Let's say that, like roughly half the citizens of the United States, you attend church on at least a semi-regular basis. And then let's say that you're one of the ten to 25% of church attendees who "tithes," or gives some of your income (traditionally ten percent of what you make) to the church.
Would it make you think twice if you saw your pastor, whose salary you directly contribute to, wearing rare Yeezy sneakers that sell for almost $4,000?
It's this line of questioning that inspired the creation of @preachersnsneakers, an Instagram account chronicling the hype-worthy shoes — and their hefty price tags — worn by celebrity pastors. Filled with posts juxtaposing pictures of megachurch pastors like Rich Wilkerson Jr. (who officiated Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's wedding) and Judah Smith (a pal of Justin Bieber's) with the prices of their Fear of God and Gucci gear, the account has struck a chord, amassing over 8,000 followers in just a little over two weeks.
And though the account's founder Tyler Jones (not his real name) says it all started as a joke, he acknowledges that the questions the account brings up about "stewardship" — that's Christianese for "what religious leaders are doing with the money their followers give them" — have real weight. So much weight, in fact, that Chad Veach, another pastor in Bieber's circle with over 234,000 followers on Instagram, changed his well-known handle after Jones created a post about Veach's $1,980 Gucci backpack and $794 Rhude trackpants.
"Wanna know what's crazy? I legit did not pay for one thing i am wearing [sic]," Veach initially commented from his verified account on the post. "Is that wild to you? that's wild to me... Thanks for the shout out tho. You're a blessing."
In the time it took for Jones to formulate a response and delete a few particularly hateful comments from trolls, he noticed that Veach had deleted the comment — and changed his handle from @chadcveach to @chadveach. (Veach had not responded to request for comment at time of publication.)
"That's when I was like oh, this just got way more real than I ever intended," Jones, who agreed to speak with Fashionista on the condition of anonymity, says over the phone. "I'm not trying to cause a division; me and him both believe inherently the same things. I just think that if you're in church you should know how your pastor is spending the money."
Read on to hear more from our conversation with the internet joke-turned-accidental-watchdog @preachersnsneakers below.
What prompted you to start this account?
I've been really into buying and reselling sneakers for the past few years. On the other side, I'm an evangelical Christian and am pretty ingrained in that culture.
One Sunday I was looking for a song I really like by Elevation Worship and I realized the lead singer was wearing a pair of Yeezy 750s. They're pretty rare, they resell for 800 bucks or so. I thought I knew about church-type salaries — my wife works for a church — and so I was like, 'This does not compute. How is this guy wearing these kicks?'
Then I started looking into the pastor at Elevation, Steven Furtick, and I came across a video where he was wearing this pair of shattered backboard Jordan 1s, the orange and black colorway. That's one of my holy grail shoes. I looked them up on StockX, and the last sale was for like 900 bucks. I started deep diving these mega-churches and I realized there's a lot of people out here wearing like the hypest outfits, the highest resell kicks in the game. I made a video for my personal Instagram, and people responded really well. At that point was like, maybe there's some ongoing comedic factor here.
Your following has grown super quickly. What do you think is resonating so deeply?
I've had hundreds of pastors and people in ministry message me like 'Thank you, keep doing what you're doing. It's prompting a discussion around what leadership and stewardship look like within the church.' I also have this whole other component of the secular, questioning or atheist community that are messaging me like, 'Dude, this is hilarious. It's crazy the money that these preachers make.'
Somebody called me a hypocrite today and said that I was causing disunity within the church. But I've been pretty intentional to leave it relatively open-ended. It can be read passive aggressively or it can be read like 'Oh this dude's just gassing this pastor up for having a sweet outfit.' I had a Dallas-based pastor reach out to me and ask to be featured on the page yesterday.
I never expected any of this, this multilayered discussion. All I do is find pictures, look up the things that they're wearing and then put out the current market price and let you decide what you feel about that, you know?
Do you think it's inherently problematic for church leaders to own or post pictures of themselves in expensive stuff?
That is the massive question here. As somebody that has given money to my local church, personally I would be a little irritated if I saw the pastor step out in some fresh Yeezys. I would at least ask the question.
The rebuttal to that is 'Well, these megachurch guys are doing major book sales or doing speaking tours,' which is valid. I don't fault any of them for making a lot of money. But I do think that you're held to a different standard if you are leading a church that people are contributing money to and investing some amount of their trust in you to lead them spiritually. That's a pretty heavy calling. I think you at least need to be aware of the optics of the things that you're wearing.
I watched videos on Carl Lentz, [the pastor of Hillsong], who has done a really impressive thing in New York City, made this really relatable church with tons of people. He said basically, 'I want to look like the people that we're trying to lead.' But at a certain point to me it seems to me like you can accomplish the exact same things with swag from H&M versus swag from Off-White or Louis Vuitton or Saint Laurent.
Do you think it makes any difference if that swag is gifted or purchased by the pastors in question?
Dude, I don't know if they were gifts. All I know is that you're on the 'gram wearing a $2,000 pair of boots. I can't reconcile it. I can't think of a meaningful explanation as to why you would feel 100% okay with wearing a pair of boots that probably the majority of your congregation could never afford. I am just here to say 'Whoa, homie's wearing $800 track pants.' Y'all do with that what you want, you know?
I mean, I cannot stand here and say that you should never be wearing that. These guys like Carl Lentz and Chad Veach and Judah Smith, they probably have really wise mentors. And where I sit now I don't understand it, but maybe there is an explanation behind it — I would love to hear it.
You've had some ministry people comment on your account saying this is why they only wear Forever21 and knock-off Yeezys, but Forever21 has a terrible human rights record in its supply chain and knock-offs are often tied to crime rings. Do you think it's more important for pastors to wear clothing that's ethically made, or accessibly priced?
Man, that's a very heavy question. I can see a case for paying more to "buy it for life" and getting quality and ethically sourced goods. But I don't think, if we're talking about pastors, they should buy flashy stuff and chalk it up to it being ethically sourced.
It'd be one thing if they were to come out and explain, like, 'this is why I bought this pair of Off-White Chicago 1s, because I feel strongly about how they're made.' If you could get a congregation to somehow agree that their money going to those $2,500 pair of kicks was good for the kingdom of God then I can't have argument with that.
I definitely don't want to say you should fund sweat shops. But I also think there's got to be a balance between that and wearing Burberry sneakers.
As someone who loves sneakers yourself, is that not something you could imagine connecting with a pastor over?
At no point have I ever made any decision about what church I go to based on what the pastor wears. That would be the most superficial way of choosing a church, in my opinion.
So if Jesus was walking around in the flesh in 2019, what shoes do you think he'd be wearing?
I think he'd probably be wearing some open-toe Birkenstocks on a standard day. Then maybe if he was hanging around the house he'd be wearing some Air Max 1s that he bought from the outlet.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.