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Posts Tagged ‘idolatry’

By creating a narrative of an evil “deep state” and casting himself — a powerful white man of immense generational wealth — as a victim in his own right, Trump not only tapped into the religious right’s familiar feeling of persecution, but he also cast himself as its savior, a man of flesh who would fight the holy war on its behalf. “There’s been a real determined effort by the left to try to separate Trump from his evangelical base by shaming them into, ‘How can you support a guy like this?’ ” Jeffress tells me. “Nobody’s confused. People don’t care really about the personality of a warrior; they want him to win the fight.” And Trump’s coming to that fight with a firebrand’s feeling, turning the political stage into an ecstatic experience — a conversion moment of sorts — and the average white evangelical into an acolyte, someone who would attend rallies with the fever of revivals, listen to speeches as if they were sermons, display their faithfulness with MAGA hats, send in money as if tithing, and metaphorically bow down, again and again, at the altar of Donald Trump, who delivers the nation from its transgressions.

Alex Morris, False Idol — Why the Christian Right Worships Donald Trump

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“A 29-year-old man named Tyler started an Instagram account two weeks ago that spawned from a joke he shared with friends. The account PreachersNSneakers has now become a place of both celebration and controversy over pastor influencers and their expensive shoes.”

A Man Created An Instagram About Church Leaders In Expensive Designer Shoes. It’s Sending People Down An Existential Morality Spiral

“The debate pokes at what has long been a tender subject: the money flowing through churches and the way that it’s spent, as well as the encroachment of materialism. Some ministries have been criticized for buying mansions for pastors or in one case, spending $65 million on a Gulfstream jet.”

Let He Who Is Without Yeezys Cast the First Stone

Sad sorry state.

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Show Me the Money

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A Godly President

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Scot McKnight wrote another great blog post on why it was proper and “prophetic” for Hybel’s victims to go public:

Some pastors in autonomous churches become too authoritative. We are hearing lots about this with respect to Willow. When pastors become autonomous and authoritative and when they are as big as Willow, the church can easily become a top-down organization and become a centralized institution. This deprives the people of the church from genuine participation and of forming the sorts of associations needed for individual gifts to flourish. This kind of centralized culture deprives many of a voice.

Bingo! Although I should add that size is not necessarily a correlative factor: smaller churches can also become centralized and crowd out the voices of the congregation. And if the elders are “Yes men”, then there is a tendency to cover up for the pastor(s). Scott goes on to write:

Furthermore, top-down management promotes a lack of responsibility on the part of the people, often a lack of accountability for both leader and people, a clear absence of ownership by the people, a lethargic passivity by the people, and it creates spectators of the people and performers of the leaders. The leaders develop a persona made visible by public appearances. One does not know the genuine article; one knows the persona presented on stage. For most people there is no way to find the truth of the leader’s character. Many people are marked by allegiance to the leader rather than free-flowing giftedness set free to do the work God has called them to.

This is so true. These star Pastor Idols carefully cultivate their public image and God only knows what their true character is like. But there are clues that can serve as warning signs, such as: how well they handle questioning or criticism, how much they enjoy being in the spotlight, and how big a salary they command (would they be willing to follow the apostle Paul and be a tentmaker for a season?).  The NT envisions a plurality of elders/pastors but in practice, a so-called Senior Pastor usually ends up calling the shots, with everyone else falling in line:

Autonomy at the top breeds powermongering, and that always leads to sharing authority with like-minded who think alike and behave alike and reinforce what is alike. Many of the “not likes” then are excluded, silenced, and even afraid to speak up.

The evidence of powermongering is silencing and bullying – verbally, institutionally, opportunity, and development/advancement. Success in such churches is shaped by loyalty to the autonomous pastor and his retainers. Advancement is given to those who clearly are “for the team” but many know that “team” in such churches becomes an inside group of power brokers.

