Hello from yet another Plymouth walk. It can get a bit relentless now this walking, can’t it? Just me then. I am bravely typing this with a (very) bad back. Embarrassingly, we have worked out that it probably happened after we watched an old Top of the Pops on glam rock. HOH and I had a not insignificant disagreement about the quality of music produced by “Sweet”. I decided to put an end to this discussion once and for all by throwing Wig-Wam Bam into the pot along with the dance that goes with it. I am too old now for that sort of carry-on. I may well have always been too old for it. If you look the dance up on The You-Tube (if you feel that you can take it) you may well realise why I am now being helped out of chairs.
Anyway, I do have something else to chat about this week but it is a bit niche so if you haven’t been to or have any interest in church – especially the modern groovy ones – you might not be too bothered about this. No probs.
I found an account on Instagram this week. (It’s a very famous account – I’m not Sherlock Holmes or anything) It’s called preachersnsneakers and it is full of photos of preachers mainly in America rocking designer clothes. They include Pastor Steven Furtick in $1000 YSL shoes, Bishop TD Jakes in $1250 Christian Laboutin spiked belt bag, Pastor Troy Grambling in a $1000 hoodie. And so it goes on. There are loads of them. I need to say that the author of the site is always (well usually) very respectful. He would describe himself as an evangelical Christian. He’s just presenting facts and I had a few thoughts.
I have no objections to pastors making a decent living. I am old enough to remember when we didn’t sort out pensions for missionaries, many of whom retired to poverty or the charity of friends. Their old clothes and hand to mouth existence were seen as a badge of honour. There was a whiff of the keep em poor and keep em keen about it and it was horrible. I don’t think anyone is advocating for a return to that nonsense.
This is also the week when Hillsong completed its report into the problems in its East Coast churches after uber-cool Pastor Carl Lentz was fired. There is a plausible school of thought that contends that to reach out to cool young people – you have to reach them where they are and show that you are just the same as them – you understand what drives them and who they are. Hence Justin Bieber rocks up at Hillsong and finds himself mentored by a young senior pastor who looks just like him – dreams the same dreams – and all that. (As an aside, if your basic troubled young man without the famous name turns up for help at a church, would he normally be given one on one mentoring – including Instagram selfies together – by a senior pastor? Just asking even though I’m pretty certain I know the answer.) It is a credible theory. I think you have to be a bit careful though that the signal you send out isn’t “You are safe with me. I understand who you are. In fact, I am the same. I am cool and groovy and love expensive leather jackets and love Jesus and you can too.” The risk is you send out “I am a Christian but also I dress like you because under it all I would quite like to BE you.”
My feeling is that some of this is about control. It’s about a leader saying “I am higher up than you. I am not to be questioned.” Some of the reaction in America post-Trump has been interesting. Leaders of big churches have either seen congregations close ranks but also a lot of questions have been asked – around leadership, discernment, accountability etc. and some leaders are not used to it. when First General Baptist Church Pastor Stewart-Allen Clark made the news with the following remarks in his sermon
I’m not saying every woman can be the epic trophy wife of all time, like Melania Trump, Maybe you’re a participation trophy. … But you don’t need to look like a butch either.
You need to know this, men have a need for their women to look like women. Sweatpants don’t cut it all the time, huh, Men want their women to look good at home and in public. Can I get an amen?
Why is it so many times that women after they get married let themselves go?
Don’t give him a reason to be looking around … I really don’t believe women understand how visual men are,” he added. “I don’t think women understand how important it is for a man to have a beautiful woman on his arm. God made men to be drawn to beautiful women. We are made this way, we can’t help ourselves.
I am including a photo of the good pastor here – without comment.
He is now “on leave” of course but, if I were a betting woman I would guess the thing that has surprised him the most about the backlash was that it happened at all. He would not be used to being questioned. He can spout this kind of nonsense because no-one ever pointed out that it was offensive claptrap.
There is an equally famous clip on YouTube where Pastor Kenneth Copeland is being questioned by a female investigative reporter on his use of private jets. Initially, he acts like he usually would with a young woman – smiling benignly etc. until it becomes clear that she isn’t going to just leave this. Then his face changes. Someone who doesn’t know who he is said “He looks deranged”. He’s not deranged – he’s bewildered – no one challenges him in his life like this.
Is it possible to be filthy rich and be the sort of Christian Jesus was? I’m thinking it probably is – although this does carry a very high level of difficulty (See Jesus’ story re camels, eyes of needles etc etc). What is even more difficult I think is to be someone in a position of such power that makes them unaccountable. Knowing that you may well never have to say you are sorry, for anything, is not the quickest road to gaining a humble spirit. And that there is the target – the humble spirit – not the Armani suit (no matter how lovely). Because that’s how the boss of us saw it.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (Phil 2)