rise and fall: Christianity, culture and celebrity

It sounds like an essay title, doesn’t it?!

Aware of recent ‘scandals’ involving those in Christian ministry, I have begun to ponder this subject and my own reactions to it. This sort of thing used to make me furiously upset – that one person’s actions would colour others’ view of Christians, worse, of God. How could they?! Over time, instead, the rage was replaced by a disappointed resignation. Oh, I would think, the dullness reverberating around the word. Oh.

(This is not just those extremely well known and publicised, but occasionally someone known more personally to me. Oh. Usually those of whom we think ‘but they would never…’ Not seeing that, in fact, there but for the grace of God go all of us.)

This time my thoughts turned instead to our culture – and the culture of celebrity. How much does this influence the lives of Christians? How much have we bought into the same culture, unwittingly? In some respects it is unavoidable. With rapid globalisation, it becomes easier for someone to become widely known, as opposed to simply within their own neighbourhood. Everything is accelerated.

So how do we manage it? Individually, I mean. We so often pedestal-ize those we admire. (I am not a fan of pedestal-izing. It can only lead to breakage.) Where does admiration turn into hero worship? When does the ministry become the minister? Or the church the pastor? What happens when they fall off that plinth we’ve so carefully put them on, defended them and admired them? What happens when we discover they are flawed after all? Knowing the flawed nature of human beings does not lessen the disappointment we feel, nor take away the consequences of the actions involved.

But here are the questions to ponder. Do the actions of one person destroy everything they have done in God’s name? Does the ministry dissolve when the minister does? Is it all for nothing? Was it worth it? Was it genuine? Can the damage ever be repaired? I suspect the answers depend on the person – and their own experiences.

I’m reminded of those Old Testament heroes with their troubled, uncomfortable stories. I heard a sermon series once, entitled ‘heroes with clay feet’, which I think is an apt description. Abraham and his faith – and his doubt. Samson – what kind of a person was he that God should use him? And would King David ever have survived the media ruckus following the affair with Bathsheba – and her murdered husband? Yet he writes: wash me and I shall be as white as snow. Do we see the challenge in that?

The question that rumbles in the background:
Why does God choose such people? Why does he use them? He knows what they are capable of – for good and for bad.

Just as some are ready to pedestal-ize, others are ready to pounce. Should we jump to say ‘aha! I knew they were all for show! I knew their relationship with God wasn’t right!’ Can we really, ever, say such things? What does it mean not to judge, lest we too be judged? What does it mean to get rid of the immorality among us? How do we hold all this together?

Please note, these are just questions I am throwing out, and are not relating to a specific situation.

(I want to talk more, about where our foundations are, and the upkeep of them, and what this means for leadership, but this entry is long enough – I will save it for another time.)

God chooses the weak. What does this really mean?

Thoughts, anyone?


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8 thoughts on “rise and fall: Christianity, culture and celebrity

  1. This was a brilliant post. I love that you don’t automatically condemn those who have fallen. I aagree with you that the heros we make of these leaders is a dangerous game. It’s way too tempting for them to think, “yeah, maybe I am that great, wonderful, awesome, etc.”As I said, brilliant post. Looking forward to more of your thoughts.:)

