Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex, with Applications to Mars Hill Church and the Emergent Movement
SERIES SUMMARY. A question that’s arisen lately on spiritual abuse survivor blogs has to do with the “Christian Industrial Complex,” or some variation thereon, such as: the Evangelical Industrial Complex, the Emergent Industrial Complex, the Resurgence Industrial Complex, the Patriarchal Industrial Complex. These are contemporary versions of the idea of a “Military-Industrial Complex” that President Dwight Eisenhower warned against in his farewell speech. I’d describe it as a gridlock of military, political, and business interests that formed a self-benefiting association of preferential relationships that went against the public interest. (Some of the classic research behind the Military-Industrial Complex comes from The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills.)
When it comes to Christianized variations of this organizational complex, what exactly is that all about? Why the increased interest at this time? How do we dissect what this thing is, how/why it affects us, and why it’s even relevant?
This series introduces three major frameworks I use for analyzing social movements and toxic systems, and builds toward describing what this phenomenon of a Christian Industrial Complex is, how it works, and how it can inflict damage. It also suggests a list of indicators for identifying layers of enmeshed involvement among celebrity leaders, Christian business industries, and followers/consumers in such probable toxic systems as this. It ends with some initial analysis and interpretation of toxicity issues in two streams that came out of the “emerging ministry movement” – the more conservative New Calvinism of Mars Hill Church/Resurgence and the progressive Emergent Movement of Emergent Village.
Note: These posts are designed to be read in order because of the sequence in which terms and concepts are introduced.
Series on Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex
Part 6 – Thoughts on Mars Hill Church and Emergent Movement as Christian Industrial Complexes.
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1. Culturology, Futurology, and Three Frameworks for Decoding the Christian Industrial Complex
October 2014 marks a milestone. Twenty-five years ago, I started an intentional study of “postmodern” cultures, when I first set foot in Marin County, California. This is one of the main places where that postmodern culture of the future had already been pioneered for decades. (I don’t want to get hung up here on the many meanings of the term postmodern, but do need to clarify what it is that I’ve been studying for 25 years is the emerging global paradigm shift and the related changes in culture.) It was intentional because I felt driven to figure out why this place was so very different from what I’d known, and why I felt comfortable to a degree here that I’d not really sensed before.
One conclusion I came to is that postmodern culture is NOT the same as postmodern philosophy. Culture is more concrete, philosophy is more abstract. Concrete people tend to learn better by action-reflection, abstract people by theory-into-practice. Concrete learning and culturology appeal to me. They fit how I’m “wired.” I also embraced a guiding assumption that people change their cultural activities far faster by social influences than by studying and then applying the theory embedded in some new statement of philosophy. And Marin County embodied a more spirituality-embracing and constructive postmodern culture way more than a skeptical-standoffish and deconstructive postmodern philosophy way. (For more on these differences, see this post on Culturologists versus Philosophists? Culturology versus Philosophy?, and the follow-up post, More Thoughts on Culturologists versus Philosophists.)
Those initial contradictions and questions sent me toward becoming a culturologist and a futurist. I know those aren’t common terms, so it helps to think of them as being like “archaeologists of the present.” We’re trying to figure out what’s happening within contemporary times, before the dust settles, by watching and weighing what we perceive on the horizons of culture shifts. And that’s hard to do, especially since so many forces of change in global paradigms and cultures keep most of us more off-kilter than holding on to a sense of stability.
So, this article on the “Christian Industrial Complex” brings together mostly cultural and futurist studies I’ve done since 1990. Here’s a list of the concept frameworks that I believe we need to start thinking through (1) the “emerging ministry movement” of the mid-1990s to early 2000s, and (2) various embodiments of a Christian Industrial Complex that arose from what I see as six streams from that movement.
- How subcultures emerge, bloom, and fade or reform for insiders, while they initially repulse attract outsiders.
- How power dynamics can corrode populist (grassroots) social movements from a culture of participation to one of consumerism.
- How psycho-social strategies and structures lock victims and their perpetrators into toxic systems.
I’ll oversimplify all of these patterns for the purpose of giving a big-picture overview of subculture and counterculture movements, but give occasional expansions of description. Also, I’m citing mostly those sources and influences that key concepts directly come from. And I’ll conclude with a list of Industrial Complex Indicators.