Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic
By Reinhold Niebuhr

(Entry from 1924)

“Had a letter today informing me that the First ______ church in ______ has called a new pastor. After trying futilely to find the right man, who was to have as much scholarship as his predecessor and more ‘punch,’ they decided to raise the salary to $15,000. I don’t know whether that was the factor which finally solved their problem, but at any rate they have the man they want. I suppose it is not easy to get a combination of Aristotle and Demosthenes, and on the current market, that ought to be worth $15,000. Nevertheless there must be some limit to this matter of oversized salaries.

There ought to be some questioning, too, about the growing tendency of churches to build their congregations around pulpit eloquence. What kind of fundamental ethical question can a man be eloquent about when he draws that much cash, particularly since a Croesus or two usually has to supply an undue proportion of it? I don’t know anything about the prophet of the Lord who accepted this call, but I venture to prophesy that no sinner in that pagan city will quake in his boots in anticipation of his coming.

The idea of a professional good man is difficult enough for all of us who are professionally engaged as teachers of the moral ideal. Of course, ‘a man must live,’ and it is promised that if we seek first the kingdom and its righteousness ‘all these things shall be added unto us.’ But I doubt whether Jesus had a $15,000 salary in mind. If the things that are added become too numerous they distract your attention terribly. To try and keep your eye on the main purpose may only result in making you squint-eyed. I hope the new prophet won’t begin his pastorate with a sermon on the text, ‘I count all things but loss.'”

(If you want to figure what a $15,000 salary was worth in 1924 compared to today, click here.)