Gobbled Up by the Christian Machine

The Christian Machine

I had another post in mind for today to start a short series about the major movements of a shifting faith, but I’ll post next week instead. After hearing Eugene Peterson’s retraction about same-sex marriage upon receiving hard and heavy pushback from the Christian publishing industry, I wanted to say this while it was fresh:

The Christian machine is alive and well and has tried to gobble many of us up.

The Christian machine has catalyzed many of us into a faith unraveling that has left us on the margins of all we once knew.

The Christian machine is powerful; yes, times are changing, and I’m glad for Christianity’s shake-up and what’s emerging, but it’s going to be a rough ride.

The Christian machine does everything in the name of Jesus, but for many of us it feels completely contrary to almost everything we believe about Jesus.

What is the Christian machine?

 I’d define it as:

The central block of power and resources that Christian publishing, conferences, church leadership, and ministry systems own, run, and protect.

Here are a few things about the Christian machine that I’ve observed over many years of ministry, especially on the margins.

The Christian machine demands allegiance to doctrine, beliefs, and a certain way of being. In other words, those who play by the rules, say the right things, believe the right things, hold to the right things are “in” and those who don’t find themselves “out.”

The Christian machine loves the pretty and the popular. It’s not fond of messy, unpredictable, awkward, and weird. “Those people” are service projects, ministry models, people to “save” but never the ones who hold the power.

The Christian machine controls the microphone. Who gets to say what and how is central. This is why there are usually certain kinds of speakers at conferences, pastors who get to preach, and books that get distributed.

The Christian machine loves conformity. The bounds have probably expanded a little over the years and there’s a more room for rabble-rousing when it comes to Jesus, but watch out for being pinned down for specific views on LGBQT+ equality or biblical-almost-anything, abortion or politics. The potential consequence for being clearly off their track is definitely losing a job, a leadership position, a book deal, a spot at the table.

The Christian machine is usually not an equal, healthy, open system. Typically (but not always), it’s dominated by white male leadership, homogeneity of belief, socioeconomics, and relationships with other people with similar power. Those who don’t fit this template—women, people of color, advocates, activists, dissenting voices, crazy-about-the-margins–usually aren’t part in a significant way. It doesn’t mean their voices aren’t listened to or they aren’t on teams; but on the whole they don’t really hold the power.

The Christian machine decides who is in and who is out. Who gets to play and who doesn’t. Who’s above and who’s under. Who’s worthy and who’s not. Who’s biblically sound according to their interpretation and who’s not. Who’s a peace-keeper of the status quo (highest valued) and who’s a trouble-maker (watch out for them).

The Christian machine decides what is okay to believe. This is why so many faith unravelers have had to leave systems they once gave their hearts, lives, and families to. We just can’t align anymore with the core beliefs, not only about theology but also about philosophy of ministry, “church” and social justice.

I have no idea of the ins and outs of Eugene Peterson’s journey and how he could be so clear in an interview one day about same-sex marriage and change it two days later. I respect his work and am grateful for his voice in the kingdom of God.

However, watching it yesterday was a great reminder of the reality of the Christian machine and the power it yields.

So many of us who are now spiritual refugees, church burnouts and freedom seekers have almost been gobbled completely up by the Christian machine.

We served in churches where we weren’t pretty enough, quiet enough, strong enough, charismatic enough, spiritual enough, meek enough, cool enough, submissive enough.

We spoke our truth about justice and equality and our Jesus-infused dreams and were met with unhealthy power, control, and scapegoating.

We tried and tried and tried and tried to break in to leadership structures and teams and ways of leading and serving in particular ministries and churches and were never valued or heard.

We rocked the boat and found ourselves tossed overboard without a blink.

We challenged the unhealthy ways of certain systems and were labeled divisive, heretics, or in rebellion and told to pray and submit.

We had our books pulled from the #1 Christian retailer because we were female pastors, supporters of LGBQT+ equality, or questioners of particular biblical interpretation.

We felt the Holy Spirit prompting us that “something wasn’t quite right” with church as we knew it and once we spoke up or questioned or challenged or advocated for something different, we were ostracized, scripturized, and marginalized.

The Christian machine is strong, people.

But I do believe that the rumblings of Christianity’s current radical faith shift is stronger in the end.

So many men and women I know of all shapes, sizes, ages, and experiences have the deep sense of the Christian machine being so far away from the subversive ways of Jesus they cannot shake it.

