Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Empire Builders vs the Love of Christ

Can you imagine giving the eulogy at a funeral and starting out by saying “before I tell you about God’s grace, let me make it clear that little Johnny deserved to die because he stole candy from a store”?

My old friend Izzy is always posting some great links to stuff he finds on the web. Today, he pointed out Donald Miller's response to some ridiculous things that Pat Robertson recently said. The short version is this: With the death toll into the tens of thousands after the earthquake in Haiti, Pat Robertson managed to say that Haiti was "cursed" after an old "pact with the devil."

Sadly, a number of people might be under the impression that talking heads like Pat Robertson represent the feelings of most Christians (or even the feelings of most conservatives). Most Christians, however, think the idea is absurd that their feelings might be represented by people like Pat Robertson.

One problem with our 24/7 media-and-Internet driven society is that to stand out as a "leader" (or megapastor or author or CNN talking head), you've got to occasionally say some ridiculous things just to get in the headlines. Everything has to be extreme in one direction. Like, for instance, blaming the devastation in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina on the debauchery that took place in that town.

From Miller's blog post:
    "These people are often, themselves, controlling. They are wired to build empires, and in order to build empires you have to get people to do what you say, and if you have God standing behind you threatening hurt and pain, you can motivate people. I’ve heard pastors pray and call other men cowards, get angry from the pulpit, yell, belittle other Christian pastors who don’t agree with them, fire people who will not submit to them, surround themselves with yes men and so on. Sadly, they never point the finger at themselves."
But this isn't how God's empire operates. God's empire is about compassion, service, and loving your enemy. It's about feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and inviting the stranger into your home. It's about following the example of Jesus -- who was willing to lay down his life. (And who also only seemed to raise his voice at the religious leaders of his day.)

I can only imagine that it's hard to be a famed "church leader" in this day and age. This isn't about Pat Robertson. We've got thousands of Christian leaders, from the megapastors and authors down to the guys leading small Midwestern churches. If you have the kind of charisma and drive it takes to get lots of people to follow you, it's quite possible you also have the pride and controlling personality that seems to often go along with it.

This new empire, the Kingdom of God, isn't built on the backs of millionaire authors and pastors in three-piece suits. It's a power-under kingdom, a kingdom that thrives when we love each other as Jesus loved, and serve the people that have no one to look after them.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in."

16 comments:

Robert said...

Well said and right on target! I have often been berated for not jumping on the band wagon of idol worship concerning noted pastors, evangelists, music people and "religious" authors. I won't even purchase a ticket to see them in concert. Why? Because of the statements you make in this article. The exception to my non-participant attitude would be for entertainment value that wouldn't necessarily be Jesus oriented. Bottom line: "I won't believe in you nor follow you even though you were created by Jesus! I will only believe and follow Him!"

Craig said...

Well, Robert, you know, 'sinners' is all there is for Jesus to build His church out of. Which also includes you and me. Just sayin'. . .

Anyway, wasn't it Pat Robertson who prayed a hurricane away from Virginia, so it hit Connecticut instead? Wonder what the 'moral calculus' was in that instance? You know, like the earthquake that struck San Francisco because of all the gays there, or the one that hit LA because of the porn industry, etc, etc. I once heard a preacher say that the Challenger explosion was God's judgment on the entire United States, for the pride and hubris of traveling in space. . .

Of course, none of us has that kind of intimate access to the Mind of God. Because of our fallen-ness (and heck, just our finitude), we're groping in the dark way more than we wish we were, when it comes to knowing just what God is thinking at any given point in time, about any given event, whether in the headlines, or just the circumstances of our own lives. . .

Bottom line, though, goes back to my first paragraph, way up front. It isn't just Pat Robertson's pride and 'controlling personality' that comes into play here (I really don't know Pat Robertson well enough to know anything about his personal sins, but just for the sake of argument). It's also the venality of people who imagine that they're hitching their own wagons to his star, so to speak; who are all-too-willing to translate the 'media celebrity culture' more-or-less seamlessly into the Church, because somehow, they imagine that by identifying with the talking head on TV (whether Pat Robertson, or whomever), their own lives are somehow rendered better, or more relevant, or important, or whatever. . .

