Residents of Charlotte, North Carolina, were shocked by news that our mayor, Patrick Cannon, had been arrested by the FBI for influence-peddling. He was accused of using his position as mayor to solicit kickbacks from phony businessmen seeking his help in cutting through government red tape in getting their real estate projects approved.
Influence-peddling is nothing new, of course. People in positions of power throughout history have tended to use their influence for personal gain instead of for the good of their constituents. In 1887, Lord Acton made a famous statement that rarely is proven wrong: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Sadly, we see this in Washington all the time. Politicians crassly offer influence and access to those who give the largest campaign contributions. Lobbyists find ways to influence legislation via money, not just through persuasive arguments about what’s good for the country.
Meanwhile, a similar scandal brews behind the scenes in many American churches: Extra influence is bestowed on those with the big bucks. No honest pastor can look you in the eye and say they have not faced this temptation, if not actually succumbed to it. Churches need money, and those with money often expect power—do you see the potential for an unholy matrimony?
The Bible makes it clear that the selection of those given authority in the church should be on the basis of spiritual maturity and character (Acts 6:3, 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9). Instead, the church often has pandered to the proud and courted the involvement of those who have the most to give financially.
When influence-peddling begins to infiltrate church decision-making, godliness often is made secondary, if it is considered at all. Many church boards are stocked with people who have succeeded in business rather than those who have succeeded in shepherding their family or fulfilling the Great Commission.
James saw the same danger in the churches of his day:
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4)
If James were writing today, perhaps he would ask pastors who deny giving preferential treatment to take a look at their appointment books. “Have your lunch appointments been only with the rich and powerful members of your church?” he might query. “Has your time been spent discipling those who have the most spiritual hunger, or wooing those most able to advance the church bank account and image?”
I’m certainly not advocating that we favor the poor and reject people just because they are wealthy. God forbid. That, too, is an ungodly form of partiality.
There is only one form of partiality that is proper, and it has nothing to do with a person’s financial assets. Paul tells Timothy to give priority to the discipleship of “faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2). As pastors and leaders we should give ourselves disproportionately to those who are truly hungry for the things of God.
So be sure to pray for Patrick Cannon and other political leaders who have gone astray. But the next time you read of politicians who’ve allowed financial contributions to determine who will influence their decisions, make sure you haven’t done the same thing yourself.