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. Continue reading

Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex, Part 4 – Psycho-Social Strategies and Structures

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

Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex, Part 3 – Corrosive Power Dynamics

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

Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex, Part 2 – Emerging Subculture Movements

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, Part 1 – Culturology, Futurology, and Three Decoding Frameworks

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

Mars Hill, Emergent Movement, Emergent “Meltdown”?

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.

Continue reading

Commenders Who Prop Up and Perpetuate an Authoritarian System

SOME POINTS OF BACKGROUND/DISCLOSURE: I have been a student of political sociology, dynamics of dissent and social change, and organizational development since the mid-1970s. Since January of 2009, I have been writing a book for non-profits about dealing with leadership and organizational systems where abuse of power is involved. I had already been tracking many potentially relevant situations in the larger evangelical community for a long time prior to that, including goings on around Emergent Village and many other “streams” that came out of the “emerging ministry movement” of the mid-1990s to early 2000s.

On June 8, 2014, I published a blog post entitled, Thoughts on Redemption in the Wake of Abuse: Agents of Damage versus Agents of Healing. (The post below will make more sense if you read the Agents of Damage/Healing post.) There is a section in that post where I introduced an original framework I developed over the past five years on “10 Pairs of Roles in Systems of Damage versus Healing.” This is the same set of 10 roles that I’ve been using to talk about a “Pyramid of Responsibility” and what level of direct culpability or indirect complicity people have in toxic systems.

What follows here is an until-now-unpublished companion piece on “Commenders” that I produced around that same time as I published the Agents of Damage/Healing piece (June 2014). I present it here **without any editorial changes** except that I have removed the Fotolia images that I planned to use. I note that in part because I used the term “theological thugs,” which also appears in this important post on David Hayward’s Naked Pastor blog where I am simultaneously publishing this post as a comment. David Hayward’s post started out being about Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What came first, the thug or the theology? However, it turned into a significant thread about issues with people related with Emergent Village.

I didn’t write about Commenders with this current Emergent Village situation in mind, but because I have generally been seeing an increased level of push-back against Commenders from the spiritual abuse survivor community over the past five years. (For instance, see this post on Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month: Emerging Issues, 2012 – Issue #4 is Expanding the concept of accountability to “system partners” that enable abusive behavior by celebrity Christians.) I suspect we will see much more such push-back to come … Continue reading

A Brief Timeline for Young Leaders Network and Terra Nova Project, for Understanding Ron Wheeler’s Open Letter to Mark Driscoll

In the ongoing efforts to call Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church to account for past and present behaviors, his former colleague and protégé Ron Wheeler posted the following open letter: I. Am. Not. Anonymous. In it, Mr. Wheeler details his early history with Mr. Driscoll and then says:

Soon I began traveling the nation with you, speaking at various conferences, seminars and events. It was such an honor. We became involved on the ground-floor of this new movement that was shaping the landscape of evangelical Christianity. We were on the board of Young Leader network together. We were on the Terra Nova project together. We were working with some pretty amazing people. These were the early days when there was talk of the postmodern era, and the Emergent church started “emerging” and New Calvinism had yet to emerge as a thing. It was heady stuff. It was also dangerous, as some of it started wandering far from historical orthodox Christian belief and practice. [Emphasis added.]

But then I listened as you slandered and maligned the men and women we worked with behind their backs -who though we didn’t agree with some of them theologically- were wonderful people, and never deserved to be spoken of, or treated the way you did. People who I know would have considered you a friend and have no idea how you really felt about them. I have personally tried to go back and apologize to people who were “kicked to the curb”, along the way, and yes, I do feel I was complicit to your actions; guilty by way of association and being silent.

For that, I could not be more sorry.

I believe this section of the open letter holds some significance, but would be hard to interpret. That’s because the history of Young Leaders Network (sponsored by Leadership Network) and its subsequent transition into the Terra Nova Project aren’t generally known. The purposes of this post are:

  1. To offer some background on the timeline of these Generation X-oriented networks.
  2. To overview some of the relevant terminology for ministry during that early part of the modern-to-postmodern transition.
  3. To suggest how that era relates to various “streams” in contemporary Christianity that came out of that period and have been coming into fruition over a decade later.

In a later post, I may summarize the ongoing controversies about Mr. Driscoll and Mars Hill Church, from my perspective as a research writer with backgrounds in studies of spiritual abuse, organizational dynamics, recovery ministry, and social transformation. But for the moment, I’ll focus on this material about Young Leaders Network and Terra Nova Project, so that section of Mr. Wheeler’s open letter has more context. Continue reading