Today’s post comes from guest blogger and pastor Jeff Stephens.
Jeff is still a Christian even though he graduated from Fuller Seminary and Vanguard University. He’s also a children’s pastor at Oak Valley Church, loves his big family, and is engaged to Claire Browning. Take it away, Jeff!
I know, I know. I’m beating a dead duck.
I started this blog, a vague post about celebrity Christianity, last week. I wrote about how, in America, we’ve baptized the marks of celebrity culture (exorbitant riches, notoriety, ease, good or interesting looks), and turned them into markers of the “blessed” Christian life. I addressed how fame has become a noble pursuit, and how we plebes long to be “great” too. I wanted to say that we’ve bought into the tabloid culture of American celebrity, FREAKING OUT (!!!!!) about everything before bothering to check the facts.
Oh, there’s more.
I wanted to talk about how we even make local celebrities out of pastors, “platform” ministers, and other church leaders (like myself), and how damaging that can be to church leaders (like myself) and to the body of Christ. I wanted to prove that celebrity Christianity is an ineffective means for evangelism, that it hurts our witness in the world, and how it destroys our prophetic voice. Finally I wanted to discuss how we put our pet celebrity Christians on pedestals, to the point where our adoration becomes idolatry. I would use a certain reality TV family as an example.
Of course, I would exegete the scriptures in such a way that every reader would have a blown mind and a changed heart. I would show that our obsession with celebrity makes us covetous and ignorant of many of the things that Jesus cared most about. I would illuminate how Jesus didn’t try to keep up with Kardashians, but rejected celebrity and earthly riches at every turn. I would explain the type of Christ the world needs to see in use. I would steal information (indeed, I already have) from a much better Christian blog. The reader would therefore see that I was worthy of the pedestal upon which I’ve been placed. All in 1,200 words or less.
And then something magical happened. You might even say it was my own personal Christmas miracle. Or that I can see into the future.
One of the most visible, uncompromising Christian celebrities in America got temporarily suspended from his TV program. As expected, the so-called Christian Outrage Machine (as coined by a prestigious blogger) came out in full force.
This got my wheels spinning. I said to myself, “Self, what if I can manipulate that blog-in-progress and make it about this current event? Then my blog won’t seem like it was conjured out of thin air, but rather was written in response to something going on in the real world!”
This was a blogger’s dream: writer’s passion meets controversy everybody is talking about! Now I could make my mark in the world, perhaps even have ten minutes of fame.
Upon further investigation, however, I realized that my blog and this controversy had nothing to do with each other. Nobody was putting Phil on a pedestal. If that were the case, tons of people would be changing their Facebook profile pictures, offering their unwavering support for Phil.
Of course, I’m being facetious. I don’t mean to judge anyone’s motives or heart. And while it’s obvious that this debate is very complex, it is my opinion that, for Christians, celebrity is at the core of the issue. More specifically, it’s about worship.
When we worship, we place someone or something on a pedestal, hopefully for all to see. We show complete adoration and support, even to the point that someone or something is beyond reproach.
The same can be said about celebrity. Celebrity is about celebrating.
So this past week has screamed of worship to me. We’ve placed a man, a network, a cause, an organization, a country, a doctrine, or ourselves on a pedestal. We’ve worshipped them.
Most obviously, we’ve worshipped the Robertsons, putting them in the spotlight. Today they’re probably more celebrated by their fans than they’ve ever been. You may think this is a good thing, for they’ll have a larger platform. I, however, am of the opinion that God doesn’t need them to have a larger platform. I believe that you can’t increase God’s fame and a man’s at the same time. Instead, it would be better to have the attitude of John the Baptist: Christ must become greater. I must become less! (John 3:30)
We’ve also worshipped the Robertsons by acting as if Phil doesn’t make mistakes. We’ve been unwilling to even hint at the possibility that some of his comments could have been reminiscent of the language of oppressors, or maybe a bit insensitive, or even just naïve. In all of this, we’ve made little gods out of them. We’ve made them shining examples of what it means to be Christian. We’ve acted as if questioning Phil is akin to questioning the bible or even Christ himself. We’ve made them out to be greater than they are. We’ve acted as if a temporary suspension from a tiny reality show (that is watched by .001% of the world’s population) is directly tied to the fortunes of the Kingdom of God. We’ve acted as if the gospel message cannot survive in a world where Duck Dynasty products are not sold at Cracker Barrel.
Instead of pointing people to the righteousness of God, we’ve pointed them to the righteousness of Phil. We’re bent on insisting that Phil is righteous. Yet scripture says that our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), that no one is righteous (Romans 3:11). With this in mind, is it possible that, instead of emphasizing our opinion that Phil hadn’t sinned, we should have emphasized the fact that all have sinned (Romans 3:23)? Would it have been better to admit that he did screw up in some way, yet Christ died for him anyway?
I’m not saying we should vilify the man, but these simple acts of humility would have done much to spread the message of Christ.
We’ve also pedestaled those things the Robertsons represent, some of the greatest celebrities of our day: oldendays America, the American dream, shootin’ stuff, and (the granddaddies of them all) the founding fathers and the constitution. Once again, we’ve acted as if those American deities are infallible, and we’ve treated the constitution as if it were scripture.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe freedom of speech is a great thing, and it must be protected. But demanding our rights only calls attention to that most timeless (and American) idol of all: ourselves. Demanding our rights is a way of shouting to the world, “Look at ME!” But Christ calls us to lose our lives for his sake (Matthew 10:39, 16:25//Luke 9:24).
I also believe that we cannot advance God’s mission while demanding our rights. Instead, we must lay down our rights, becoming the servant of all. We must be like Christ, who refused to demand his rights as God. Instead, he took the form of a slave and humbled himself, even to death on a cross. That act of humility and love made him exalted above every other name (Read Philippians 2:1-11).
So what are we to do? Even if celebrity and this issue are unrelated, stories like this give us an opportunity for self-reflection. We can pause to check the planks in our own eyes (Matthew 7:23) instead of acting as if we have specks of sawdust and they have redwoods. We can be humble and admit our own sins, pointing people to the God who saves us in spite of ourselves.
That last point really has nothing to do with Christian celebrity, but I thought I’d throw it in there. I hope your minds are blown and your lives are changed. In 1,300 words or less.