Friday, February 21, 2014
Grooming Young Cult Members
This is a page from a children's coloring book compiled by Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC, pastored by the inexplicably charismatic Steven Furtick. At first I thought this must... yes, had to be... a joke, but I quickly learned it's real.
What is charisma?
To most people, it's the inscrutable X factor--a mystical, almost magical career booster. Not many people have charisma. But when you talk to those who do, you discover that it isn't such a mystery after all. Yes, it's charm and personal magnetism, but -- more important -- it's the remarkable ability to get others to endorse your vision and promote it passionately. Charisma makes you a leader.
If that's the mark of a leader, of someone with that uncanny ability, then I'm at a loss to explain people like Furtick, Perry Noble, Ed Young, and yes, Steve Gaines. Because I don't find any of these men (or the dozens like them) charming or possessing a shred of personal magnetism. Quite the contrary, I find their narcissism and ham-fisted bullying a total turnoff. But assuming, and this must be true because they have hundreds, even thousands, of staunch defenders, that someone out there must view them as possessing that magic thing called "charisma," then the question arises, why do some people view these men as "charismatic" and blindly and enthusiastically follow them while others, myself included, see them for the scary cult leaders they are? What turns seemingly discerning people into rabid cheerleaders for the self-appointed man-o-gawd and his "vision"?
Charisma is a tricky thing. Jack Kennedy oozed it -- but so did Hitler and Charles Manson. Con artists, charlatans, and megalomaniacs can make it their instrument as effectively as the best CEOs, entertainers, and presidents. Used wisely, it's a blessing. Indulged, it can be a curse. Charismatic visionaries lead people ahead -- and sometimes astray. They can be impetuous, unpredictable, and exasperating to work for....
Maybe that explains it. Like any "gift," it can be used for good or... dare I say... evil. But why do so many people seem blind to it? Is it because there's a certain amount of truth mixed in with the leader's "vision"? When preachers exclaim, "It's in da book!" who's going to argue with that? Is it because a lot of people don't study their bibles and think for themselves, so they can be easily manipulated?
A popular and frightening trend in churches today, especially the megachurch variety, is "vision-casting" by the "senior" pastor and the demand by the man-o-gawd and his minions that the sheeple pledge loyalty to the pastor and his "vision." One of the red-flag words they use is "unity." One of Steve Gaines' favorite themes which I've heard him repeat in dozens of sermons is the proof-text of Ephesians 4:3... "to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." And yet, he leaves out verse 2... "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love."
Is that what we see here?
The following is an excerpt from the transcript of a Steve Gaines sermon from several years ago. See if you can find any sign of humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, or love in his words.
Bellevue Baptist Church needs proactive peacemakers... to come against any... troublemaker... and I'm telling you this. This may sound a little too clear cut for you, but I'm telling you... you're on one side or the other in any church you're in, whether you go to Bellevue or not. You are either a peacemaker, or you are a troublemaker. There is no middle ground. Peacemakers support the church's leadership... as long as it's scriptural. Peacemakers squelch gossip. They don't listen to it, and they sure don't share it. Peacemakers discourage division. What is division? Two visions. Peacemakers... rebuke troublemakers. Peacemakers comfort and reassure troubled church members. They diligently preserve the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace. And all of us as members at Bellevue need... to be... such peacemakers. We cannot ever afford to allow Satan to divide us even just a little bit. WE CANNOT ALLOW TROUBLEMAKERS TO BE ALIVE AND WELL IN THIS FELLOWSHIP... in this church... to win the day! We must diligently be proactive and aggressively... be... peacemakers. That's the call for unity.
Steve Gaines and Steven Furtick are but two examples, albeit quite different examples, of what has been coined "the cult of personality." This is the situation where a man... or at least what a man says... becomes the focus of a church. Not all these characteristics apply to either of these men, but enough of them do that it should give pause to thinking Christians. How many of these do you recognize in these and other "senior" pastors you know?
The demand for special treatment, special honor, special recognition. In other words, there is an active cultivation of being treated differently than others.
"Spiritually-ordained authority," anyone?
No one is allowed to question the leader without retribution. There is a “thin skin” evident toward any and all critics, who are often written off as “haters” or simply those who are envious. There is a bubble that prevents constructive criticism.
"Troublemakers in the church"?
There is no sense of team leadership, team teaching or team mentality. There is a single person or leader, and then there are implementers. No one is to question the leader’s vision. It is seen as God-given, sacrosanct, and thus anything the leader says or does in pursuit of that vision is never to be questioned.
"Our pastor's vision... "?
Sometimes they even invoke the law to keep the faithful loyal.
And whatever you do, don't question the man-o-gawd!
The person travels in an entourage, often with personal security, and is seldom accessible.
And, I would add, the person has a heightened sense of insecurity and paranoia.
Invoking the name of "Jesus" and saying that it's all about Him doesn't fool everyone into believing that's so.
In fact, with Elevation Church and their Code there's not much mention of Jesus or the gospel. The central figure seems to be "Pastor Steven."
Nowhere is this more evident than in this 2010 blog post in which the staff is given their marching orders.
We believe that God’s given Pastor Steven the vision of where he wants to take Elevation’s ministry. And the Lord’s called us all here to use our gifts and strengths corporately as a way of seeing that vision come to life.
Someone once asked (in response to one of Miss Higgy's flowery prayer letters) what is this thing called a vision? S/he then proceeded to define it.
Miss Higgy: "Pray for the commitment to the vision cast before us from the Lord through our pastor in sharing the love of Jesus with Memphis and all the surrounding areas in which we live."
Where has the Lord Jesus ever presented this doctrine? I mean, it's like Jesus is standing somewhere with a bow and arrow and attached to the arrow is this thing called a vision. Then Jesus releases the arrow and it zings through "our" Pastor and lands on the ground before us. As it lands we bow to it as a sacred "message from God". Do what?
Do what, indeed!
To indoctrinate susceptible adults in this "cult" mindset is one thing, but to do it to children is criminal. Wrap it up in as many proof-texts from the bible as you want. It's still spiritual abuse, and it's time for people to wake up and see it for what it is. It's this attitude of "do not question your spiritual authority figures" that is the root cause of much of the spiritual and sexual abuse in churches that we read about on a daily basis today. For pete's sake, wake up and smell the coffee before it's too late.