By John McCort
Normally I have been slightly uneasy with responding to an article written by another brother in Christ. This response, counter-response cycle can degenerate into endless wranglings (ad infinitum et nauseam). I feel compelled, though, to respond to what I consider to be an unfair attack Brother Kingry has leveled at preachers who engage in private business enterprises. Brother Kingry wrote an article entitled, “The Rich Life Is Not Slender Now.” It appeared in the August 2, 1979 issue of Truth Magazine.
Let me first say that I agree with some of the basic premises of Brother Kingry’s article. I wholeheartedly believe that covetousness and materialism present a clear and present danger to the church. Preachers who engage in private business enterprise need to be cautious about the inherent dangers in these enterprises as would any other Christian. I would also agree that some have abused these private enterprises. I have been offended by some of the rude tactics that some brethren have used to peddle their wares. I maintain, though, that brethren have the right to engage in these enterprises and that many engage in these enterprises without becoming materialistic. Brother Kingry dealt with an abuse of the system but in doing so leveled a blanket condemnation of the system and those engaged in the system.
Let me also say that I have no vested interests to protect. I am not an Amway Salesman. I am not presently engaged in any business endeavor and I do not plan on going into a private business anytime in the near future. Thus, I am not writing this article because Jeff happened to tamper with my goose that laid the golden egg. This is not a case where the hit dog yelled. I do feel, though, that Brother Kingry has been unfair, unkind, and even vicious in his attack on preaching brethren who make tents on the side.
Brother Kingry began his article with a disclaimer. “It seems as though some articles I write, though obviously directed;’at the abuse of a system, are invariably taken as a blanket disavowal of the proper use of a thing . . . . I am not opposed to free enterprise or to selling a product for a profit, or even a preacher working for a living for a short while to supplement his support.” Even though Jeff made this disclaimer he ended up leveling a blanket condemnation of those involved specifically in selling Slender Now and Amway. He reminded me of brethren who say, “Now I am not gossiping about . . .” and then go on ahead and gossip about them.
Brother Kingry made an attack on those involved in the direct distributor system that Amway and Slender Now are based on. He said, “Every person signed up to sell the product becomes a source of income for the one who signs him up. A set percentage of whatever he sells goes to the one who introduced him. A refined system of parasitism that feeds on greed. ” The system, according to Jeff, is parasitism and, thus, everyone involved in a system is a parasite who feeds on a system of greed. This is a blanket condemnation, Jeff’s disclaimer not withstanding!
Brother Kingry had some hard things to say about preachers who were no longer receiving their financial support from brethren because their enterprises were profitable enough to support them. He said, “In their deceived blinding greed I have heard direct distributors explain how their Amway business enabled them more opportunities to preach the gospel than they ever had as preachers. They even believed it, they had repeated it so long as justification for leaving the fields of the Lord to plow their own fields with dollars.” These men, according to Jeff, were deceived, blinded with greed, and had left the Lord’s fields. I know of several men who have financed their own missionary tours with money earned from private business enterprises. Jeff discussed a man in Tampa, Florida who labored for free with a congregation. Had that man left the Lord’s fields? It is up to Brother Kingry to prove that it is sinful for a man to support his own preaching efforts instead of receiving full support from the brethren. (Furthermore, I do not know that it is Jeff’s place to judge the affairs of a congregation in Tampa, Florida when he is in Akron, Ohio. Jeff has only presented one side of the picture.)
Jeff made a broad denunciation of those who drove Cadillacs with money earned from Slender Now sales. He also criticized those who promoted their products at the Florida College Lectures. He said, “At the Florida College Lectureship a few years ago, the Slender Now Cadillacs were in plentiful and ostentatious show. As the week progressed, so did those who made their rounds promoting their respective products.” Again, a blanket condemnation is made of those who drove Cadillacs and promoted their products.
