Part 1 in a series.
Modern Christianity is at a crossroads. See what I did there? No, but seriously, I would like to issue a challenge to all adherents of mainstream Christianity. I am not in any way challenging the validity of your beliefs. I was raised in the Evangelical Christian church and much of my religious framework stems from that. I would like to challenge the assertion that the modern Christian church is actually living out the tenets of Christianity. The Church has a ridiculous amount of political influence in this country. The Evangelical church specifically, has an absurd amount of influence in the Conservative sphere. I would simply like to examine whether or not Jesus would be a fan of any of this. Politicians with close ties to Christianity have had a long history of promoting bigotry, whether against immigrants, minorities, or the LGBTQ+ community. The Church has in many ways become intertwined with a system that protects and promotes the most vile facets of society, presented in the guise of religion. The religion has become larger than the God that it believes in, and poisoned millions of minds with hatred and judgement under the guise of salvation. The Christianity that I am familiar is a religion of love.
“I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.” — Ephesians 3:18–19
Recently a bastion of the new Evangelical Christianity Industry was rocked by the revelation that one of its figureheads was, alas, a sinner. Carl Lentz, Instagram poster and former Head Pastor of mega-church Hillsong NYC, was fired late last year after an extramarital affair was exposed. Not only did he have an affair, but presided over culture of abuse, sexual exploitation, and generally ungodly behavior. Lentz is a well known Pastor for is influence in celebrity circles. He has benefited wildly from being a “friend of Justin Bieber” and Kanye West. He owns more Off-White and Rick Owens than most of hypebeast YouTube and is the reason “cool youth pastor with tattoos” is a thing. Believe it or not, Carl Lentz had realized pretty early on the whole God thing came with perks, and began exploiting those until he became head of a branch of global church “Hillsong”.
The Church has a natural hierarchy which makes it susceptible to corruption, as in all large organizations. Christianity has been more commodified, as has everything else in society, but that commodification has allowed the precepts of the religion to be corrupted with ease. Churches exist as for-profit businesses, with churches such as Hillsong often being operated by Volunteers while the Church takes in untaxed money via tithes, the merch table, the coffee shop, and the Pastor’s new book. In the service of God, many Christians would willingly work for free, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The naturally exploitative nature of unpaid labor is what makes abuse so likely to occur. The Hillsong story allegedly includes unpaid volunteers being overworked to the point of exhaustion, volunteers being pressured into sex, and emotional abuse. These behaviors are fostered by a capitalist, competitive environment that occurs as Churches compete for bigger and bigger audiences. Hillsong itself is an Australian church, with Branches on multiple continents. It is just one of thousands of mega-churches that have grown in popularity over the past few decades, along with the popularity of Televangelism. Evangelical Christianity has become obsessed with maximalism. Just naked capitalism that can be biblically presented under some doctrine about “abundance”.
“Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love.” — 1 John 4:7-8
The Hillsong story includes exploited Christians questioning the nature of their belief, and their relationship to church. Why shouldn’t they? Where is Jesus in what they experienced? Where is love? Recently, the President of Lee University, a Christian university in Tennessee, was publicly criticized by alumni for stating that “God does not approve or condone sexual activity between individuals of the same sex, and it requires repentance.” The Christian stance on homosexuality has been politicized to the point where people site “the Bible” at large with zero further critical analysis, but we’ll get into that at a later date. The point is, the Bible itself does not endorse bigotry. The text has been interpreted in a way that empowers bigotry, by the Church, and by its adherents. If you, as a Christian, believe that in any way that the Bible endorses bigotry, you are not living as Jesus lived and your connection to him is not what you think it is. If this offends you, your connection to Jesus is not what you think it is.
“I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” — Romans 8:38–39
Publishing this series is going to be interesting. There will be many who are critical that I would presume to critique “God” or the precepts of Christianity in any way. There are many who will rush to cite scripture, and say that I am actually the one promoting hatred. There are many who will run to the victim mentality that has been promoted on social media. The idea that Christians are somehow under attack in a society that caters to their belief system in every way is a lie. It is politically useful, and convenient for opportunists to use as a rallying cry, but it has zero basis in reality. Christians have nothing to be defensive about, if in fact they are truly living out what Jesus envisioned for his church. As Christian’s anticipate celebrating Jesus rolling away the stone and joining his Father in Heaven, I challenge them to critically analyze his vision for the Church. We could argue about scriptural interpretation for years. If you believe that the central tenet of your religion is anything other than Love, you are warped. Lead with love. That is the real challenge, just love.
Pt. 2 soon.