An Emerging Profession: Resisting the maintenance of Spectacle (Part II)


Continuing the conversation. 

What do I mean by spectacle?

A thought from philosopher Guy Debord from his book Society of the Spectacle:

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.

If you can recall we began this discussion with the example of popular pastor Bishop Eddie Long and his defense of his lifestyle: I am a CEO of a large non-profit multi-national corporation.  Therefore ‘my accumulation of large slices of the pie is justified…I’m a CEO!’.  The image of CEO gives credence, for Bishop Long and many others, to their accumulation of mass amounts of wealth.  The mechanism of the non-profit is the machinery of accumulation.  Calling his community a multi-national corporation makes it easier for his church to be the machinery of wealth accumulation. 

Makes sense really.  I mean could he get these images from the subversive witness of the Christian New Testament?  When church leaders in the New Testament accumulated wealth and resources to themselves what happened to it?

Acts 4:32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

Good Evangelical Protestant that I am I cannot help but hold the witness of Scripture as the norm by which I weigh things like this.  This habit of accumulation of wealth for distribution to those in the margins  is a consistent practice of early Church leadership.  There is no amassing of the community’s resources for the apostles personal coffers.  Why is that?  It could be that the guiding image and metaphor of leadership put down by Jesus is quite different than prominent leadership images today (e.g. CEO, set-man).  Jesus used the language of bond-servant and servant as the guiding metaphor and image of community leadership:

Luke 22:24 Now an eager contention arose among them [as to] which of them was considered and reputed to be the greatest.

    25 But Jesus said to them, The kings of the Gentiles are deified by them and exercise lordship [ruling as emperor-gods] over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors and well-doers.

    26 But this is not to be so with you; on the contrary, let him who is the greatest among you become like the youngest, and him who is the chief and leader like one who serves.

    27 For who is the greater, the one who reclines at table (the master), or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am in your midst as One Who serves.

Jesus taught the apostles that they were not to lead like the benefactors or patrons of their communities.  What were the benefactors/patrons? Insights from the political-economy of ancient Rome-dominated Israel give us insight:

Roman warlords, emperors, and other patricians became obscenely wealthy.  Not only did they bring boundless booty back from their conquests, they also built up vast personal empires of wealth from the practices of imperialism that made them wealthy and powerful while impoverishing and ruining the Roman citizen-soldiers. (p.24)

From Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder Richard Horsley

Jesus de-mystified and de-constructed an image that upheld a social arrangement that maintained an imbalance of power in the community.  He uses the image of the Patron or Benefactor as his foil or example.  These were positions at the top of the political economy of Jesus’ day.

If Jesus were walking with us today (I know he is in his Body in asmuch we are faithful the gospel of the kingdom) which image of rulership would he use to de-mystify and uncover unjust arrangements of power?  From the world of politics it would be Congresspersons, Judges, Presidents, and Prime Ministers.  From the world of economics it would be Shareholders, CEOs, etc.  From the world of religion it would be popes, bishops, apostles, etc.  Jesus, I imagine, would demistify and uncover these images and metaphors to show us that behind these images there can and oftentimes is an unjust arrangement of power.

What I find amazing is the mountains of data put out by various groups that keep up with CEO salaries compared to the average worker in a corporation.

What has this to do with spectacle?  Recall that Debord told us that a spectacle is a social relation that wants to appear as a collection of images.  Oftentimes in church we want to use the spectacle of the CEO as an acceptable metaphor or image of leadership in the Body. 

But how is this image or spectacle of the CEO maintained?  If the image or metaphor of pastor-as-CEO is really a social relation what kind of relation do we oftentimes find in our communities when this image is bought wholesale?  And how is it maintained?



9 thoughts on “An Emerging Profession: Resisting the maintenance of Spectacle (Part II)

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  1. mmmmmm……more good stuff…..more tomorrow…..exciting. underneath the leadership model discussion I hear you pointing towards another important issue, mainly our understanding of divine power. if you stay hooked on daily blogging again it would be a good issue to tackle.

  2. Perhaps the CEO metaphor is a natural function of present day affluence in the US married to the assumption that the role of a NT testament pastor is to be an authority over the congregation. The hierarchial structure is a false assumption deeply in-grained in church tradition, while large numbers of Christians at present have seemingly accepted as the purpose of life to participate in the conspicuous consumption of the day.

