I’ve written pretty honestly on similar topics before, what re-stirred my interest in this topic was a recent article in Christianity Today, highlighting a guy named Rich Wilkerson Jr. who recently landed his own reality TV show.
Having said that, this article isn’t about Rich specifically; it’s about the generalized celebrity pastor within our individualistic and shallow celebrity culture; to me it’s a fascinating oddity, in which I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand.
But what I want to discuss today is whether or not being a celebrity pastor is inherently wrong (and by “celebrity pastor” what I mean is a pastor that is famous, as opposed to simply, a person that happens to pastor famous people)? It seems that the young celebritized pastor has made the conversation about the ethics of pastoring someone famous, but for many, it’s the question of whether or not assimilating to our present day culture is perpetuating a shallow, individualistic, and/or superficial means of living…?
But, I think it’s fair, on the other hand, to ask if its infiltrating our culture by co-opting our media, genuinely helping the hurting, wounded, and oppressed person by effectively combatting injustice, creating awareness, or a healthy means of community…?
In Relevant Magazine they cite MLK having advocated that “Christians should be thermostats in society rather than thermometers,” going on to explain that, “we should be setting a climate, not simply reporting it…” I agree, but I’m not completely sure that we could compare Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers, or any given Hillsong pastor to that of Martin Luther King Jr.; all the while it is necessary to acknowledge that celebrities such as Kylie Jenner are ironically just as influential as a young activist such as Malala. So, hypothetically, if you are a pastor to one of the most influential people in the world, would it not be great to embed a heart and pursuit of justice and equality in them that is like Malala’s?
But, is this what’s happening? There is embracing a celebrity culture, and there is co-opting a culture that loves celebrity; there is fighting for justice, and then there are those feeding off of the oppression of others; there is pastoring and justly guiding a person (famous or not), and then there is leveraging “said famous person” to build your own following.
I’m not saying they’re not, but it’s worth asking why I’ve never seen any of these white celebritized pastors on the front lines of racial protests, risking their jobs on Sunday morning adamantly petitioning for the oppressed person… I’ve asked a few of these guys for sermons in which they claim to have preached civil rights issues regarding race (e.g. Eric Garner, police brutality, etc.), none have provided any, while what I do see is Franklin Graham making 600K off of his nonprofit, Mark Driscoll pulling in 650K annually, and various other million dollar homes and book deals.
“It is a sinful abomination for one part of the world’s Christians to grow richer year by year while our brothers and sisters ache and suffer for lack of minimal health care, minimal education, and even—in some cases—enough food to escape starvation.” – Ron Sider
It suddenly then becomes relevant to ask whether or not these pastors favoring the famous and rich over the poor and powerless? Didn’t someone say somewhere that “if you show favoritism, you sin…” (James 2:9). Or, whether or not they’re desiring to possess the highest seat in the temple, and care more about the wallet and possessions than they do the life of the single mother, homeless drug addict, or suffering immigrant. They might argue that it matters for that one, while ignoring the millions of millennials their patriarchal, Eurocentric, homophobic sermon hurt.For me, it’s the question of whether or not you’re generally helping the oppressed person. And also whether or not you’re lending meaning to a lost generation. Yes, Jesus dined with those who were “famous,” but he also overturned tables, rebuking the pharisees and scribes informing them they’re bound for hell, hypocrites, whitewashed tombs…
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” – Jesus [Matthew 23:15]
Brett Mckracken questions whether or not evangelical Church is “turning Christianity into a shape-shifting chameleon with ever-diminishing ecclesiological confidence and cultural legitimacy…” but to be fair, the institutional church has never not been shape-shifting, adjusting, and ever-diminishing their doctrine to whatever would draw in the people. This is why the bible is so attractive to the masses, it’s malleable, and can mean or be interpreted whichever way you’d like.
I’ve noticed that celebrity pastor, has fine tuned their message, and it’s delivery that they seem to be saying so much that they’re saying nothing at all, yet appealing to the majority; they’ve paraphrased a verse of the bible that it’s a verse translated into a series of empty pithy platitudes. They’ve repackaged the gospel, recreated the person of Jesus, and promised poor people endless prosperity, for no money down; only later asking for help to purchase their $65 million jet.
You literally can’t tell if some of what they say is from a fortune cookie or an actual verse from the bible. It’s shallow anesthiological bullsh*t that will temporarily numb one’s pain, just long enough for them to reach into the poor persons back pocket.
Genuinely, my beef is not with a pastor being well known, or even making a lot of money, it’s that they’re leveraging their celebrity [and the gospel] to buy million dollar homes, while using the Church to get ridiculous tax write offs. If I was famous, I’d be heartbroken and dehumanized, to think that my pastor used me to boost their fame (as opposed to helping the oppressed person).
I always want to take on various perspectives, but I struggle in gaining an understanding as to how banking millions and purchasing gold-plated toilet seats is helping the poor person, let alone making for a better world… so maybe I am missing something, if so, please inform me.
When you stop and think about it, take a look at the facts, actions or lack thereof, and their bank accounts it becomes far less of an ethical conundrum, and more of a disturbing reality show.
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