Jeff made another blanket denunciation when he said, “These salesmen are like those described by the apostle Paul, ‘He is proud knowing nothing . . . they have erred from the faith . . . .” He made a blanket statement about those who labored in the Lord’s vineyard for free. He stated, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers . . . Satan’s ministers; whose end will be according to their works (2 Cor. 11:8, 15).” He further stated, “Paul’s work of sacrifice, laboring with his own hands in honest work to further the gospel ‘taking nothing of the Gentiles because of His name’s sake’ (3 John 6-9) is the exact opposite of those who come to ‘labor’ with a church for `free’ that they might take their money in a way other than directly out of the treasury.”
Brother Kingry was not only guilty of making unkind blanket statements but he also stated several principles which I think are in error. He made the statement, “I don’t know that I want to be or should be independent of my brethren.” What is wrong with achieving a certain degree of financial independence so that brethren can divert their resources into other needy areas? One brother financed his own needs for about one year in the Philippines from money earned in private enterprise. It was money that he would have had to have raised from the brethren. Was it wrong for Alexander Campbell to have been financially independent enough not to take wages from the brethren? Was Campbell covetous? Many of the old pioneer preachers provided much of their own support and still preached full-time.
I have known of several gospel preachers who have been destitute in their declining years because they never had enough resources to provide for their needs in retirement. I have known of many faithful men who needed to retire due to failing health and have been unable to do so because of financial considerations.
Many preachers would not be able to educate their children if it were not for working wives or private businesses. Many preachers have lived all of their lives in homes provided by the brethren. When they reach retirement the brethren own the homes and the preachers are left destitute. Some preachers choose to let their wives work to supplement their incomes for education and retirement purposes. Are those men with working wives covetous and carnally minded because they have achieved a certain degree of financial independence? The worthy woman of Proverbs 31 is pictured as being a business woman as was Lydia in Acts 16. Would it have been wrong for them to have been preachers’ wives if it afforded them financial independence from brethren?
Jeff seems to have the attitude that unless a man is fully supported by brethren and has no outside financial considerations he is less than a full-time gospel preacher. The issue is this: Can a man have outside business enterprises and still preach the gospel without covetousness? One editor recently said to me, “What I do with my free time is my business. I don’t play golf or fish in my spare time. I edit a paper.” I don’t necessarily think that all gospel preachers must be employed on a full-time basis. If a brother decides to cut back on his preaching load and make tents then that is his business. Thanks be to God that we have some men who are willing to work at secular jobs and go to some small, isolated churches which cannot afford to hire a man on a full time basis.
Is it wrong to earn a living from private business enterprises which cater mainly to brethren? If it is then our editor is making merchandise of the brethren. His salary is derived from the sale of books and periodicals which are sold almost exclusively to brethren. Some brethren live solely off of royalties from the sale of books sold to brethren. Amway and Slender Now salesmen are not the only ones who fish in that pond. I understand that Brother Kingry himself has recently entered a publishing venture to produce a product to be sold almost exclusively to Christians. “For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself” (Rom 2:1). I wonder which pond Jeff plans to fish in??? Some insurance salesmen cater almost exclusively to brethren but I do not think they are making merchandise of them. According to Brother Kingry’s position Paul could not have sold one of his tents to the brethren because he would have been making merchandise of the brethren.
Thanks be to God for brethren who have been prudent enough in business to accumulate a little money. To whom do we turn when a building needs erected or bonds need to be purchased, or when the church needs bailed out of a financial bind? To whom do we turn in extreme cases of benevolence? We turn to brethren who have resources and are willing to use them in the Lord’s service.
Money is not the root of all evil. It is the love of money. It is the covetous attitude which people have toward money. Job was not evil because he was wealthy and neither was Abraham. Only those who are wealthy and are not willing to use their wealth in God’s service are sinful.
Preachers are sometimes put in difficult financial positions due to the fact that brethren provide them with very few fringe benefits. The brethren have pension plans, group health insurance, etc. and homes which build equity. Sometimes preachers are not paid enough to do their work and provide these benefits for themselves. They must supplement their incomes. Are brethren covetous just because they have comfortable pensions rewarded by their employers for long and faithful service? I think not.
