Surely It’s Time to Retire the Role of “Celebrity Christian”
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I am not suggesting that celebrities not be Christians. What I am suggesting is that there may very well be something pernicious about the role of “celebrity Christian.” What’s the difference? A Christian celebrity is, for example, a sports celebrity who happens to be a Christian and makes no secret of it. A celebrity Christian, however, is someone who is famous for being a Christian leader: pastor, evangelist, speaker, etc. And I will add that being part of a “Christian dynasty” may very well be dangerous to someone’s spiritual health and well-being. And both seem to be harmful to the cause of Christ.
Look around, especially during the 20th and now early 21st centuries. Numerous celebrity Christians have fallen hard off their pedestals, causing many Christians and non-Christians to be shaken in their estimation of Christ. Also, many members of “Christian dynasties” have fallen hard off their pedestals much to the dismay of Christians especially. And the delight, sadly, of many non-Christians.
Youtube is full of documentaries made about celebrity Christians and heads and/or heirs of Christian dynasties.
What is a “Christian dynasty?” It is a family that shares leadership of a “Christian empire”—usually a large Christian evangelistic and/or media organization. Typically, in the cases I am thinking of, a charismatic minister builds up a “Christian empire” on the basis of a church, a denomination, or a television network (or all three!). Then, either he or she and/or their heir(s) fall hard off their Christian pedestal. Right now I could name at least a dozen major examples in the last twenty to thirty years.
In fact, it’s difficult to think of a “Christian empire,” “Christian dynasty,” that has NOT fallen into extreme difficulties. Sometimes it’s due to moral failure. Sometimes it’s due to strife within the dynasty. Sometimes it’s both.
I do not claim to have any supernatural gift of discernment, but I will say that the first time I watched certain famous evangelists on TV I “knew” they were phonies. Then I sadly watched them fall from the pedestals their followers put them on. And I sadly watched their “Christian empires” crumble or go through tremendous difficulties that harmed the cause of Christ in the eyes of the world around them.
Is there perhaps something intrinsically inimical about the role of “celebrity Christian?” Or even of “powerful Christian” (with “powerful” referring to worldly power, power over a “Christian empire”)? Isn’t power corrupting? Is anyone really immune to the seductions of fame, fortune, and power?
I have experienced what I am talking about very “close up.” Years ago I worked for a world famous “healing evangelist.” Given his reputation for mistreating his employees, I did my best not to be known by him. I was very low on the “flow chart.” I left his “empire” as soon as I could, after seeing and hearing with my own eyes and ears his narcissistic machinations and declarations. God would kill him if he didn’t raise eight million dollars to finish his glorious empire of buildings? He never finished it. His son and heir fell hard.
This is a pattern that has been repeated many times in recent American history. And it reaches into the past with the rise and fall of celebrity Christians (and other celebrity religious leaders).
I was once in a church service where a caring pastor carefully warned his congregation not to support a glittering new Christian media empire. A man in the congregation interrupting him saying “You wouldn’t say that, pastor, if you had watched…this week.” (The elipsis stands in for the name of a major American “Christian” TV network.) I made a point of watching shows on that network and was absolutely shocked at the appearances of the “hosts” and the heresies being spouted by the “guests.” One guest, a celebrity Christian writer and speaker, seriously claimed that he was not afraid of diabetes even though both of his parents had it because when he was born again he became a new creation and got new genes and chromosomes. Another one claimed that non-Christians don’t have spirits; only Christians have spirits. I could go on and on. One celebrity Christian evangelist wrote a book about the Trinity saying that there are actually nine persons in the Godhead….
But worse than that were and are the moral and financial misconducts of numerous celebrity Christians. This tragic phenomenon seems to dog the entire realities of celebrity Christians and Christian dynasties and one has to wonder if the rise of mega-churches with “mega-pastors” is part of that problem.