The COVID-19 pandemic is going to reveal the dark problems and systemic issues of evangelicalism. In the next couple of years some of the ordinary problems inside evangelicalism are going to be magnified as the system reacts to stress. Narcissism that puts people’s health in jeopardy and obsession with money will be an issue. Also expect to see many church plants be disrupted and closed. In a couple of years I would like to re-visit this post and re-examine some of the claims I am making today.
“The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NIV
The COVID-19 pandemic is going to forever change life as we know it. I am writing about its affects on evangelicalism because it will leave a lot of hubris in its wake. The other day at Christianity Today there was a post written by Tommy Preson Philips from Watermark Church Tampa. Philips in an era of the coronavirus is stating that it is time for churches to come clean about the fact that this is not normal and the show has to end. While people want normalcy we are not going to have that for a while and may not have that again. What is needed instead is honesty and for the show to end. The spectacle, lights, and more should come to an end and churches should find ways to meet and support people in this pandemic situation. Otherwise driving a message of normalcy for people affected by this crisis will deepen despair and isolate people more. Its time to end the drama and end the show and face the reality of the situation. This is how Tommy Philips ends his column in Christianity Today.
When we speak of the incarnation of Christ, we speak of one who could have continued to soar above, untouched by the pains of the rest of us, but who chooses to join us in the struggle. What does it say about us (and our Lord) when we feel the overwhelming urge to continue to soar above what everyone else cannot escape? Unless we as church leaders can finally humble ourselves, unless we can put aside the image of perfection and polished living, we will never walk away from this unique situation, this moment in church history, with the wisdom that we should have gained.
At this moment, the people don’t need to be impressed; they need solidarity. They don’t need an escape; they need encouragement. They don’t need entertainment; they need incarnation.
Turn on your camera and show us your true self. Show us the confines of your temporary prison in all of its clutter and mess. Look us in the eye, and speak truthfully. Put down the green screen. For now, the show is over. Let the worship begin.
If you would like to read the entire piece in Christianity Today I would encourage you to do so in, “The Show is Over: In support of your unpolished streaming church.”
The Pornification of Christianity
Here is the deal many people in these churches are not ready for the show to end. Many pastors are not ready for the show to end either. They are in denial and such a message threatens their livelihood. I would suggest after reading, experiencing and writing about Evangelical Christian culture that we propose something quite bold. Evangelical Christianity I would consider to be Pornographic Christianity. Going to a modern worship service that is shallow, hollow and has no substance is really no different than watching online pornography. Porn can be shallow, cheap and promises more than it delivers. It leaves you wanting more. Evangelical Christianity is the same way. Engaging in worship I would propose is about thrill and being emotionally caught up in the moment. I would consider worship in an evangelical church to be spiritual masturbation. Singing and getting a spiritual high is no different than masturbating in the shower to also get that same feeling. Its long past time that evangelicals discuss the cultural problems of modern evangelicalism. But here is the overarching problem, many will be unable to do so. Evangelicals reject criticism, are drunk on power, and dismiss what people have to say. This era of the pandemic will be brutal for evangelicalism. And it will decimate and destroy and reveal what Evangelical Christianity is all about – money, power, greed and fame. As parts of evangelicalism disappear our response should be one of good riddance as the harmful culture contracts in response to what is happening in American culture. During this time you will see the dark side of evangelicalism being revealed. What I am going to write below is my analysis of what the COVID-19 pandemic is going to reveal about modern evangelicalism.
Financial Implications and Obsession with Money as Evangelical Christianity is Largely a Business
The flip side to the COVID-19 pandemic is the financial situation that comes along with it. The numbers alone are staggering and hard to comprehend. In the United States in two weeks time over ten million people filed for unemployment. To give you some understanding of what that means imagine if all the population of Chicago, Naperville and the spillover into Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin had lost their jobs. In this climate financial giving will be down and you still have a raging pandemic that is growing. Yet during this time many churches I would suggest are spending too much focus or attention on money.
Here is an example as I see it. Constance Evangelical Free is an EFCA church in Andover, Minnesota led by Randy Discher, Sean McDowell, and Randy Ahlberg. Here is what Constance emailed out to the congregation. “How Constance Free Church in Andover, Minnesota is Responding to the COVID-19 Situation.” I was struck in reading their email to the congregation that in paragraph five they appear to spend an equal amount of time making the financial push. That even in an era of surging unemployment and devastating loss churches like Constance can be very focused on financial giving and not be sensitive to the needs of those in the congregation. Could you imagine if you lost your job and became unemployed and then you go to the leadership to tell them that you can’t tithe or give? In a lot of churches I don’t think that will go over well. In many churches the demand to give and the pressure to step up will become more intense. It will be done while many churches dismiss or fail to pay attention to those dealing with the ramifications of economic shock from the pandemic. The other day from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Art Rainer wrote about planning for a financial contingency for your church. Expect to see more articles about the financial aspects of evangelicalism and realize that some are going to be more focused on the church itself instead of the people within. To understand the motivation of an organization just see how it reacts to financial stress. You will discover that many churches follow a business model and that is what they are caught up in.
