Thinking, with Andy Crouch, about the stunning power of celebrities in religion and ...


This is an unusual think piece, because its contents is primarily theological -- as opposed to journalistic.

However, the whole "think piece" concept is this: We're talking about articles that will be of interest to anyone who is interested in trends in religion in the news or the process of covering them in the mainstream press.

In this case, there are all kinds of links between Andy Crouch's subject in this recent post at The Gospel Coalition -- "It’s Time to Reckon with Celebrity Power" -- and the news. He even states that in the overture.

What Crouch has not done, however, is write out the names.

It was not a great week. In three separate cases in my immediate circles, a person with significant power at the top of an organization, each one a subject of flattering major media exposure during their career, was confronted with allegations of sexual misconduct and related misdeeds. In one case, the person resigned from his role and board memberships, accompanied by a direct and remorseful confession. In the second, the person resigned, but not without posting a defiant denial of all allegations against her. In the third, the person likewise denied all allegations in the strongest terms -- at one point with physical force, banging on a table -- and, as I write, remains in his position.
All three were, or at least had once been, seen as among the most exemplary Christian leaders of their generation, including by many who worked closely with them. While I wasn’t personally close to any of the three, I have experienced and benefited from their exceptional gifts in leadership and ministry, as have thousands or millions of others.

This was one of the pieces that I was thinking about this past week when, in my post about the "Crossroads" podcast, I listed the five "Big Idea" takeaways from my 30 years writing my national "On Religion" columns.

To be specific, note No. 5:

Like everything else in Internet-era America, religious life is increasingly focusing on niche markets in which alleged citizens primarily consume products that reinforce what they already believe. Religious celebrities play a crucial role in this process, as they do in every other niche in American life.
So who would you say is the biggest celebrity in white evangelical life these days?
If you get this question wrong: You're FIRED!

So what are the patterns that Crouch is worried about, the most? You really need to read the whole piece, but here are two samples to point the way. First:

Among the many dark gifts of power is distance -- distance from accountability, distance from consequences, distance from the pain we cause others, distance from self-knowledge, distance from friendship, distance from the truth. The palace rooftop, the back entrance, the executive bathroom, the private jet, not to mention what Andrew Jackson’s critics called the kitchen cabinet and what C. S. Lewis called the Inner Ring -- the accommodations that hide us from others’ sight, the adherents who are actually dependents if not sycophants, the accoutrements of plausible deniability.
In that privacy and at that distance, we become capable of acts we would never have imagined.

So what does this look like, whether we are talking about politics or the style of modern megachurch ministry? Crouch nails this:

It is the power of the one-shot (the face filling the frame), the close mic (the voice dropped to a lover’s whisper), the memoir (the disclosures that had never been discussed with the author’s pastor, parents, or sometimes even lover or spouse, before they were published), the tweet, the selfie, the insta, the snap. All of it gives us the ability to seem to know someone -- without in fact knowing much about them at all, since in the end we know only what they, and the systems of power that grow up around them, choose for us to know.
Celebrity combines the old distance of power with what seems like its exact opposite -- extraordinary intimacy, or at least a bewitching simulation of intimacy.

Read it all. Please.

Even if you don't live in one of America's elite evangelical ecosystems.

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