The Church Times recently (9 Aug) published an article discussing salaries of CEOs of Christian Charities. This follows a Daily Telegraph article and comments by William Shawcross, the director of the Charity Commission. The Church Times article reported that Loretta Minghella, Christian Aid’s chief exec, is paid £126,206 a year, Justin Byworth of World Vision gets £95,000, Matthew Frost of Tearfund, £92,000 and Chris Bain of CAFOD, £87,567.
Christian Aid has responded to the criticism by saying that they need “the best people possible to lead what is a large and complex organisation”. World Vision, similarly, said, “we need to attract the right person with the right skills and experience”. Sir Stephen Bubb, CEO of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations is quoted as saying that executive pay “simply isn’t an issue for donors”. He also repeats the mantra, “To keep talent, really strong people, at the top of these organisations, they need to be paid properly”.
Well, Sir Stephen, you’re mistaken. I am a charity donor and was, until reading the Church Times article, on the verge of becoming a financial supporter, specifically, of Tearfund. Now, though, I am not so sure. This is not to say I no longer believe in Tearfund’s work – it is amazing – but that I am having serious second thoughts about the charity’s culture and, particularly, about the character of their leadership. Is this a sign of rot at the core, which will slowly consume the entire enterprise?
Here is the essence of my concern: the argument about attracting the right leader would work for a non-Christian charity, but for a Christian charity it is a non-starter. Concern about income is simply not a Christian character trait. In so far as any of us does worry about money, we depart, explicitly, from the teaching of our Lord (see, for example, Matt 6:25-27). Look at the heroes of the faith: St Benedict, giving up everything. St Francis, likewise. St Ignatius, too. The Desert Fathers. Paul (see 2 Cor 11:21b-29). Or, forget them, look at Jesus. A nomadic teacher, supported only by a band of women, with no one to stand by him when he faced an unjust trail, condemnation and brutal execution. He died naked and humiliated.
Or are they all a bit too remote? As though they lived in a story where it was all safe and in God’s hands, but we live in the real world? Do I need to pierce the income illusion still further? Must I, like Paul, begin to speak foolishly?
I know a man in Christ who six years ago was a city high-flier, earning a six-figure income. God called this man to be a priest and now he earns a curate’s income. (That’s £22,000 a year plus free accommodation). So, you see, it is possible! In God it is possible. Because God calls us. He arrests our attention. He shows us the poverty of all we held valuable before and he fills us with heart-wrenching compassion for a hurting world, which he loves. Money simply has nothing to offer when compared to the joy of serving God in Christian mission.
So, here’s the question: what kind of character do we most want in Christian leaders? Is it not this, that they are called by God and that they are willing to trust him, and to give up everything to serve him? I certainly hope so. Otherwise the church is lost. If a curate’s salary can only buy low-grade, second-class leaders, then God has made an awful mistake and we should just pack in the whole business of Christianity here and now.
Let me finish, then, with an exhortation to Christian leaders: do the right thing. Lead your organisations in Christian discipleship. Loretta Minghella, Justin Byworth, Matthew Frost and Chris Bain: take the plunge. Demand from your boards that they drop your salaries to something commensurate with the need of the people you serve.
I should note that I leave the Church of England somewhat vulnerable. The Archbishop of Canterbury receives about £71,000 plus accommodation (yes, a palace, although I’m pretty sure ++Justin couldn’t give a hoot about that). The Archbishop of York receives about £61,000 plus accommodation and the Bishop of London about £56,000 plus accommodation. All other clergy are paid less than £40,000 (still plus accommodation), which seems to me to be far closer to the kind of money earned by the people we serve.
It fairness, the three bishops whose salaries are out of proportion have all laboured for years under much lower incomes. They have already surrendered all (++Justin, the ex-oilman, and ++Sentamu, the ex-barrister, being cases in point). The mantra does not apply: we’re not paying them so much to entice them away from the private sector. But one does wonder why we maintain these curious exceptions to the, otherwise, universal practice of the Church of England.