(RNS) — Pastors, if you’re looking for a short, cheap getaway, the Liberty Pastors Training Camp later this month has a deal for you: four days, three nights and meals for just $99.
There’s a catch, though.
Just as with those timeshare offers that require attendance at a sales presentation, this stay includes a sales pitch, too.
Among the conference sessions that are part of the package is one that promises to answer a question you might never have thought to ask: “How do I become a Black Robe preacher?”
Your next question might be “What is a Black Robe preacher?”
The name is an allusion to the Black Robed Regiment of the Revolutionary era, a name given to clergymen who advocated from the pulpit for American independence from Britain, rousing within their congregations support for the patriot cause in the name of religious freedom.
Today’s self-identified Black Robed preachers are led by Dan Fisher, a pastor and former member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives who gives presentations dressed “in full period costume” complete with props he describes as “relics from our War of Independence.”
Lauding the “patriot preachers” of the Revolution who “stood in their pulpits each Sunday wearing their black robes, preaching from God’s Word about spiritual and civil liberty,” Fisher aims to “challenge today’s church and to stand for liberty as the 18th century church did.”
But cosplaying Revolutionary clergy in the 21st century reflects neither biblical wisdom nor sound theology.
Ecclesiastes warns: “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.”
And in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus admonishes the multitudes for being able to read the weather but not discern the times.
Those who wish to change the culture, to advocate for religious freedom and even to protect civil liberties and the secular U.S. Constitution and do these things in the name of Jesus ought to do so, not only with financial transparency, but also with biblical wisdom, maturity and discernment — clothed in Jesus Christ, not Revolution-era costumes.
It would be easy to dismiss such gimmickry as mere fringe. Fisher and his reenactors have been reported on by numerous media outlets, going back to Glenn Beck’s 2010 announcement of their formation, but more recently because of their participation in the Jan. 6 rally. Now the group is part of a pastors’ conference at one of the country’s largest evangelical universities. And the special rate for pastors who attend, according to the conference organizers, is a “special subsidized all-inclusive rate that has been covered by VERY generous investors.”
Who these “investors” are, the site doesn’t say.
It’s common, of course, for organizations to underwrite travel and lodging for those they want to educate about a cause. Usually, the sponsoring organization is upfront. One can hardly blame an underpaid, overworked pastor for taking up an offer for a short vacation. But a minister of the gospel ought to be wary.
In the churches of my youth, it was controversial (and sometimes forbidden) for performers or guest speakers in church to sell their music, books or other wares in the foyer after the service. This prohibition was based on the New Testament account of Jesus driving out all those buying and selling in the temple and turning over the tables of the money-changers. But when he accused them of turning God’s house into a “den of robbers,” Jesus was quoting the Prophet Jeremiah, who admonished religious leaders for abusing, cheating and oppressing people in the name of the Lord.
With eyes focused on the narrower question of whether or not it was biblical to sell Christian CDs and books at church, it is easier to be blind to larger systems and structures that would swindle the church by taking her eyes off Jesus and replacing America in his place.
Such are the true robbers. Such are the tables that Jesus will overturn.