Brother Kingry has established an arbitrary financial mold which preachers and brethren must fit into. Brother Kingry seems to think that he is not wealthy or covetous but that nearly everyone who sells a little soap out of his basement has fallen into the clutches of materialism and greed. Why didn’t Brother Kingry charge that these who wear beautiful, three-piece vested suits are materially minded? Could it be because that would have indicted Brother Kingry? Wealth is a very relative, subjective thing. I am sure that the Filipino brethren would consider you to be a very wealthy man, Brother Kingry. Even the poorest of American preachers would be considered somewhat materialistic by the indigent Filipino preachers. On the other hand, the wages that most preachers earn, even when those wages are supplemented by selling a little soap, are very meager in comparison to what the average Teamster trucker makes. The President of General Motors recently reported that the average worker now earns $16 an hour when fringe benefits are included in the wage. The average government worker in Washington D.C. makes far more than I could ever hope to make. But I do not believe that all government workers and truck drivers are necessarily covetous because they make more money than I.
Brother Kingry, you have arbitrarily established your level of prosperity as the standard of financial orthodoxy which you have no right to do. You have no right to judge the motives or intentions of brethren in Christ who choose to supplement their incomes. Brother Kingry predicted that he would get in trouble with some for writing that article. I can only speak for myself. I highly resent the kind of caustic and judgmental journalism which flows from Brother Kingry’s pen. In the last several years other writers have begun to engage in this kind of hypercritical journalism and I think it is ungodly. I hope it can be kept to a minimum.
Another Point Of View
P.O. Box 26
Milton, Vermont 05468
Sept. 13, 1979
3579 Ruthridge Ct.
Dayton, Oh. 45432
Dear brother Mike,
I am writing about a recent article written by brother Jeff Kingry regarding the subject of materialism and Amway. I thought his article was excellent and I hope it shook a good number of trees. There are other things that parallel the Amway disease, such as this motor vehicle product. I have had poor experiences with brethren peddling that product. I received a long distance phone call from a respected preacher acquaintance – asking me to become a distributor and purchase not just a little bit to sell, but a case! Why am I subjected to such pressurized sales situations? Because I am a Christian and he has taken the relationship and abused it. If I say no, how does that look (here I am a young preacher and
an older respected preacher called long distance, at considerable expense, to pressure me into buying into the program – under him, of course). This is not right. He should not be making merchandise of the contacts he makes because of his station in the Lord’s body. He is supported to preach the gospel, not make a business opportunity out of his brethren. I do not believe that this is very expedient . . . .
I remain sincerely and brotherly yours,
723 15th Avenue
W. Palmetto, Florida 33561
August 2, 1979
Mr. Mike Willis
3579 Ruthridge Court
Dayton, Ohio 45432
I am writing to call to your attention an article by Jeff Kingry which appeared in the August 2, 1979, issue of Truth Magazine, which I believe to be filled with inaccuracies, untruths and misrepresentations. I have written Jeff a personal letter regarding this matter, of which I am enclosing a copy to you. Since it points out the areas of disagreement, I will not go into them again with you.
However, I would ask your help in encouraging Jeff to correct this matter not only before God . . . . as well as many other business associates but to the readers of Truth Magazine, too.
Mike, I realize that you cannot check out every article that is submitted to you for publication, and would not expect you to do so. But as the editor you bear some responsibility in the choosing of what material to publish. It is my opinion that such an article has no place in Truth Magazine in the first place! Jeff would have done better to have pointed out the supposed sins of his preacher friends on the spot instead of waiting 18 months and printing such in a brotherhood paper.
Furthermore, if you or Jeff feel a certain business is operating unethically or making misleading claims, it would be more appropriate to report such to the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission. Believe me, they are well staffed to investigate the “seamy side of the `get it quick’ way to riches.”
I don’t deny the right of my brethren to go into business to sell religious papers, books, operate schools or any other venture that is right and lawful. I would appreciate it if they would accord me the same right without casting reflection, making misrepresentations, or spreading innuendoes about our operation and activities.
