief of Very Smart Brothas and serves as a columnist for GQ.com agreed that the appearance of the vehicle in a low-income neighborhood was inappropriate: "I have to admit that my instinctual reaction to this was to wince. I'm aware that between speaking engagements, teaching positions and books, this pastor has other income streams besides the church. And that's great. I also don't believe that a pastor of a large church — who ultimately functions the same way a CEO of a corporation might — needs to live like a pauper."
"But the optics here just feel ... wrong. Vulgar, even. Particularly when considering that this church exists in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, Young added. "And to be frank, I think it says a lot about a pastor who thinks it's a good idea to display such an extravagant item in front of a church where the majority of his congregation is living check to check. It's messy."