That is why when a situation arises, the power brokers will do whatever it takes to protect the Celebrity and the Institution (they will stretch 1 Tim. 5:19 beyond reasonable limits). Indeed, they will attempt to turn the tables so that the victims are to be blamed. Given the asymmetry of the power dynamics, the victims are heavily disadvantaged. As Foucault observed, “In a great many cases power relations are fixed in such a way that they are perpetually asymmetrical and allow an extremely limited margin of freedom.” (Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984, 2nd ed., ed. Sylvère Lotringer (New York: Semiotext(e), 1996).

McKnight asks, “What happens when an individual or a group of individuals, who are disempowered and outside the power cliques, want genuine evaluation and redress for an injustice?” Well, as the women found out, their pleas for justice were met with silencing, stonewalling, and self-serving and self-righteous denials: “If they follow the autonomous church’s process the accusers far too often learn that appealing to the structured authorities falls into silent dismissals or pretentious evaluations or lengthy delays that wear down the accusers. This is what happened at Willow.”

That’s why the women had no choice but to go public:

So people went public because Willow should not have asked people to wait this long. Four years was (more than) enough for these women.

We would not know any of the truth of this problem at Willow (Association and Elders) had they not gone public. Four years of silence, four years of nothing being known, four years when others may have spoken up. We know what we know only because the women had the courage to go public.

I unequivocally agree with Scott “that what the women did was soundly biblical and patient.” Let’s pray that justice, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation can take place.

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Indiscretion. Infidelity. Fraud. Scandal. Fallen.

Mark Driscoll. Tullian Tchividjian (Billy Graham’s grandson). Andy Savage. Bill Hybels. Paige Patterson.

Just a few names in a long list of disgraced Christian celebrities. However, we dare not be too quick to point fingers. Christians and the rotten models of church and “ministry” that most believers hold dear are partially to blame: we are so eager to put popular preachers on a pedestal. Inevitably, it’s only a matter of time before pride surfaces amidst the toxic swirl of personality, power, popularity, prestige, pay, pragmatism and politics. I need not elaborate how the ubiquity of social media serves only to amplify the temptation to fame and glory.

And we need not feel too bad for the fallen idols, for most go in hiding briefly before resurfacing again and proudly carrying on in a new public “ministry” (Driscoll, Tchividjian). Patterson was “promoted” to the position of President Emeritus for which he continues receiving compensation and may still get to live on campus [Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary] for free as “theologian-in-residence” (seriously?!! Whatever Patterson is, he is NOT a theologian!). And Savage received a standing ovation for his “confession”. Hybels? He still has a legion of adulating fans and don’t be surprised if he will surface again in another capacity in due time.

Andy Crouch has written a fine piece on why It’s Time to Reckon with Celebrity Power but alas, I fear it will fall upon deaf ears, or at best, call forth for the moment a few earnest promises of more accountability and transparency. However, unless we root out our innate desire to idolize, these sporadic and superficial acts of contrition will not lead to lasting change.

Also: unless we deconstruct the clericalism and institutionalism that breeds a culture wherein superstars are unabashedly promoted and empire building is unashamedly encouraged (perhaps couched in pious clichés), the ground remains fertile for the pernicious weed of “the Christian celebrity” to flourish.

I appreciate Al Mohler’s acknowledgment regarding The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention, and I agree that “the issues are far deeper and wider”, but will there be enough moral fibre to dismantle the old boy’s club and clean up the corridors where money, power and favours flow? What about the immense hurt and damaged lives of the victims?

… somewhere ‘long the way
I got caught up in all there was to offer
And the cost was so much more than I could bear

Though I’ve tried I’ve fallen
I have sunk so low
I messed up
Better I should know

We all begin with good intent
When love was raw and young
We believe that we can change ourselves
The past can be undone
But we carry on our back the burden time always reveals
In the lonely light of morning
In the wound that would not heal
It’s the bitter taste of losing everything
That I’ve held so dear

Heaven bend to take my hand
I’ve nowhere left to turn
I’m lost to those I thought were friends
To everyone I know
Oh they turn their heads embarrassed
Pretend that they don’t see
That it’s one missed step, one slip before you know it
And there doesn’t seem a way to be redeemed

– Sarah MacLachlan, “Fallen”

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