Thank you in advance for any help you can render’ in clearing up this matter.
1021 Welford Dr.
Xenia, Ohio 45385
20 Aug. 1979
Mr. Mike Willis, Editor of Truth Magazine
3579 Ruthridge Court
Dayton, Ohio 45432
Rarely do I write a journal editor in hopes of communicating to him and the readers my concern over an incident, article, or trend. My judgment is fallible and I wish to dictate to no one, but this letter registers a distress that has deepened in my mind over a period of several years. Numerous brethren (not limited to preachers) have commented about sharing this unhappy concern. The proverb about flies in the ointment assumes the good of ointment but also the sad effect of the flies. A frequent Truth Magazine writer, Brother Jeffery Kingry of Akron, Ohio, writes much that is good, but flies in the ointment are having a hurtful effect.
While warning brethren not to combine economic and political commentary with the gospel, the writer persists in offering the same. His valid warning is contradicted in practice when he initiates social, economic, and political debate-in religious journalism. Thus, he initiated a discussion which led him to charge his respondent with right-wing fascism, hardness of heart, unrighteous decrees, and despite for the poor! Rather than apologizing for introducing such unsuitable material or for intemperance in pressing it, Jeff left you as the Editor to apologize for both (Truth Magazine 15 Sept. 1977, pp. 571-73; 2 Mar. 1978, pp. 153-54; 22 June 1978, pp. 410-12; 7 Sept. 1978, pp. 570, 572). Instead of learning from this mistake and in spite of disclaiming economic debate, he continues to insert such matter, as in his simplistic analysis of free enterprise economics as nothing but systematic greed (28 June 1979, pp. 428-30). He does not even guard himself by referring to abuses but attacks “the system” as a flower child or Marxist professor might do. Rather than join the debate, I plead for a cessation of such flies in the gospel ointment. My family has sent Truth Magazine to 20-25 other families each year, and sacrificed to do so (just ask the Bookstore how far behind we stay on the bill). We are doing them a service only when spiritual edification is provided, not trendy economic and political analyses.
A pattern of self-contradiction appears again in an article which decries “a rising propensity to see problems and their solutions as `brotherhood wide”‘ and which pleads for problems “bigger than me or the local church where I work” to be left alone to God’s providence (25 May, 1978, pp. 341-42). Instead of clearly defining some abuse he may have had in mind, the author leaves me dizzy. He is not teaching a local assembly about problems and solutions in its midst, but addresses what he conceives as a brotherhood-wide problem and its solution. He speaks not in a local pulpit but in a paper which circulates among brethren far and wide to stimulate study on matters both immediate and long-term, both local and general. The author thus paints himself as part of a propensity which he decries. The contradiction is blatant, the article too confused to edify.
Jeff’s article on “Intellectualism” points up the clarity and simplicity of gospel preaching and warns against preachers mimicking scholars in the age of “expert knowledge” by producing “Intensive College-Level” materials beyond the average Christian’s grasp (22 March 1979, pp. 200-202). Yet, in six issues of Vanguard (25 May – 10 Aug. 1978) on “The Subliminal Phenomena,” Jeff winds through a plethora of research public and secret – on such things as behavioral psychology’ physiological mechanisms, irradiation parameters, electromagnet stimulus, supraliminal presentations, electrically stimulated phosphenes, psycho-civilized society, alpha-rhythm frequency, visceral response, electro-encephalograph, galvanic skin response, psychoanalytic psychology, pathology-intensifying effects, and psycho neural pathways. Whew! This purports to show that Satan can tempt us through such things as “a subliminal variation in color shade” which cannot be discovered except by “knowledgeable” experts but which is readily picked up by the brain of the average person without his knowledge. The message is then transferred from the unconscious cognitive function of the brain to “our intuitive, irrational, and purely emotional side” leading us to sin without ever realizing why. “Insidiously, however, the more subliminal, or deeply buried a stimulus, the greater is its behaviourable effect.” The subliminal does not lead us to sin so long as our “conscious part” maintains control, but “the subliminal message” can “enter cur subconscious” and “assail our conscious.” These articles are supposed to make us aware of Satan’s devices “to pull us away from the Lord.” The discussion gives a pound of confusion for every ounce of clarity. Not having the time, energy, or inclination to plow through the 40 pieces of technical research material cited, I am still ignorant of this device of Satan. Brethren who have commented to me on the articles are in the same boat. There seems to be a conspiracy on the part of preachers to keep brethren ignorant of this device -why else do we hear no gospel sermons on Satan’s Use of subliminal-Psychoneural-Irradiation-Electromagnetic Phosphenes or Alpha-Rhythm Frequencies in Psycho-Civilized Society for Pathology-Intensifying Effects?
