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. Continue reading
Part 4. Framework #3. Psycho-social strategies and structures that lock people into toxic systems.
How do theologians (and others) with a pathological bent use their authority to turn a consumer-culture machine into a self-perpetuating toxic system?
This section cross-pollinates concepts about sick organizations with power-hungry people, to see how toxic systems step up control factors to exert dominion over groups and remove their freedoms. So, let’s think through the systems level of toxic organizations increasingly limit personal choice of the members therein: Continue reading
Part 3. Framework #2. Power dynamics that corrode populism into consumerism.
I found the process of subcultural emergence fascinating, and first taught on the subject in about 1996. In the late 1990s, I was applying subculture analysis directly to the emerging ministry movement. I even got to present a workshop on the subject at the 1998 Young Leaders Re-Evaluating Postmodernism conference – “Navigating the Futures of Street-Level Postmodernism.” Even then, I was cautionary about going overboard on subculture ministry. It would be far too easy to end up as “modernist ministers in postmodern drag,” turning the serious work of cultural contextualization into mere consumerist top 10 tip lists.
So, I was aware of how things could go off-kilter if we put populist/open-participation blinders on, and allowed only certain celebrity/closed-consumerist types provide the overriding perspective and hijack the trajectory. Sometimes it happens when people get complacent and also happens if mega-ministries and businesses jump in to select their “star” performers. Continue reading
Part 2. Framework #1. Trajectory arcs of emerging subculture movements and interactions with the mainstream.
In the mid-1990s, I did extensive research work on the process of how “identity subcultures” emerge, based on a newfound set of core values that drew them together as an “affinity group.” Sometimes those values attracted people from widely different social situations, cultures, races, etc., and they created a virtual tribe based on something they all saw as important that was missing in the mainstream culture. Keep in mind that these viritual-identity, “cultural creative” entities start out as producing something new – it’s inherent to their emergence. However, it doesn’t always stay that way. Sometimes a forward trajectory runs out of creative energy, or otherwise ends up going sideways. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
The last few months have brought some amazing contemporary case studies into the public realm of online scrutiny and also “digital dissent” with online push-back by survivors of spiritually abusive ministries and movements. This includes both Mars Hill Church and what I’ve been calling the Emergent movement that arose from the embers of what used to be Emergent Village. I’ve written far above my usual output because of how these two real-world examples illustrate the final material I’ve been writing for a forthcoming volume in my imprint on Do Good Plus Do No Harm. It’s a book for people associated with missional/social transformation endeavors, church plants, and non-profits.