Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How religious fascism can begin

from Slate webzine

The Chick-fil-A Church

Megachurches that want to spread their 'brand' beyond their maximum zoning codes, with enough cash, uh, resources, can now have 'video venues': a meeting place with a screen, say an empty cineplex on a Sunday morning, where all the live worship stuff is done with a young pastor but the sermon is preached by a 'megastar pastor', projected on the screen. Or in some high-tech cases, a 3-D projection--a hologram.

"An estimated 2,000 to 2,500 U.S. congregations now operate multiple campuses, and many of them ... are so-called video venues. The Leadership Network, a Christian nonprofit that follows these multisite churches, says there will be 30,000 of them within a few years. Already, the most ambitious pastors are predicting that, thanks to video, they'll have branded outlets nationwide and more than 100,000 followers—twice as large as the country's biggest megachurch today. Gigachurches are the way that next-generation celebrity evangelists are building their empires."

These are churches that focus their loyalty, devotion, commitment to a charismatic leader. Which is why we hear about abuse, scandal, and corruption concerning some of these leaders--they're standing where Jesus should be. But even Jesus wouldn't be standing there. He told his disciples (and others) not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah: in fact, according to Jewish tradition and expectations as recorded by the prophets, he wasn't. He was a reformer of the Jewish tradition, a messenger who got confused with the message.

And when this happens, the message can get confused as well. In fact, it can become anything the messenger wants it to be. Coupled with the one-way communication of television, which is basically what this is, we have the recipe for propaganda, the primary tool in a fascist's bag of tricks.

I wonder if the IRS has gotten wind of these video venues. Do they count as a church? Are they incorporated? When they take a collection, excuse me, offering, where does it go? One can see how this could be abused for political ends, to give hundreds of thousands of people marching orders for whatever agenda some 'megastar pastor' deems important.

Do I sound a little paranoid? I got concerned when even my beloved UCC began an advertising campaign that 'sells' our 'brand'. (Another commercial is coming out this fall.) Our 'brand'? I thought following Jesus was less about declaring ourselves Christians and more about relationships, right ones (meaning righteous), covenant community, compassion, justice, peace--all that stuff the human species is supposed to evolve into. I thought that's how the message spreads, not through a TV commercial, like some 30-sec. politician.

What say you, blogfriends? Am I jumping off the deep end here?

4 comments:

Mystical Seeker said...

I thought following Jesus was less about declaring ourselves Christians and more about relationships, right ones (meaning righteous), covenant community, compassion, justice, peace--all that stuff the human species is supposed to evolve into. I thought that's how the message spreads, not through a TV commercial, like some 30-sec. politician.

I think you make a valid point.

Is there a competition out there that I am not aware of that says that the church with the largest congregation size wins? What do they win?

Cynthia said...

A big phallic symbol? A microphone? Or in their case, a megaphone?

Andy said...

My biggest problem with religions in general is exactly what you describe here. It's religion as a brand name.

"Slip into this book - Good Book jeans"

"Noah wouldn't need an ark in the all new Genesis Humvee."

This is less about "Faith" and more about P.T. Barnum.

MoCat said...

I'm with you...whenever churches start using 'corporate speak' I get the heebie jeebies.
And while I like the UCC commercials, every time I open my email and find yet another plea for donations to get another commercial on the air I can't help but think about all the good that money could be doing in the world (besides lining the pockets of the cable network advertising executives).