It's at least partly a vicious cycle (and think 'vicious' in the old sense of 'pertaining to vice') - proud and controlling would-be 'leaders', combined with folks who imagine that a TV talking head is more important to their lives than their own church, and the neighbors they've been given. . .

Joe B said...

Well said Craig, and Robert I love all that attitude. In my heart I'm hoping you have a ponytail down to your crack.
Scott, I was having just such a conversation with a guy over lunch, how Christian leaders build a brand, and how so much of "church" is built on celebrity. Even in small churches with unremarkable celebrities at the front. And we all know how stable and admirable celebrities are.
Count me out. I don't want to be a brand. I want to be an unBrand. An unCelebrity bigger than Pat Robertson AND Michael Jackson. The "King of un". Yeah. Yeahhh...

Craig said...

I really didn't mean to be all 'up in Robert's grille'; only a gently-intended admonition. . .

But I can tell you that even among Christians with the purest of communitarian (should I say 'unChurchly' here?) intentions, human venality and pride are always present, waiting for their opportunity. I promise you, I am not speaking from a detached, analytical viewpoint-from-afar, but from intimate personal experience of a community that survived the experience, but very nearly didn't. . .

So, I guess - don't kid yourself. There is no such thing as a Christian grouping that is immune to human sinfulness. . .

[And, since you brought it up - no ponytail (and just which 'crack' are we talkin' about here?). In my teens, my hair brushed my shoulders, and was thick enough that one of the ladies at my church asked me 'who did my hair'; but these days, my gray beard is the only remnant of whatever 'hippie' tendencies I ever had (which really weren't all that pronounced, anyway; sorry if that disappoints you ;) )]

Robert said...

Craig, no offense taken - didn't even think you were being such. I really enjoy your posts. You seem to have profound insight into the unchurchy stuff.

Joe B said...

No, Robert is my ponytail guy!

And true enough, we never arrive at a point where we are exempt from the insidious venality that corrupts. Among leaders there is the threat of egomania, aong the followers there is the threat of idolatry.
Strange as it sounds they are the same sin, just expressed through diffeent personalities.

Doc D said...

Pat has said some boneheaded things in the last few years, no doubt. But if I am not mistaken, the "pact with the devil" thing is common Haitian lore explaining why it is such a uniquely miserable place. I think it goes back to their past president Papa Doc Duvalier, whom many of them still fear and revere, and whom many believe still rules the people from the grave. Really. So if we don't mock Haitian religious leaders who say the same thing, why bother mocking Pat Robertson? If you believe different things, you'll say different things. Is Rob Bell a greater expert on Haiti than Haitians? Maybe not...

Scott said...

I'm not trying to mock Pat Robertson... Maybe "admonish" would be a better word? Calling a poor, impoverished country "cursed by the devil" after a natural disaster... Wow. It's just not a Jesus-type-of-thing to say. And that's putting it quite lightly. The bigger problem is the public-at-large thinking he speaks for Christianity.

The issue is the celebrity of church leadership. It's not that God's people don't NEED leaders... We do, and we always will. But in this day and age, I'm just not sure that God's church is going to be built on the back of those in power.

Joe B said...

Is a guy like Pat Robertson even a significant leader? But times have changed to where anyone with a high enough platform becomes a "global leader". Maybe everything anyone says about anything is just media white-noise? Could we be arriving back at a place where Christianity becomes a face-to-face, heart-to-heart thing unmediated by institutions and the press?

Craig said...

At lease part of the problem is the fragmentation of the Church. The question of who the 'Christian leaders' even are can be a problematic one. How many American Protestants even know, beyond their local church pastor(s), who their 'leaders' are? But they know who Pat Robertson is, because they can see him on TV, and can thus form an 'identification' with him that they never could with their own denominational leadership, who they're extremely unlikely ever to have met, much less talked with. . .

And I'm not really meaning to rip on Pat Robertson, either - I'm sure there are plenty of folks who are Christian today, who wouldn't be if not for Pat. (But it is awfully hard not to indulge in the tiniest bit of derision at some of his public pronouncements. . .)

