Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex, Part 5 – The Dark Side of Institutionalized Systems

Part 5. Christian Industrial Complexes, institutionalized social movements, and the dark side of toxic systems

In my opinion, any variation of Christian Industrial Complex combines many elements of bounded choice and interlocking directories. It emphasizes specific Christian genres of theological systems or ministry practices, and promotes specific celebrities who embody them. This can be marketed and sold outright as “the best brand,” or somehow ends up as perceived as the right way to go among those vulnerable to looking for a “total system” that answers all their needs. I do NOT think a Christian Industrial Complex is likely to reach the extreme end of the spectrum and become a total institution – although some of its celebrity leaders and/or partner entities may definitely go into that direction individually as toxic leaders or very sick organizational systems. However, the presence of the bounded choice and interlocking directory factors do put a Christian Industrial Complex at high risk for becoming institutionalized and stale. Also, the overfocus on black-and-white “best brand” thinking plus a limited cadre of communicators who promote the variant paradigm means that it’s no longer a vital alternative culture. At some point it has already jumped the shark – and is now overstating its current creativity and has overstayed the brand’s viability. And perhaps it is at this very point in the in-between zone of interlocking directory and total institution when the dark sides of toxic Christian Industrial Complex systems emerge. From what we’ve witnessed in the past five or so years, we seem to have a couple examples where it’s become apparent enough that those who benefit from being in an Industrial Complex engaged in manipulation and disinformation to gain and maintain their power situation. I believe this is what is happening right now with two streams that originally co-existed within the emerging ministry movement, as I noted in Mars Hill, Emergent Movement, Emergent “Meltdown”?

Mars Hill Church spun out of the “emerging ministry movement” to become the theologically conservative wing of things with the New Calvinism/Resurgence movement. Emergent Village spun out as the theologically progressive wing and eventually turned into an Emergent movement as the Village eventually went defunct. As a long-time student of the dynamics of spiritual abuse, I would note this as evidence that apparent abuse of spiritual authority can happen in any theological system along the entire spectrum of Christianity, because every theology has inherently abusive fault lines which pathologically-inclined people can exploit for self-serving power and prestige.

In both cases, the movements centralized around particular people and organizational partner entities.There are evidences of positive and negative conditioning by individual leaders and some of the partner entities, and of increasing restrictions of freedom through bounded choice and “preferred partnerships.” And there are even some noticeable levels of some of the eight classic indicators of authoritarian “cults” as found in the research work of Robert Jay Lifton. I’ll get into some of that in Part 6. But, if you want to do things the Punk/DIY way – and I hope you do! – below is a list of key indicators you can use to do your own research and reflection, and see what you think for yourself. I’m also supplying a very short “starter list” of samples partner organizations for Mars Hill Church and the Emergent Movement in case you’d like to explore those as case studies before you read some of my observations in Part 6, Thoughts on Mars Hill Church and Emergent Movement as Christian Industrial Complexes.

Key Questions and Indicators for Interlocking Directory

Look for interconnections based on reliance on others for money, prestige, and/or power. If there is gold by association, there may legitimately be guilt by association. Look for a common identity where there is enmeshment. If you see or hear about Person ABC, do you consistently see or hear about Person XYZ with him/her? Look for what the “value and belief profile” is for the inner circle of spokespeople, and how it may differ from what rank-and-file members may be. Examine the movement or organization you’re interested in and look for patterns of common participation in/by:

  • Speakers/consultants (paid). Podcasters (probably unpaid).
  • Authors (paid). Bloggers (probably unpaid).
  • Publishing houses with multiple authors in the same theological genre or movement.
  • Event hosts, planners, and promoters.
  • Event sponsors.
  • Overlapping membership on organizational boards of directors.
  • Partnering agencies, non-profits, networks, foundations, funders.
  • Partnering schools, training programs, institutes, seminaries.
  • Commenders who are Tweeters, bloggers, Facebookers, etc.
  • Certification agencies (like ECFA/Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.)

For instance, do pretty much the same list of speakers get featured at events by Business ABC, and some/all are also under contract by Publishing House DEF, and they share the same Literary Agent GHI, and they write forewords and endorsements and Amazon reviews and Tweets for each others’ books. Meanwhile, many serve on the advisory boards or boards of directors for each others’ Non-Profits J K and L, and some work as paid consultants for them. And Seminary MNO has multiple people from this checklist on their Adjunct Faculty list. And Foundation PQR or individual funders like ST and UV keep things afloat for Organization WXYZ? On a scale from 1 (low) to 10 (high), how “locked in” to each other as individuals and organizations are these people in this directory? What are their ethical and/or financial conflicts of interest, if any? Can we trust their supportive statements or endorsements about other members of the directory? Starter List #1 – Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll have had links with Resurgence, The Gospel Network, Tyndale House Publishers, and Acts29 [Church Planting] Network. Starter List #2 – The Emergent Movement has had links with the now defunct Emergent Village (some of the conversations from which are now on Emerging Voices blog at Patheos), and with JoPa Productions, Jericho Books, and the CANA Initiative.

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Series on Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex

Part 1 – Culturology, futurology, and three frameworks for decoding the Christian Industrial Complex. Part 2 – Framework #1. Trajectory arcs of emerging subculture movements and interactions with the mainstream. Part 3 – Framework #2. Power dynamics that corrode populism into consumerism. Part 4 – Framework #3. Psycho-social strategies and structures that lock people into toxic systems. Part 5 – Christian Industrial Complexes, institutionalized social movements, and the dark side of toxic systems. Part 6 – Thoughts on Mars Hill Church and Emergent Movement as Christian Industrial Complexes. UPDATES: 10-06-2014. More points and questions added in the section on Key Questions and Indicators for Interlocking Directory.