Continuing the conversation.
What do I mean by 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 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?