A Rolling Stone reporter went undercover at a retreat held by John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church and is surprised by things that don’t surprise me at all.
Check out Matt Taibbi’s “Jesus Made Me Puke”.
Some quotes, some thoughts . . .
One of the implicit promises of the church is that following its program will restore to you your vigor, confidence and assertiveness, effecting, among other things, a marked and obvious physical transformation from crippled lost soul to hearty vessel of God. That’s one of the reasons that it’s so important for the pastors to look healthy, lusty and lustrous — they’re appearing as the “after” photo in the ongoing advertisement for the church wellness cure.
I found that observation really interesting, and generally true. Taibbi spends some time on the import of the macho, coulda-beena-contenda military/sportsman leaders, and it’s an interesting perspective. As a guy who grew up in a youth ministry culture that propped up all manner of Christian ex-athletes, I always wondered if our youth ministers even cared that they were implicitly favoring jock culture with these endorsements, that many (most?) kids don’t care that Jesus helped third string quaterback Brock Throwmeister get over losing that big game that one time.
My other thought is this: How stupid is it that this retreat features the promise and value of physical health and luster all under the sponsorship of a church led by the fattest preacher on television?
The program revolved around a theory that Fortenberry quickly introduced us to called “the wound.” The wound theory was a piece of schlock biblical Freudianism in which everyone had one traumatic event from their childhood that had left a wound. The wound necessarily had been inflicted by another person, and bitterness toward that person had corrupted our spirits and alienated us from God.
Sounds like warmed over “Wild at Heart.”
There is obviously vital truth connected to this stuff, but I wonder if it will cause any pause among peddlers of The Wound approach that even an unbeliever recognizes it is dressed up psycho-therapy. When it gets abused is when, as I have heard from those under the leadership of zealous “Wild at Heart” devotees, it is insisted that everyone has a childhood wound and if you can’t/don’t think of one, you’re in denial.
After each of these grueling exercises we would have lengthy, fifteen-to-twenty-minute sessions singing unbearably atonal Christian hymns. Then we would have teaching/Bible-study sessions led by Fortenberry on the theme of the moment (e.g., “Admit the Truth About Our Wounds”) that lasted an hour or so. Then, after Fortenberry would waste at least half the session giving us the Marlboro Man highlights of his professional résumé (“I was the manager of the second-largest ranch in America, 825,000 acres. . . .”) and bragging about his physical prowess (“If someone was to slug me, I could whip just about anyone here”), we would go back to the group session and confess some more. Then we would sing some more, receive more of Fortenberry’s hairy lessons, and then the cycle would start all over again. There were almost no breaks or interruptions; it was a physically exhausting schedule of confession, catharsis, bad music and relentless, muscular instruction. The Saturday program began at 7:45 a.m. and did not end until ten at night; we went around the confess-sing-learn cycle five full times in one day.
So it’s youth camp for grown-ups.
[A]s far as I could see, in the early going, most of what we were doing was simple pop-psych self-examination using New Age-y diagnostic tools of the Deepak Chopra school: Identify your problems, face your oppressors, visualize your obstacles. Be your dream job. With a little rhetorical tweaking and much better food, this could easily have been Tony Robbins instructing a bunch of Upper East Side housewives to “find your wounds” (“My husband hid my Saks card!”) at a chic resort in Miami Beach or the Hamptons.
At this point I wondered if this guy had watched even five minutes of Joel Osteen. Or stopped into any random evangelical megachurch. You don’t have to go undercover to discover that churches are into self-helpy pop psychology these days.
Fortenberry told a story about a nephew of his who called him up one night. “Both of his kids had fallen on the ground in respiratory distress, half-conscious, writhing around, gasping for air,” Fortenberry said. “And I said to my nephew, I said, ‘It isn’t something they’ve done. It’s something you’ve done.’ “
The crowd murmured in assent.
I haven’t even gotten to the chaotic tongues-and-vomiting deliverance session, but this is the part that offended me the most. This rank despicable hurtful ridiculous lie from the pit of hell: you hurt or your loved ones hurt because of your sin. I hate it with a passion.
I want to smack purveyors of this false gospel upside the head with John 9:1-3.
Throughout the whole weekend, Fortenberry had been setting himself up as an athletic conqueror of demons. Now, on the final morning, he looked like a quarterback about to take the field before a big game. The life coaches assembled around the edges of the chapel, carrying anointing oil and bundles of small paper bags.
Fortenberry began to issue instructions. He told us that under no circumstances should we pray during the Deliverance.
“When the word of God is in your mouth,” he said, “the demons can’t come out of your body. You have to keep a path clear for the demon to come up through your throat. So under no circumstances pray to God. You can’t have God in your mouth. You can cough, you might even want to vomit, but don’t pray.”
It just gets worse from there.
I wish Taibbi had picked a more “normal” congregation to go undercover in, but an experience in your average non-charismatic megachurch probably would not make for as good a story. The problem with this stuff is twofold: a) it makes us all look like idiots, and b) it will not do to pretend this isn’t widespread.
At the same time, there is a fine line to be run by these sorts of exposes. I feel sort of the same way I do about the recent book Unchristian — it is helpful to know, and better, to understand the culture’s perception of Christians and the Church, but we err when we make our response about marketing. We do not exist to please an unbelieving world. We exist to please God. The confusion, disgust, ridicule, or animosity of those who do not have ears to hear or eyes to see should not be our deepest concerns. Scripture promises we will be despised and ridiculed; it promises that the cross will be an offense. Our chief end is not to be well regarded among all men. It would be nice, sure. But there’s a fine line between cultivating a reputation for peace and love and pandering for the approval of those who are uncomfortable with our being “weird.”