Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Religious Consumers

Written by: on March 25, 2023

We are consumers.

In Matthew 9, we see Jesus having compassion on crowds that came to him as sheep without a shepherd.

In July 1990, I was in Kigali and attended Reinhard Bonnke in a crowd of thousands of others hungry and passionate to hear and hope in Jesus. In September of the same year, Pope Paul II came to Rwanda. The same large crowds of people gathered to celebrate his visit. When he descended at Kanombe international airport, he bowed down and kissed the ground in Kigali, a sign of Blessing the Nation.

Stepping from an Air France Boeing 747 at the capital Kigali’s airport, he gave his traditional salute to the country’s soil, dropping to his knees and kissing the ground as he has always done on visiting a country for the first time.[1]

In October 1990, the civil war started, and rumors went around he cursed the ground instead of blessing it. I made it to Uganda as a new child refugee and had the opportunity to attend another similar large meeting; this time, it was T.L. Osborn in Kampala in 1991.

These were my first interactions with massive crusades where countless people attended large meetings. I left the meeting in Kampala and joined a team of missionaries to refugee camps in Uganda. I had been uprooted abruptly from Rwanda; I had a prayer and a desire for education, and I met with the sick and disabled and others with various needs. We all came seeking a miracle and different benefits; we were all consumers and seekers.

Miller’s book, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, is a great reminder; it brought back memories of those days, the crowds of seekers and passionately waiting on God to effect change in one way or another.

Dr. Vincent Miller is an influential voice with excellent catholic theology education and leadership. “In consuming religion, Vincent J. Miller provides a richly detailed and precise examination of two central interactions between religion and consumerism: religion as a consumer product and religious people as consumers of religious ideas, images, and everyday products.”[2]

The message shared in this book is not far different from the other resources we covered in recent weeks, including Dr. Clark’s work, Evangelicalism and Capitalism. While searching more on Dr. Miller’s work, another book of the same title came up, and it was also interesting to see what Lofton, Katheryn’s Consuming Religion, had to say as well. Lofton is a Yale professor of religious studies, American studies, and history.

Historical Development

Miller speaks of the marketing system of our time, which has contributed to the consumerism of religion. He shares in one of the chapters about “the historical development and the various manifestations of religion as a commodity, he starts by considering the commodification of culture itself, particularly cultural objects that have been extracted from their original contexts and that now serve strictly as consumables, regardless of their intended significance.” [3]

Culture is a good starting point for a deeper look and understanding of this content.

Dr. Clark adds, “There is competition between the body of Christ and other social arrangements in the world, and those social bodies are created through habits and practices around imaginations for life.”[4]

Lofton continued to say that fewer people are interested in attending churches or other places of worship but have developed an identity around things they love and find fulfillment, saying these will define people.

Responding to the question of how she got the title of her book.

“I wanted to capture the way in which people want to be absorbed by something and also the way in which our identity can fill us up.”[5]

Referring to the internet and media culture, she speaks of these social interactions in terms of spirituality instead of religion, places for spiritual fulfillment.

“I look at how people play video games and do a lot of binge viewing and games and often do in large online communities, and spend hours and hours extensively communicating with one another on the internet.”[6]

The Church and State: 

Challenges between church and state must remain tough until Jesus enters his future kingdom. “When the church moves away from the State into the social, it becomes just one of many social groups. Salvation becomes about the inward, the church becomes mystical, and any reality of the future Kingdom becomes more related to individuals than social groups.”[7]

Miller, in his conclusion, offered a couple of strategies aimed at helping the church do better. “The proposed strategies aim at recovering the pro-activism of the religious experience as a lived guide and at overcoming the reduction of religious elements to commodities submitted to individual tastes”[8]

In a way, today’s Church looks powerless regarding activism and supporting the cause for the weak and oppressed in this consumer culture. Miller and fellow catholic scholars are awakening the church to stand her ground.


[1] Neil Fleming, “Pope in Rwanda Expresses His Sorrow at Famine” (September 7, 1990).

[2] Courtney Wilder, “Vincent J Miller,” The Journal of Religion 85, no. 4, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (October 2005): 681–682.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jason Paul Clark, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship,” Faculty Publications – Portland Seminary (June 2018), https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1131&context=gfes.

[5] Kathryn Lofton, Consuming Religion, Class 200: new studies in religion (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jason Paul Clark, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship.”, 189

[8] “Catholic Books Review: Vincent J. MILLER: Consuming Religion.,” accessed March 25, 2023, https://catholicbooksreview.org/2004/miller.htm.


About the Author


Jean de Dieu Ndahiriwe

Jean de Dieu Ndahiriwe is a Clinical Correctional Chaplain and former Child Refugee from War-torn Rwanda. A member of the Maxwell Leadership Certified Team, Jean is passionate about Servant Leadership and looks forward to seeing more leaders that inspire Lasting Peace and Justice for all, especially "the least of these".

5 responses to “Religious Consumers”

  1. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Jean,

    This statement by Miller fascinated me: “The proposed strategies aim at recovering the pro-activism of the religious experience as a lived guide and at overcoming the reduction of religious elements to commodities submitted to individual tastes”

    What are examples of this pro-activism instead of religious commodification that you have seen?

  2. Hey David,
    Thanks for the interaction; frankly, I wish I understood Miller fully. He speaks of theology, liturgy, and “alternative communication and organizational structures.” Looking at how catholic organizations organize and communicate strengths in some of their activism campaigns, I wounded if that is what he meant.

  3. mm Audrey Robinson says:

    Jean, very thought provoking post.

    You mentioned the tension between the Church and State. Please expand on the tension and the ways it must remain tough until Jesus comes.

  4. Audrey,
    The author referred to the Church remaining powerless and I agree. I thought the Church should have been the leading voice for the week and a watchdog against all the injustice we have witnessed. In many cases, especially in the developing world, the Church became a target by the state, silencing even a few that would have stood their ground.

  5. Jean – I always learn so much from you and your experiences. What type of economic system did Rwanda have when you lived there?

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