I would second Scott, though, that in the immediate aftermath of a horrific disaster like this, talking of old pacts with the devil, even if true, comes off like rubbing salt in the wound. (The parents of a teen suicide may have been less-than-adequate as parents; but they may not have been; and even if they were, standing over their child's body is not the time or place to tell them so. . .)

And I recently came across an interesting article (I think it was on the First Things website, but alas, I've been unable to find it), written after Oral Roberts' death, that captured the ambiguity that a lot of us felt toward such 'TV-Celebrity-Ministries' quite well. But he also made the (not irrelevant) point that Oral Roberts (as well as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell), unlike some of his fellow TV-evangelist-types, at least kept his private parts where they belonged. . .

Craig said...

And Joe, just a thought about ". . . unmediated by institutions. . ." -

'Mediating institutions' are just part of how human beings connect with each other (and the universe) in meaningful ways. Our families are the most fundamental of all 'mediating institutions'. And the Church, functioning as she ought, is not so different from a family. You're no more likely to eliminate the 'institutional' nature of the Church than you are to eliminate the 'institutional' nature of the family.

But, point taken - there are institutions and there are institutions; and we want the church to be the right kind of institution. Maybe more like a family, and less like a multinational corporation. . .

Ever read Robert Bellah's Habits of the Heart? It's 25 years now since it was published (altho I'm told a new edition came out just a few years ago), but its insights are pretty sharp. . .

Apostle TaVon Davis said...

I agree and as a young preacher I have decided to stand against these lies and teach the truth. I also join you in exposing these business that are called churches. You ever noticed how the biblical Church didn't get a building when they came together. They had the money, but they took the money and distributed it to the saints in need. These ministries that focus on building a better building and teach the people to give out of house and home are not at all correct. But it's gonna take true teaching and most importantly the lord to open the minds of the true chosen believers to see change. Or maybe their wont be change. Maybe we will just teach and preach only to be rewarded at the end. As I focus on the truth I guess we'll see.

Ta'Von Davis

Joe B said...

Good words, TaVon. If we gave to the churches in the same measure as our churches give to the needs of the saints, the true Chaff Churches would be separated from the Wheat-Churches in no time at all. But the threshing floor awaits those who lead God's little ones amiss.

Thanks for your boldness to bellieve what is written and to preach it as it is. Thanks for dropping in, TV

Robert said...

Ever hear the following story? There were a group of extremely dedicated volunteers on the coast of Maine who manned a delapitated lighthouse. In their watchful efforts they had saved many a ship from the rocks and shoals. As new volunteers arrived from time to time they were concerned that the lighthouse was drafty and took actions to fix it up. First, they boarded up the cracks to ward off the violent, cold winds that constantly pummeled the coast. Then they replaced the old coal stove with a modern propane heating system. Next the new volunteers brought in easy chairs, of which the old-timers frowned upon because they felt the chairs were a distraction to their original purpose - sentinals of safety to wayward ships. TV and refrigerator were next to be installed. In their efforts to become more comfortable, the big warning light was neglected and finally ceased to work. Long story short - the lighthouse, which had provided salvation to so many in the past, became a modern "clubhouse" to those who thought their way was better. The volunteers were so distracted from the original goals by focusing on their own personal comfort, that they didn't even realize that ships were being wrecked and people's lives were lost all about them! Hmmmmmm?

RMW said...

I see Pat Robertson in the same light as I do Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church; if you aren't familiar with him, just Google it.

People's words and actions either reflect God's Kingdom or they don't and if they do not then it is best to put it aside.

Anyone who thinks Robertson or Phelps speaks for Christians is working on their own agenda driven issues so I see no point is concerning myself with it. Instead I'll concern myself with a prayer for them that God will intercede on their behalf. That is afterall what God commands of us.

Matt said...

Robertson has grown more and more to think about the Pharisees of John 9 (I think that chapter or nearby) when they wanted Jesus to tell them who's sin caused the man to be blind. All the while they were actually the blind ones to truth in front of them.

I do fear condemning him, as he may just be blinded by a closed community, and repentance for him personally is still possible, but that is the risk of blindness in any community of any type.