The Reign of Narcissistic Pastors Is Being Shown
The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard to deal with because it is a fast moving and highly contagious virus. From my brief research it is spread person to person and through respiratory droplets. This requires large groups to be broken up and prevent people from being infected. Enter the narcissistic evangelical pastor. In the past few days there have been a number of stories of pastors who have stated that they are dedicated to meeting and holding services against the advice of health experts trying to control and prevent the spread of COVID-19. In some situations pastors have met in defiance of the law and governors orders. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana you have the story of Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church. As COVID-19 takes off in New Orleans the governor is trying to save lives by having people stay home. Spell has claimed that the order is “politically motivated.” He is stating that they have a right, the right to practice their religious freedom to meet and use their buses to pick up people in the area and assemble them at great health risk. The police is stating that the governor’s orders will be followed. If you want to read more you and do so in this Los Angeles Times and Friendly Atheist article. Another similar situation is occurring in Jonesborro, Arkansas. There you have Awaken Church as led by Chad Gonzales. Awaken is saying that Jesus has dealt with COVID-19 and used 2 Corinthians 5:21 to make their claim. But the church is still planning to meet despite the threat the virus poses. And then out in Sacramento, California you have another disturbing situation. Bethany Slavic Missionary Church is a Russian Pentecostal Church that is still meeting despite social distance requirements and an outbreak of COVID-19 among the congregation. According to the Sacramento Bee at least 71 members of this Pentecostal church are infected. The church is moving to home groups and still doing large gatherings it appears at homes. You can read more about the situation in the following Los Angeles Times article.
So what is this all about? I would suggest in many of the above mentioned situations and more you are dealing with narcissists. These are people who have to bath in the public spotlight and need to be the center of attention. They are attention whores who will crave the publicity and more at any and all costs. What matters is them and not the people who attend. People are expendable and disposable. That Russian Pentecostal Church is just transferring the problem from a large group setting to a home setting. The narcissist doesn’t care for people’s well-being. The narcissist is someone who wants to be in the spotlight who craves power. Narcissistic individuals like Tony Spell and Chad Gonzales want the church to worship them and they enjoy the negative publicity. Evangelical Christianity has a narcissistic pastor epidemic and this COVID-19 pandemic will continue to reveal it. You are going to see a lot of toxic and dangerous churches run by narcissistic personalities. One last thought what about those like Mark Driscoll? Well narcissistic personalities like Mark Driscoll are using the COVID-19 pandemic to grow their digital empire. Mark Driscoll is still acting like a theological parasite and he views the current situation as a means to expand his online empire. You can read more about that in, “Is COVID-19 Resulting in Mark Driscoll Expanding his Internet and Social Media Presence?” So even if the church is following the law there are those who are still using the situation for their own personal means.
When Faith is a Threat to the Peace and Brings Harm to the Community
In addition to narcissism there is another aspect people will learn. Many evangelical churches do not care about or consider their impact in the neighborhoods, communities or towns they reside in. Actually some evangelical churches have contempt for the communities that they reside in. But consider how some churches are meeting or still are meeting during a pandemic. Here is a public health situation that is ongoing and its almost like some evangelicals are extending their middle finger to the community they reside. They don’t care that people will get sick. Or that some will be in the ICU and die. To play on the financial issue raised above some are defying health rules and regulations because money is more important than people. The COVID-19 pandemic is going to reveal that some churches don’t care about community, following the law, or helping to improve a community. After all if a church is not going to care about the sexual abuse of a child, then will they care about a communicable disease that can let some people end up in the ICU? No they won’t care at all. Some of these churches are dangerous not just to the people involved and those inside, but also to the community. Their motives are now on full display. Consider that when you think of the Tony Spells and Chad Gonzalezs of evangelicalism.
