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The preachers wearing Saint Laurent: behind the viral Instagram account

Ben Kirby never intended to gain a social media following or obtain a book deal based on his knowledge of religion and sneakers, but that’s exactly what happened when he launched the PreachersNSneakers account on Instagram in 2019.

The 31-year-old Dallas, Texas, resident was working towards obtaining his MBA and DJ-ing as a side job in 2019, when he overslept and missed church. “I had never done this before but I decided to sit on my couch and look up YouTube worship videos,” he told the Guardian.

Thanks to his recent interest in sneakers, he realized that the pastor in one of the videos was wearing an expensive pair of shoes. When he posted about it on his personal Instagram account, it triggered reactions from people about the idea of a religious figure wearing flashy, high-priced designer products.

So, for a week, he continued to post similar findings on his page. Eventually, a friend convinced him to create a new account dedicated solely to identifying the pricey fashions of pastors.

And that is where it all took off.

Within a month, 100,000 people were following the account. “People all over, all the time are trying to create social media accounts that blow up,” he said. “A lot of it was timing [and] my growing up in the church and understanding Christian culture, along with understanding sneaker culture. I was able to communicate those two things and some of the tension [they] caused.”

PreachersNSneakers has amassed more than 200,000 followers thanks to posts that reveal the enormous price tags of the fashion worn by prominent clergy. Pastor, author and religious personality John Gray appears in a recent post on the account sporting a Gucci sweater that cost more than $1,100. In another photo, Pastor Steven Furtick sports a pair of thousand-dollar Saint Laurent boots. Captions for each post are typically straightforward, but occasionally skew snarky.

Still, Kirby said he didn’t create the account to pass judgment on anyone. In fact, he said he knew he felt uncomfortable by the sight of pastors in expensive sneakers, but he was still working through his own thoughts regarding wealth, religion and fame when he first created the account.

It’s not surprising that some of the posts about popular pastors have garnered outrage from their legion of supporters. But Kirby said he never considered how upset people might be when he first created the account.

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“One that really stuck out to me very early on was a lady reached out to me and said I was going to have to account for the souls of the people that were lost because of this account when I go to heaven,” he said. “She [was] basically saying that I was causing people to lose their faith because I posted pictures of sneakers and the price tag.”

He admits he’s had both positive and negative interactions with some of the pastors featured on PreachersNSneakers, but says the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Since launching the account, he’s continued the conversation with religious experts via a podcast of the same title.

On 27 April, he’ll release a book, PreachersNSneakers: Authenticity in an Age of For-Profit Faith and (Wannabe) Celebrities, via Nelson Thomas, a HarperCollins imprint.

Kirby describes the book as a “humorous look into the state of the modern church”, noting it has allowed him to delve deeper into the themes and questions posed by the popular Instagram account.

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