We realize the empire we are up against aren’t only the worldly empires but the religious ones.

We have come to a place where we recognize we truly don’t want anything to do with the Christian machine and feel empathy (and sometimes irritation) for those still being ground down by its wheels.

We are healing from the Christian machine’s teeth and beginning to find new life.

Mostly, we are grateful we no longer have to play that way.

 

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  • https://littlegreenleafinthewoods.wordpress.com charlesburchfield

    I recently saw a documentary on the life of Eleanor Roosevelt.
    https://youtu.be/G3uQYiOKD6c
    Very inspiring!! I highly recommend!

    i Don’t give up no matter how hard it is to survive and push against the powers and principalities!! The alternative is unacceptable!! God bless you for your kind words and insight!! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a55d9555a3f80b48d2d906e5bb1cd4dda2032b39e2f57400acb45ac8788d5bc8.jpg
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/138a527ddf64f9360b38262c80892fe72b11173da018090c60603603a80734e0.jpg

    …3 For though we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh.
    4 The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the world. Instead, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
    5 We tear down arguments, and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God; and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.…
    2nd Corinthians 10:3 through 5

    • http://www.kathyescobar.com/ kathyescobar

      thanks so much for sharing with me! great stuff..

  • http://livingliminal.blogspot.com.au/ Living Liminal

    “…we are grateful we no longer have to play that way.”

    The more time distances me from this machine and its ways, the more I am able to look back and simply shake my head. The machine is so unbelievably unhealthy, immature, and just plain ridiculous, that I find it hard to believe I ever mistook it for “the subversive ways of Jesus”.

    I’m so grateful that they did toss me overboard! :)

    • http://www.kathyescobar.com/ kathyescobar

      yeah, when i was leaving i had a leader point his finger at me and tell me “the grass is not greener. you will never find a place like this as a woman, yah-dab-yah-dah-yah-dah.” omg, i came out into the most amazing beautiful meadow that i had no idea existed. and once the scales fall off your eyes, um, no turning back :)

  • Think Light Blue

    What struck me about the criticism of Peterson was that they did not even mention Jesus. It was all the Bible says this over here and that over there, so sin, sin, sin.

    What are they really worshiping?

    • http://www.kathyescobar.com/ kathyescobar

      thanks for sharing. it’s been quite the week…

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    You’ve got me thinking on something again, Kathy… that I’ve pondered many times before. What is preventing more deep and serious interaction between certain Evangelicals and certain Progressives?

    Now, let me unpack that purposely simple (but vague) sentence: First, I raise the question because I’ve moved from the former to the latter, over 20 years ago, and “matured” somewhat in terms of what Progressive Xnty is about and aspiring to be (though different for different people/groups, of course).

    Second, I have no illusions that the gap between many individuals, groups, denominations, etc., is too wide to reasonably hope to bridge for now. But the “certain” people I refer to are quite numerous, too…. open or “emerging” Evangelicals, for example, and Progressives with Evangelical roots or who share certain sympathies or appreciate common ground; denominations that are diverse by region, or within individual congregations, or broader leadership (particularly Episcopal Church, UMC, PCUSA come to mind).

    Is it perhaps time for more of us who realize we are “apostate” to traditional orthodoxy but very serious about following Jesus, to focus at least some of our efforts on “intrafaith” dialog and practical cooperation efforts? I happen to think so.

    And I’ve seen, particularly in one great example, that there IS a lot of interest in this kind of dialog and exploration-leading-to-action. That example was the Big Tent Christianity conferences of 5-6 years ago, or so. There was one in North Carolina, I believe, which was the first of only two under that name and common organizing. I didn’t know about that one at the time.

    I learned of and got to attend the second, in Phoenix. Incredible time, by the testimony of at least the ones I heard from who’d attended, and a sense of the atmosphere there. It packed the facility with around 300 who were mostly church or parachurch leaders of some kind, from the “certain” people categories I described. But with leadership for ongoing organization having to pull back for unrelated reasons (as far as I know), no one picked up the ball as to such gatherings. That’s not the only measure of this kind of effort, but a significant one that wasn’t sustained. Sad that it wasn’t, and perhaps it has a lot to do, at least from the Evangelical side, with just how much power and ability to direct resources and points of focus that the “Christian Machine” has.

    But I’d hope that more of my Progressive colleagues would seek to pick up that dropped ball and run with it if initiative is not going to be coming much from the “other side of the theological aisle” (though no clear dividing line exists).