The Disruption of Church Planting and Showing how Planting is About Empire Building
COVID-19 will also disrupt church planting and curtail many plants. It will also result in many churches closing their doors. Church planting is not about reaching the masses or the communities they go into. Church planting is really about branding, giving a pastor a job and building the network to push and sell the pastor’s books and material. That is how Sovereign Grace operated. Included should be Harvest Bible Chapel, Sojourn Network, Acts 29, and many other church networks. But don’t take it from me hear it directly from the horse’s mouth. Here in Washington, D.C. you have a Southern Baptist mega church called McLean Bible which is led by David Platt. The church planting arm which does planting in the Washington, D.C and Baltimore area is called New City Planting and its led by Clint Clifton. You can read more about Clint in, “Who is Clint Clifton of the New City Network? Is the New City Network Prepared for the Issue of Sexual Abuse?” The other day Clint put out a video which you can see above. One observation I would like to make please note the panic in his voice and his fear that a lot of recent Southern Baptist church plants are going to close. This blog would like to point out that many organizations always talk about planting churches but never about fixing or closing the abusive or harmful ones. Let me use the New City Network as an example. Clint Clifton’s organization has supported many questionable plants. Here are a couple:
- In Fairfax, VA you have All Peoples’ Community Church led by Kenji Adachi. Kenji Adachi came from Acts 29 Fellowship Memphis. Fellowship Memphis covered up a child pornography and voyeurism situation by their worship[ pastor Rick Trotter. Some of the staff knew and didn’t go to the police and others did not. The $64,000 question is who was Kenji Adachi? Was he a pastor who knew about the cover-up and stayed silent for a paycheck? Or did he not know? Regardless he planted a church in the D.C. metropolitan area when he has no business planting a church with such an issue hanging over his head. Due to the issues All People’s Community Church needs to close. You can read more in, “An Open Letter to Kenji Adachi (Senior Pastor of Acts 29 All Peoples Community Church in Fairfax, Virginia on my Concerns about your Fellowship Memphis Training and Other Issues)”
- In Falls Church, VA you have CityLight. Dale Sutherland is involved in that New City Network plant. Dale Sutherland badly mishandled the sexual predation of a minor at McLean Bible. What makes the story all the more tragic is that he had a long career in law enforcement in Washington, D.C. and yet he still could not do the right thing. Dale Sutherland should not be involved in a church. Can Sutherland properly respond to a sexual abuse situation? This blog would say no he can not. You can read more in, “CityLight Church in Falls Church, Virginia Along With Nate Crew and Dale Sutherland and the Evangelical Problem of Nepotism.” CityLight needs to close as Dale Sutherland should not be in ministry in any capacity.
Expect to see many church plants close and go under in the next couple of years. This will be due to the COVID-19 situation and the economic issues that are the component of the virus. Many churches and ministries approach planting in the same manner that the French, German, Dutch, and others engaged in colonialism the 19th century. Church planting is nothing but empire building. The collapse and failure of some of these churches will be a good thing.
How Domestic Abuse and Rape Inside Evangelicalism Will be on Full Display
The American evangelical church is in denial about the issue of domestic abuse and sexual assault. And sexual assault can be either against a minor or an adult. To what extent domestic abuse is an issue in evangelicalism is up for debate. Christianity Today has talked about this issue here. But these are not normal times and those educated and aware of domestic abuse are warning that it will increase as people shelter in place or quarantine. If you want to read more you can do so here, here and here. Christians will engage in domestic abuse and its my expectation that will increase during this difficult time. It will happen due to stress and being boxed in a shelter in place. Some parts of the United States that are quite red politically and religious will be dealing with this issue more. For example I expect to see this issue more in Kentucky, Oklahoma or Alabama then I do in places like Rhode Island, Massachusetts or Washington. This blog is scanning the news for developments in this area, but tragically as an issue it will pop up. Sexual abuse is also an issue inside evangelicalism. And like domestic abuse many evangelicals are in denial about this topic as well. In a time of quarantine and shelter in place expect to see an uptick in sexual abuse by evangelicals. Why? Its how some will deal with the stress. And in other situations the abused is forced to shelter with their abuser. And many of these issues stay in the dark and silent places inside the church and that will continue. Over the year 2020 you will see some dark stories that will emerge of sexual abuse that happened while COVID-19 was raging in the United States.
How the Mega Church Model is Not Sustainable
The mega church model inside evangelicalism is not sustainable. It has long had problems before COVID-19 arrived on the scene. Stories from Mars Hill Seattle, Willow Creek Community Church and Harvest Bible Chapel have revealed the problems and issues inside the mega church model. In the COVID-19 era the mega church model will face unprecedented stress. It will have challenges when it comes to funding since people are not attending. Others will have lost their job. And out of pride the celebrity pastor won’t react very well.I hate to say this but I could see suicide occurring and up-ticking as mega church models begin to fail. There are other problems as well. As members of the congregation start to become sick and infected they will also turn against their mega church. They will see how toxic and flawed the model is. My prediction is expect to see some implosions of some mega churches as the result of the COVID-19 virus.
The next couple of years are going to be dark. When it comes to evangelicalism expect to see it get darker. In the next couple of years you will see what happens when people drunk on power try to preserve it. Power is intoxicating. That applies not just to a head of state or a person in public office. It also applies to the mega church pastor or the church planter. Be on the lookout for these developments especially as this blog plans to use this post as a guide to write about this when it develops. As the nation becomes more secular the COVID-19 outbreak will contribute to a contraction in evangelicalism. Others will see the dark side and push back in disgust. After all when you have lost your job and struggling to pay your bill, and your megachurch or church plant is pressuring you to give; while they don’t give a damn about you, it will be an eye opening moment for many. If you have a story to tell this blog would like to tell it.