Thursday, May 6, 2010

The dangers of prosletyzing by church leaders

Prosletyzing, the commercialization of God, Allah!
In the southern U.S. the fastest growing churches are the Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In Africa, the rate of conversion to the Mormon chuch is astounding. In North America, the Muslim faith is growing rapidly. Through immigration, much of Europe is quickly coming to consider itself Muslim, as the birth rate falls and the rate of immigration grows.
In a commerce-driven, corporate-supported culture, where success is marked in percentage increases in dollars and/or recruits, church leadership looks, wrongly, to the growth curve of a church to assess the potential leadership of the clergy.
As a candidate for a large urban church in the U.S., I lost the competition to a person from India "who sat under a tree for one year and converted an entire village". An American parishoner once commented, "Jesus Christ was the world's best salesman" in her vain attempt to justify the American cultural fixation to salesmanship, as the core value of the "healthy christian church". In 1998, one corporately-addicted bishop issued this charge to his diocese for the upcoming year: "An increase of 10% in numbers of people and a 15% increase in revenues!" The church of my youth boasted a clergy who filled both pews and coffers while preaching unadulterated religious bigotry from the pulpit, without a whimper of protest from the congregation or its leaders.
Christians and Muslims are actively engaged in recruitment, or to use the word from the seminaries, evangelizing. On the other hand, Jews do not espouse prosletyzing, and I firmly believe they have got it right.
A relationship with God is not another "thing" to be marketed, another process to make life's burdens evaporate, or one's personal pain disappear.
A relationship with God is a sacred trust, not entered into lightly, not pursued cavalierly, and not to be sold, marketed, thrust upon another, no matter which of the many approaches is used.
Karen Armstrong, responding to readers of her new book, The Case for God, who said, "This is a hard book" said, "Of course it is, it's about God; what did you expect?"
Turning faith into a business exercise has to be one of the most diabolical hypocrisies man has perpetrated on any God.

Part 2. Prosletyzing...not part of the spiritual life!
(Updated, Thursday, May 13, 2010)
Not only is this "selling" counter-intuitive to the process of conception, iincubation, growth and development of a relationship between an individual and God, it sets in motion some very sinister motives, methods (both strategies and tactics) and creates some very dangerous and even unethical situations.
Judging a clergy on the basis of his/her numbers (dollars and adherents) is a false measure of the effectiveness of the relgious leader. As one,now deceased clergy put it, "I know how to grow the numbers, but to do so would be manipulative and I refuse." Later that day, he locked the doors, phoned the police to report a death, and went to the altar where he took his own life.
the corporate culture functions primarily based on the size and the developing growth of the numbers. Even a projected demise of a congregation is used to generate headlines among the committed, presuming, usually correctly, that such a shock will generate new donations. No one who has a history with a church community will publicly advocate its demise; in fact most will find a few dollars hidden somewhere in a sock, to keep the doors open.
But it is the premise attached to "growing the numbers" that offends this writer. First, people do not want to hear "difficult messages" about the rigours of discipleship. Second, there are many "answers" that people want that honest clergy cannot give. And that is not wrong, only disappointing. Thge promise of an afterlife, for example, is one promise that only an act of faith can support. The division of the realms available in the afterlike, heaven hell (and for some, purgatory) is another concept based only on faith, and the writings of those on whose shoulders the faith is historically based. The Resurrection, in Christian theology, is a concept debated openly by many religious people, once again, without scientific or empirical evidence, one way or the other. Similarlary, the Transfiguration, the Virgin Birth, and much of the other stories deeply embedded in both the consciousness and the imagination of the western world.
One wonders if a church for doubters would not be more in keeping with the humility of discipleship than those megachurches based on the salesmanship, and the theologies of prosperity that are more closely alligned with the capitalist "profit" motive than with an authentic and growing relationship to what/whomever one considers God to be.

1 comment:

  1. To struggle takes one out of the "comfort zone" that allows calculating effectiveness by size - big, bigger, best...the old Titanic theory - with no lifeboats for humanity. If humans are not expendable, our lives would be full of uncomfortably searching for sacred trusts (humans sharing their vulnerability with compassion) rather than exponentially growing coffers and stadium-sized congregations. If certain things are not for sale, what on earth would people do with their time?