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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Ecclesiastical pornography!

Written by: on February 17, 2017

Consumer or consumed?

 

Consuming Religion – Miller

 

“Parish glamorization is ecclesiastical pornography — taking photographs (skilfully airbrushed) or drawing pictures of congregations that are without spot or wrinkle, the shapes that a few parishes have for a few short years. These provocatively posed pictures are devoid of personal relationships. The pictures excite a lust for domination, for gratification, for uninvolved and impersonal spirituality.”[1] – Eugene Peterson

 

I got into some trouble with someone in my church a few years back for linking the term “ecclesiastical pornography” with a certain type of Christian television.

This was not well received.

I am such a misunderstood pastor.

The point I was trying to make was along the lines of some of the ideas outlined in Consuming Religion:

 

  • A depiction of spirituality that is disconnected from the reality and the challenges of genuine community lived out locally, in this place and at this time.
  • The air-brushing of the Christian life in a way that is driven by marketing and advertising, promising high levels of fulfilment with low levels of commitment.
  • The consumption of the Christian message in an abstract way. You don’t actually have to attend church and hang out with real troublesome people, you can just stay at home and watch it all on TV.
  • The insistence on individual (“uninvolved and impersonal”) spirituality and satisfaction, distanced and disconnected from the institution and traditions and creeds and ritual of the church body.
  • The commodification of belief, resulting in abstraction (abstract beliefs without concrete and specific disciplines and practices) and fragmentation.

 

The central point for me in Miller’s observations and my own considerations as a local pastor is the paucity of genuine companionship and community against the backdrop of consumerism and the commodification of Christianity.

 

In the age of Christian television, live-streamed church services, ubiquitous social media and two-faced book,  we have a thousand friends, but very few people with whom we genuinely break bread – those whom we might call, in the true sense of the word, companions (com – panis – to share bread with).

 

Miller’s antidote to this involves naming the problem of commodification, developing negative rituals (such as abstinence and silence) and helping the laity understand and appreciate the living character of tradition.

 

We need the reality of spiritual practices and disciplines, embedded in genuine local community, rooted in spiritual tradition in order to counteract this individualised, consumerist religion of our day.

 

[1] Peterson, Eugene H. Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. Grand Rapids Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994, 22

 

About the Author

Geoff Lee

11 responses to “Ecclesiastical pornography!”

  1. Jim Sabella says:

    Geoff, great post! I chuckled when I read that you were such and misunderstood pastor. Probibly means you’re doing something right! In one sentence you’ve captured the age in which we live. “In the age of Christian television, live-streamed church services, ubiquitous social media and two-faced book, we have a thousand friends, but very few people with whom we genuinely break bread.” Powerful! Thank you Geoff!

  2. Mary Walker says:

    Well, Geoff I think that I was taken aback with the term “ecclesiastical pornography” and didn’t wonder that some people did not “receive you well”. It probably goes back to my ‘southern lady’ roots. I was taught to blush at things like that.
    I did reflect on your quote from Eugene Peterson and I’m thinking that maybe sometimes a little shock value is good. I agree with you and Miller that if we don’t identify the problem we will get stuck in the behavior.

  3. YESSS!!! To all of this Geoff!!! Seriously! “We need the reality of spiritual practices and disciplines, embedded in genuine local community, rooted in spiritual tradition in order to counteract this individualised, consumerist religion of our day.” That was said so perfectly!!!

    You cannot do life together and grow in our faith without all three of those- worship(practice/discipline), genuine community and understanding the full context of the origin of our spiritual traditions.

    The obsession the church has with projecting what is an illusion of a perfect community of faith is like chasing a mirage in the desert. It is both delusional and simply ridiculous. We need to open our eyes and chase fervently after the Truth. We can only be light in this world when we plug into the source and stop trying to be “glow sticks” on our own 🙂

  4. Geoff, great post…. I love Peterson (a good Presbyterian, of course!)…..it strikes me that you – and Miller – have hit on something with the antidote to commodification lying in spiritual practices and community – both things force us to wrestle with the realities of our lives of faith: that things are not always easy; that the ‘answer’ is not always clear; that we don’t always know what to do – and even when we do, we don’t always want to do it.
    Glad to know, as well, that I am not the only misunderstood pastor in the group.

  5. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Welcome to the “Misunderstood Pastor’s Club.” Seriously, I appreciated your connection of this book to current trends in Church marketing and identity. Our church advertises at a local shopping mall. It is a giant poster behind the mall directory. Our church is near the mall and I want us to reach out to people who don’t yet have Christian friends.

    Modern church ads (like billboards) almost always have a picture of the perfect looking pastor (and often his perfect looking wife). Instead, I chose a collage of a wide variety of people. Young and old. Bikers and families. Different ethnicities, a biracial couple, etc. I wanted to convey that we value diversity… and diversity is messy.

    Final word: Jesus was often misunderstood.

  6. Well you got our attention!
    I know that some of the in-house Pastors quench when one says they watch TV church. Having interacted with individuals that participate in TV church, They are serious about their TV pastors. Now I must admit I have only met a few who sent offerings to the churches.
    I must admit that I have become a streaming internet attending member for variour reasons but I must admit that there is a different spiritual feeling when I participate in corporate worship. I do have my individual worship time that prepares me for the day.

  7. mm Katy Lines says:

    “Miller’s antidote to this involves naming the problem of commodification, developing negative rituals (such as abstinence and silence) and helping the laity understand and appreciate the living character of tradition.”

    Thanks Geoff. As a pastor, have you found ways to build this in to the life of your congregation? For instance, many of our churches have recently “rediscovered” the practice of Lent, which involves both a connection to a living tradition as well as negative rituals (giving up something for forty days). It also should involve a sense of community, knowing we are all participating in it together, and hospitality.

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