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rather than some glitzy Christian megacult. When it comes to clearly delineated church disciplinary procedures, we beat anyone hands-down."

Ironic that this is one of the things that some see as cultish about the Mormon church. I mean, a godly church would have no discipline.

It's easy to throw jabs at such megachurches. But what about all the other well-governed, independent, non-Mormon, congregational fellowships?

Aaron,

What about them?

They aren't the ones picking a political fight and rubbing everyone's noses in it.

I don't think there is a valid point to be made that all Evangelicaldom is corrupt, idolatrous, cultish, and full of priestcraft. I don't believe that and I doubt Dave does either.

But some of these mega-churches sure do seem to fit the bill on occasion. Certainly political Evangelicalism has profoundly lost its moral footing in my opinion.

Aaron, I guess the question of being "well governed" is the heart of the matter. How effectively can an independent congregation protect itself without an overaching organization to provide oversight, training, standards of behavior, and some sort of procedures for institutional enforcement? The sort of popularity and revenue streams that flow to and through leaders of large independent congregations just create a situation where the risk of opportunistic misbehavior (of whatever sort) becomes significant. It is a very good argument for the continued need for strong denominations.

One could say there is a cult of personality around our church President and the Apostles...

Maybe it is because I don't live in the "Mormon Corridor" anymore, but I don't see nearly the cult of personality in the Church as I did years ago. I remember all kinds of t-shirts and other things with Pres Kimball's picture together with his motto "Do It" on them. I wasn't sure whether he was being marketed as a Mormon teddy bear, or a Mormon Yoda. Being relatively short with prominent ears, his likeness gave that impression.

"most megachurches have boards stacked with relatives, friends, personal lawyers and others who are reticent to contradict the leader."

Sounds a little like the Q of 12 and Q of 70. I agree with you about discipline of local leaders for the most part, but how would we know if what you say is true of the highest governing councils? So much of the Q12 business is secretive that I wonder if we would know if anyone has "transgressed" and how that is dealt with. I'm not saying anyone has and I am not casting aspersions. It just seems like we are pretty much in the dark about the institutional checks on power at the highest governing levels in the church.

Cults by their very nature tend to be small and are based on charismatic leadership. The LDS Church is very large and is run on bureaucratic leadership. Anyone who thinks the LDS Church runs on charisma ought to site through a ten-hour dose of General Conference sometime or take a look at the Church Handbook of Instructions. So, Ph. (#5), I suppose you could say that, you would just be 100% wrong. Okay, 98% wrong -- the ubiquitous headshot portraits do rub me the wrong way sometimes. At least we don't carry them around in parades.

By the way, we aren't in the dark. Isn't there institutional checks and balances in the organizational structure of the Church as taught in the D&C? Now, there has been some question of how much we actually follow them.

looks like a sports arena, not a church

I thought you were talking about the SLC conference center there for a second. Silly me. ;)

Dave, I am glad you opened up discussion on this topic. You are dead right. My LDS friends don't have to look too far in order to point out to me the absurd hero worship in American evangelicalism.

Reading your entry tonight has brought to mind this question. What is the mark of a true God-sent witness? Wouldn't this be a foundational question?

David J., one difference is that LDS don't hold Sunday worship services in the SLC Conference Center. Sunday worship is in small chapels with ward congregations kept at a few hundred members. Conferences held in the SCL Conference Center are a different sort of meeting.

Todd, I think any institutional church uses "duly ordained minister" as a working and workable substitute for "God-sent witness" as a criterion of credibility to speak for that denomination or lead individual congregations. That's bureaucracy at work over charismatic leadership, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

There's an interesting psychological layer to the draw of the non-deominational Christian 'megachurches.' In a group of such size, there is no room for true emotional or spiritual intimacy. How well can you know all your brothers and sisters in your congregation when there are 14,000 of you?

The whole paradigm scares me. It allows people to take a seeming, a likeness of spirituality in full absentia of interpersonal accountability.

It is not just a problem for the leadership of such groups. The very idea of 'no one watching out for them' applies every bit to the participants.

It is hollow, a façcade, a likeness, a seeming of godliness. Sure, it's worshipful in tone, but we are not here just to revere Heavenly Father and the Savior, but to emulate them, to progress, to grow to be like them, and that's just not possible in such groups, and yet their membership is duped into thinking that what they're doing is just fine. It's like a spiritual placebo.

My first experience with a "megachurch" was on my mission to Korea. It was in a building that looked much like a sports arena. There were songs, an energetic sermon, and the enthusiastic call to come to the front. I felt something very strong and powerful there, and because it was in a language that I only mostly understood, it was easier for me to recognize the feeling as I left the service. It felt just like I had left a very close basketball game where my team won in overtime. I was on a high, but not a spiritual one.

The anti-Evangelical posts here at DMI always make me sad. There is so much that I enjoy about this website, but this whole strain of posts is deeply disappointing to me.