  3. Impressed that you delved into the first century power structures…very well done Anthony. The ‘evergaetaes’ (do-gooder) is entitled to rule by virtue of his ‘generosity’…the irony that one brutalized others to add to one’s generosity was not lost on ancient Israelites. In addition to power, usually additional honoraria is conferred upon the patron – such persons were eulogized in public assemblies, given prominent seats in the theaters, conferred titles (most important of which was ‘Evergaetaes’), had their names chiseled into monuments, given special robes, crowns, symbols of rulership and so on. Strange it is that this is all the stuff that is being conferred to the ‘overcomers’ in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation. In the upside down economy of the New Testament, the patronized citizen is elevated to the imperial throne of God…God hands over the all the entitlements and honoraria of rulership to his faithful servants. This is not just a tit for tat inversion, mirrored around asymptote, we have passed the locus and now we’re actually travelling on an asymmetrically expanding extreme. Such is the irony of Revelation.

  4. If you’ll excuse a note from a wandering Jew who happened by …

    If I recall correctly, the only person in the Gospels, maybe the whole NT, concerned with accumulating funds was Judas, who, according to John, kept the moneybox and would filch from it. But at least Judas kept up the pretext that the money was for the poor.

    You can say the people who support these “ministers” are willing customers paying for the entertainment, so what difference does it make. I see two, one secular, one religious.

    First, the secular. If these “ministers” are merely selling entertainment, they and their “not for profit” corporations should be taxed like other entertainment businesses. We all pay more in taxes because they don’t pay their share.

    Second, the religious. Although the reality is that people are paying for entertainment, and the same kind of hope people buy when they buy lottery tickets (except, of course, the chance of winning is not infinitesimal, but zero), they aren’t told that; they are told they are doing something for God, something God wants them to do, and for which God will reward them. At some point that’s taking God’s name in vain, and that kind of fraud can carry more than a life sentence.

  5. Anthony:

    The spectacle or the mirroring of corporate model in the American church is a natural social phenomenon. In short, if we understood an idea from sociology called co-production that describes the mutually constitutive nature of relationships among institutions, then we would realize that it’s not an unusual or unexpected phenomenon. All of our institutions are constantly influencing and shaping each other.

    Liberals complain about the lack of healthy boundaries between the church and state, or the state and the corporate world. Likewise, we see the uptake of corporate culture into the church. At the same time, in the corporate world we see big businesses bringing chaplains into their communities and paying attention to people like Blake, Jakes, Long and Osteen.
    Furthermore, our whole fascination with the self-made man is connected to the desire to connect one’s life to a particular Gatsby-esque narrative. He can be the American Gangster or the American preacher. All of these images are a part of our distinctly American spectacle. We do need to turn to Jesus, but can’t deny how much we are all influenced by the cultural, economic, political, and religious streams in our society.

  6. max,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I agree that our social worlds inform our corporate practices. How do you think pastors in our culture should go about discerning when we buy too much into these corporate/business models? By ‘buying too much’ into I mean being overtaken by narratives of competition and Social Darwinism under the guise of bing ‘blessed and highly favored’?

  7. Anthony,

    As we all know, the boundaries between institutions are porous. The theory of co-production suggests that a number of alert/intellectual individuals are needed to police the boundaries between the church and the world. We see gate keeping activity on a cellular level, likewise, we must establish similar mechanisms in the spiritual world.

    Pastors and their teams must remain prayerful about being what God has called them to do in the world. You might agree that their is nothing inherently wrong with any model, but the church is not a corporation or business. Businesses always look to fiscal and economical bottom line when it comes to decision making. People are seen as tools or instruments to advance the agenda of the institution. God sacrificed his Son for the advancement of the Kingdom and many saints have given their lives as well. However, the calculus is much different and emerges out of a spiritual process. It’s based on a different paradigm related to suffering with the Savior. Yet, suffering is one side of the coin.

    Personally, I like the Darwinian model, but the Church is on a different organic trajectory. Having said that, I will admit that I don’t have the answer. We have to remember, as it has been so astutely put, this present Church’s world view emerged out of the Second Great Awakening and the Enlightenment. They have created the context for a more egalitarian society and greater comforts for our citizens, however, as you are noting there is a down side. How do we manage the mutual constitutive nature of society to advance both the Kingdom, release humans from institutional bondage, and maintain the institutions that under gird our lives?

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