It is frustrating to read generalizations which are hopelessly broad and reckless, impugning the motives of a host of Christ’s servants on the basis of highly subjective personal judgment. Jeff opines that “the vast majority of the brethren . . . . covet the approval” of certain exalted brethren “amongst us” (Truth Mag. 23 Aug. 1979, p. 534). No amount of explaining, fuming, or whimpering can hide the unmitigated gall of such a judgment! No one but the Lord even knows “the vast majority of the brethren” and has access to the information Jeff reports. The report is specious and the charge impudent. A fly in the ointment. Another time we are told that church bulletins, subscription journals, correspondence Bible courses, fair booths, radio programs, and the like reflect the “increasing unwillingness” of brethren “to meet and talk to people” (Associate Editorial, Sentry Magazine, 28 Feb. 1978, p. 5). For any instance of alleged abuse where Jeff wants to name and charge a brother with using these methods to escape contact with people, I can easily produce dozens of brethren who faithfully use such mediums to establish contact with people. But Jeff says the motive of escape is unwitting; how then shall we apply that judgment to his persistent efforts to establish his own subscription journal or a church bulletin with an instant and large national mailing list? He would loathe to be judged by his own pronouncements.
The rich and his friends may have reacted to “The Rich Life” as Jeff expected (Truth Magazine, 2 Aug. 1979, pp. 487-89), but they are not the only ones. I speak not as a rich person, a seller, a distributor, or a promoter, but as a reader and for other readers like myself. As part of a continuing pattern, this article caused me to think back on several others and thus prompted my letter. The abuses decried have been justly attacked by writers such as Irvin Himmel and David Tant without pretending to have surveyed “hundreds of brethren” and convicted them of greed, parasitism, and sordid schemes to take advantage of other brethren without serving them. A handful – several – too many – but hundreds? How many hundreds and how was the figure derived? Jeff pretends to know a preacher who seriously says that one product is better than the gospel itself. The preacher is a coward who was awed by Jeff’s circumspection in the face of avarice. “The blasphemy and sickness of it was too evident except to the most corrupt.” What is evident to me, even without knowing what gospel preacher, is that Jeff has caricatured a conversation without naming the preacher because the man would blister Jeff’s britches for misrepresentation. I speak with confidence after having read so many of these illustrations in Jeff’s articles that they just do not have the ring of accuracy; they are too pat and invariably make a hero of one person. Abuses in selling can be opposed in no uncertain terms without these vilifications, potshots, and character assassinations. A fly in the ointment.
Why not a private letter to the party? (1) A general not personal and (2) public not private matter is being dealt with, and (3) public and private efforts made by others in a responsible fashion have not produced apology, correction, or a change of direction. We have no ill will for one who is a congenial acquaintance and who produces much good ointment. We are simply frustrated at the flies in the ointment and have finally chosen this means to register the frustration widely felt. Jeff’s effectiveness will be enhanced not hurt if someone by some means can convince him of the presence of, harm done by, and duty to remove these flies from his ointment. Since he was on the Truth Magazine staff for a time and has continued to write for it, perhaps he will consider a letter to its editor speaking for frustrated readers.
Yours for service to Christ.
Copy to Jeff Kingry: RH
Truth Magazine XXIII: 42, pp. 678-679
October 25, 1979