I'm not an Evangelical, never have been, and I certainly don't agree with Evangelicals on just about anything, but I just don't think tearing down other religions as "cultish" is the way to go. Not unless lives are imminently at risk. I know they called you cultish first, but turn the other cheek. Just build up your own religion, build bridges, build on common ground, be an example of the believers. Jesus kept trying to tell his disciples that it's not a competition; no one has to "beat anyone hands-down." And Naiah, you're such a sweet person of faith, how can you cast such aspersions on the faithful like "duped" and "spiritual placebo"? You don't like it when people say that about your religious choices, do you?

By the way, most megachurches also have "small groups" in which members meet for prayer and study in a context where they can get to know and serve each other individually. The large Sunday services are not designed to be people's only spiritual sustenance.

Beijing, I don't think I'm writing as an "anti-Evangelical." I love them as individuals and brothers/sisters in Christ, it's just their theology and some of their behaviour that I don't like. Since I don't pull punches when discussing LDS history and doctrine (and what's the point of running a blog if one can't be honest about these things?), why should I treat Evangelicals any differently?

Besides, this isn't just the weather or sports news we're talking about, it's religion. It's God. If hundreds of thousands of sincere Evangelicals are trapped in these cults of personality -- without even realizing they're in a cult!!! -- then I think we owe it to them to do some witnessing.

The comment “Take a look at the photo with the story — looks like a sports arena, not a church” is more insightful than you might realize. In fact, that building WAS a sports arena. That’s a photo of Lakewood Church in Houston, which meets in the former Compaq Center. New Life Church, meanwhile, employs fog-making machines and strobe lights during the singing and operates a restaurant inside their building.

Dave, I don’t think you are being ‘anti-Evangelical’ by highlighting an obviously concerning trend in segments of the evangelical movement. A lot of us in the evangelical world are also sharply critical of congregations that revolve around a charismatic leader.

"Trapped in a cult!!!" is anti- whatever religion it's directed at. It's that sensationalism along with the nanny-nanny-boo-boo in "our church beats your church hands-down" and "our religion is true worship but your religion is just a show" that is sad to see. That's not witnessing. That's booing the other sports team at the arena.

I'm not suggesting you refrain from pointing out problems Evangelicals are having. Those problems are real causes for concern. I'm all for exposing the flaws in any and every religion, bar none. That's why I read your blog is because you do that. I'm just disappointed that you don't point out their problems with the same measured, respectful tone and terminology that you use when you discuss your own faith.

I know, it's not my place to tell you what tone to take on your own blog. I'm done now.

Characteristics of a cult, from Shermer:

Veneration of the leader,
Inerrancy of the leader,
Omniscience of the leader,
Persuasive techniques,
Hidden agendas,
Deceit,
Financial and/or sexual exploitation,
Absolute truth, and
Absolute morality.

Seems to me that there is plenty of cultish characteristics to go around.

Guys, what does a God-sent witness point people to?
God or the religious institution?

I feel like writing an article on this for both LDS and evangelicals.

Absolute truth and persuasive techniques? Seems like kind of a broad definition. That would make most scientists and philosophers into cult leaders, too. The only people who wouldn't be "cultists" on that view would be ... confirmed skeptics like Shermer.

Todd, sounds like a great topic for a blog post. I enjoyed reading about LDS answers to your questions on John.

Beijing,
I am a sweet (kind of you, thank-you) person of faith, and one who was not always LDS. I tried one of these churches out for a while, before I was baptized LDS, and the thoughts you see phrased here were formed in the very midst of their worship services, almost unaltered in their wording. Sure, that was 12 years ago, but I've always had a head for social observation.

I worry for these people, and I worry sincerely for the potential of there being a more sinister hand pulling the strings. Give them a convincing enough semblance of spirituality, and they feel no need to seek anything more real. They feel a pull towards godly things, as we all do--being His children. Appease that need without giving them anything real, and they continue to starve all the while believing they are well-fed.

I am not so critical of many faiths. I do not disparage lightly.

This megachurch phenomenon leaves an undeniably dark taste in my mouth. I fear it. I fear for those caught in it. Frankly, it is not godly, only godly-seeming enough to keep them from truly engaging and seeking more.

They rely on spactacle and charisma--wordly, temporal traits. There is little trace of the divine in the very structure of their so-called spirituality, which forces their membership to sustain themselves on artificial 'highs' that have little to nothing to do with the Spirit.

Mind you, not all evangelical groups fall into this category for me, and having voiced what my criticisms are, it is obvious which ones do. I maintain steadfastly that they have the barest filament of truth which has been twisted, dipped, coated and sculpted in smoke and mirrors.

I would add to their bit of truth, let them taste of something more real, and pray that they find themselves truly fed by it.

Beijing, I don't feed trolls or fuel flame wars. I hope you hear my honest concern for the people and criticism of the social phenomenon.

In the LDS church we talk about teaching doctrine in terms of needing needing milk before meat. These people are being fed Kool-Aid.

Well, at least there's no cyanide in it Naiah.

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