Friday, August 24, 2007

A Cautionary Tale

The front page of the local paper features an article about Randy and Paula White, pastors of a large, charismatic church in the Tampa Bay area called Without Walls. They announced from their pulpit that they are divorcing "amicably", stating that no third parties are involved on either side, but merely that their lives have begun to take separate paths.

It's troubling on so many levels that I'm not sure where to start. I don't know the Whites, attend Without Walls, or hold to any of their teachings. I can't speak about them personally and don't want to, any more than I would want someone to analyze me from a distance.

What is worrisome is the cause for the split seems to be directly tied to the growth of their separate ministries. Paula White has, over the last several years, built quite a name for herself through websites, speaking engagements, book deals, and other ventures, as has Randy White. They have used the media effectively to gain a wide following and further their private and ministry ventures....and therein lies part of the problem.

The Christian life is not a sound bite. It is not lived for the outer life, but the inner life. There is an intrinsic temptation in media; a temptation to Photoshop personal lives into a glossy 8 x 10 that's been retouched for optimal viewing pleasure. It's a lesson that American culture and American Christianity have yet to learn--TV lies, magazines lie, books lie.

They lie because of money. The truth has never been a best seller. It has to be tweaked, placed in attractive lighting, and given a snappy jingle in order for people to lay out money for it. Behind every spiritual best seller, there is a publisher and an author making a lot of money. That's their job. It's a business to them. They are not motivated by a desire to transform society, but by a desire to earn a paycheck to pay their mortgage.

They lie because we want them to. We want to believe that there is a formula for a successful, fulfilling life that we can apply and implement in order to obtain that perfect life. We buy spiritual snake oil and rub it all over ourselves in an attempt to smooth out the wrinkles, banish the dark spots, and perfume our limbs. But, it's all a lie. We are still just as wrinkly, blemished, and smelly as before...only now, we're greasy too.

They lie because, as Jack Nicholson says in A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth!". We are afraid to face the truth about ourselves and the world around us. If there isn't a way to fit everything into a nice little box, how will we cope? How do we persevere in the face of our messy, sometimes unsatisfying lives?

The Whites, and many like them, become popular because of the message they preach; that God wants everyone to be "successful" and to fulfill their "destiny". It's what everyone wants--to be special, to be happy, to be blessed. So now, as these two wealthy, famous (at least in Charismatic circles) people divorce, their lives belie the message they preach. The curtain is pulled back and we see that even they have not realized the dream.

I feel sorry for them. The end of a marriage is always a disheartening, horrible thing.

Yet, in my pity for them personally, I am indignant about them publicly. Each of them plans to continue their ministries. They seem not to grasp the incoherency of the teachings they propagate in the face of their own personal disasters, or the consequences of their actions. If they were "regular" people, with "normal" jobs, they would not be expected to change careers, or bear any fault in that area of their lives, but they are not "regular" people with "normal" jobs. What do they have to offer the throngs who follow them? Their promises have proved empty. Will they continue to hawk those promises? Will Paula continue to be a Life Coach when it is she and her husband who really need one right now? It reminds me of Jesus' quote about the blind leading the blind. A confident leader inspires confident followers; even if the leader is lost, directionless, and headed the wrong way.

Time after time, these scandals occur. They will continue to occur as long as people try to mix the Gospel with money and fame. They don't mix. They never will. They are anti-thetical in nature. To gain money and fame in Christianity, you have to lie. Some do it consciously and with forethought, others do with self-deception and a lack of self-awareness. There is no money in telling people to simply follow Jesus, to store your treasure in Heaven, to rejoice in the face of suffering and persecution for Him. There is no fame in glorifying only God and pointing others to Him, refusing to promote yourself or take credit for His truths.

Jesus is not a salesman. The truth costs nothing. Humility does not linger in the limelight

6 comments:

properly basic said...

Nice post @ V. Reppert's blog!

J

terri said...

Thanks.

Andrew said...

You pretty much summed it up with "What do they have to offer the throngs who follow them? Their promises have proved empty. Will they continue to hawk those promises? Will Paula continue to be a Life Coach when it is she and her husband who really need one right now? It reminds me of Jesus' quote about the blind leading the blind. A confident leader inspires confident followers; even if the leader is lost, directionless, and headed the wrong way."

My questions is how can they "say" they preach and teach the Gospel Message of God but at the same time take a covenant relationship made with God so lightly.

A Bible study group I attend bi-weekly has a rather large female following of Paula White. I can only imagine what will happen to them and their relationships as they tell their spouses " but Paula divorced her husband."

terri said...

I don't think that we need to worry that hordes of Christian women will follow suit. I think it is more likely that those who have followed them and swallowed every word of their teaching as if they were the very words of God, will have a lot of confusion and disillusionment to work through.

This type of thing causes so much collateral damage to the people who are close to it...which, according to my site statistics, are a lot.

It's sad in innumerable and countless ways.

Andrew said...

You said it better than I did, I was "attempting" to be polite in my reference to thee ladies. They are equally divided between single and married but.....hmmmmm...how can I say this....

Let's just say that there are "many" who are adamant that Paula White can say or do no wrong. Me? I'm the type of person who believes that while we all strive to not do wrong we could be tempted because we are still human and live in this world.

terri said...

I do wonder how people can so completely trust others. Bah...I am such a cynic sometimes!
Unfortunately, life never fails to reinforce my cynicism. It's hard to think well of others and be discerning at the same time. It's a constant battle to speak truthfully and lovingly in these situations. Outraged and merciful...indignant and compassionate..It's a hard balance to find.