  2. Wow – that’s a lot to throw out on us poor, unsuspecting readers. :-)I think, as you say, that it depends on individual circumstances. I find that I’m not as perturbed by the big shots who fall (usually over some sexual sin), because it seems to be human nature that the more power you get, the more likely you are to abuse it or to think you can do anything and never get caught – as David showed with Bathsheba. This is probably a cynicism I developed living near Washington, DC with its power-hungry politicians. :-)What shakes my faith worse are the smaller, individual encounters. For example, Mike and I had a falling out with the pastor who’d married us, and that wounded me deeply because he’d been almost like a father to me. I still recognized that the pastor and his wife had done a lot to help me in my own Christian walk for several years, though, so I wasn’t going to “throw the baby out with the bath water,” so to speak, although my faith in God was tested greatly at that point. It was tested again later when the Episcopal Church had its shakeup over the gay bishop thing. It wasn’t the fact that people were opposed to the idea of a gay bishop that bothered me so much as it was the way they went about voicing their displeasure. We ended up leaving our church because people there were going on witch hunts to root out the “liberals.” The language, the attitudes, the viciousness of everything – there was nothing Christian about it. (That church later tore itself apart over this issue, and now it’s a shadow of its former self, as far as I can tell from its web site.) The repercussions from that episode still reverberate in my life today – I’d been very involved in that church, and yet I was treated as if my opinion wasn’t worth anything just before we left – and I find myself quite wary of any church as a result. On more than one occasion I’ve wondered, “God, if you’re real, how is it that I can’t see any love among your followers?” It’s really stretched my faith on more than one occasion.I suspect that most people in the U.S. who give up on church, or who turn from Christianity, do so because they see the hypocrisy of its followers in *individual encounters* with those followers. If they could have encounters where Christians show genuine love and compassion, where they can feel like they’re part of a family who will love them no matter what, then I think they will at least be willing to explore Christianity more.And that’s probably all I can manage to write about the topic at the moment. Whew! 🙂

  3. I so enjoy your thought provoking entry. I love to ponder the questions and it is thrilling to read the thoughts of others too. Here, I have tried to touch on an aspect of an idea you presented. If we ‘fall apart’ when the group, team, leader does we will get back up again – if, in fact, we had put our faith in God, not the person or program. God will lead us on, but only when we allow Him to do so. If we, on the other hand, say “it’s over, I’m through with Christianity or the church, or whatever the situation, then we missed the true message, the Gospel, if you will. I love the old saying, “When a door closes, God opens a window.” Apply that to whatever seems to fall apart in our daily grind and we can expect God to offer new direction for our steps. Many will not go on after a ’fall’. Only a few of the people who actually got to be with Jesus in person accepted His teachings and tried to change their ways. So many others just couldn’t believe what they heard, or couldn’t step outside their selfishness and live for God, I guess. Look at us today! Are we on the straight and narrow every hour?! No!

  4. Thanks so much for your comments guys…I love sharing thoughts and ideas. I will be posting more thoughts soon when I get the opportunity.

  5. i’m afraid I do pounce too much. I do judge too much. To some level it is the reaction to pedestalisation. but i would put the onus on my own judging nature.I think we all try and maintain images a lot of it unconsciously. For to be truly honest is hugely draining and shaming. Maybe God just lets us be for a while before he initiates change and when we respond then the falls are more gentle. Otherwise we feed the pedestal culture and the fall is truly great.great post!

  6. I think you’re right. To be openly weak requires strength. Particularly when there are those who would, sadly, be disparaging of complete honesty…

  7. Reblogged this on Reason & Existenz and commented:
    EuroAmerican Christianity has always suffered from this problem since it first sprang up in North Africa. It is called the Donatist heresy. While Donatism mostly concerned whether a priest needed to be pure of heart/deed in order to administer the sacraments, I think it can be extended out to cover the judgments made on the laity as well. That is, if you are a hypocrite, has anything that you have done in the name of Jesus that brought about some good grace been irrevocably undercut by your hypocrisy? If Christianity is to be consistent with its orthodoxic heritage, the Christian must say NO. This does not mean, go ahead and do what you want. The good stuff will still be good and the bad does not count. The hypocrites have to be judged by the community and if they are found utterly wanting, they have to become excommunicate. That is what St. Paul recommends be done with such people. But Christians have to be willing to excommunicate those who blemish Christianity and not just keep putting up with the hypocrisy. No Christian should ever be suprised that the world judges the Church & the various communities so harshly when the behaviors of Christians are excused away or labelled an exception. Megachurch Christianity has followed into the direct footsteps of every Christian community that uses excuses and hides the truth. This is because Christian fellowships tend to let themselves becomes synonymous with their society. Well newsflash good Christians: Neither America nor any other nation is “Christian.” The Church is the Body of Christ. You can try to influence your society but be ready for cross-contamination. Would not hurt if some of today’s Christians, esp. in the Megachurch set, would sit down and read the City of God by St. Augustine. Christians should be engaged in their locales and in their societies, but should never confound their particular society with the City of God. Patriotism is one of those paths paved with good intentions.

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