We don’t need more Christian celebrities

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Hands in worship - Photo by Ashley Campbell via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1NPHksd)

Hands in worship - Photo by Ashley Campbell via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1NPHksd)

Last night, Rich and DawnCheré Wilkerson’s new television show, Rich in Faith, debuted on the Oxygen network. They’re a good-looking couple who work at a church in Miami, and Rich happens to be the pastor who married Kim Kardashian and Kanye West a couple of years ago.

READ: Kardashian pastor Rich Wilkerson, Jr. to have his own reality show

There have been a couple of profiles of Wilkerson in the weeks leading up to the show’s debut, and today, this article at RELEVANT Magazine praised Wilkerson, proclaiming in its headline that “We Need More ‘Christian Celebrities.'”

Hmmmm!

This isn’t about the Wilkersons, who, although I disagree with their reasoning behind making their show, I think may also be totally lovely people. And there is some good stuff in the RELEVANT article. But it is entirely wrong to suggest that we need more “Christian celebrities,” and putting that phrase in quotes doesn’t get you off the hook.

Hands in worship - Photo by Ashley Campbell via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1NPHksd)

Hands in worship – Photo by Ashley Campbell via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1NPHksd)

Celebrity culture is one of the worst things to happen to the church. We lionize the people who take the stage–pastors and worship leaders–at the expense and detriment of those who serve in the church in unseen ways. “The world needs Christians who are willing to be influencers in all different areas of our culture,” Thomas Christianson wrote at RELEVANT, and “this means we need ‘celebrities’ who are also Christians, not just ‘celebrities’ in church spheres.” But we’ve had “celebrities” who are also Christians since “celebrity” was a concept, and I’m not sure where that has gotten us. Christians should absolutely be involved in creating the culture we inhabit and imbibe, but when we become showy about it, nonbelievers get suspicious and angry. Most people aren’t tuning into the Wilkersons’ show to watch ordinary human beings grow closer to God–that would make for boring television. They’re watching in hopes that Kim or Kanye will show up, or to see what a cool pastor looks like, or to watch an attractive couple in their marriage. Can something good come of that? Sure! As a friend of mine said, “Our Father has no shame.” God can use anything for our good. But is there wisdom in suggesting we need more Christian celebrities? I’m not convinced.

I also want to talk about something the article and our culture assumes is a virtue, and that is the concept of influence. “Leaders need access in order to gain influence,” Christianson wrote, “because you can’t influence people who aren’t paying attention to you.” True enough. But why do we need to influence people? Why can’t we just befriend people? When we see people, celebrities or otherwise, as souls to influence, we misrepresent their dignity to ourselves and to God. This is why terms like “influencer” or “thought leader” to describe people are so rightly derided: They reduce the gospel to a bullet-pointed message and people to a following. Have a lot of followers on Twitter? A big church? Pictures with your celebrity friends on Instagram? All of those are only fodder for the platform celebrity Christians use to exercise their influence. Where is the humility? Where is the relationship?

The RELEVANT article closes by encouraging Christians to “expand your influence.” That in itself isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not something I ever read Jesus talking about. Serving the poor, caring for children, making disciples, bringing the Kingdom of God–those things require sacrifice and work and self-awareness. Influence is only ever tangential to being a Christian; it is never the main thing. And as long as that’s true, we do not need Christian celebrities. We need only Christ.

  • Rick

    Another reason we don’t need “Christian Celebrities” is because they will fail. They will fail because they are human, but celebrities inhabit a world in the spotlight. When they fail they will fall long and hard. It has happened over, and over and over again. Celebrity also shines a spotlight on every aspect of people’s lives and that is unnatural, but in order to survive and advance the spotlight has to be there otherwise they become irrelevant. It’s a twisted concept, and not very Christian. Christianity is about relationships. Celebrity is narcissism run amok. They are not compatible.

  • Jan Lynn

    Great post and such an important perspective. “Influence is only ever tangential to being a Christian; it is never the main thing.” I’ve long believed that leaders have decided leadership is the most important of the spiritual gifts, and that “influence” is the measure of this leadership. It’s completely self-serving, which of course is antithetical to the actual teaching of Jesus.

  • Sabelotodo2

    Bravo, Laura! You nailed it!

    So much of the evangelical thrust for persuasion and influence using a “canned gospel”-template reduces individuals to “prospects” for their pitch–mere THINGS, and not PERSONS who need to be loved into believing. And the celebrity-culture dishonors celebrities by treating them as “things” as well, albeit things to be highly exalted”–and not real people.

    The call to discipleship is a call to relationship: Christ took Zachaes to lunch, and this act and conversation changed him . . . we’re cheated out of the ensuing conversations and other-more gradual changes that this new relationship no doubt generated.

    Relationships are messy, and that’s where Christ–Immanuel, chose to dwell, among us messy humans. And the changes that happen is us, take shape in a slow proces, as love works its way. Servant-leaders don’t seek the spotlight and megaphone. They quietly administer their love and service in the shadows.

  • Gema

    Amen! Many celebrity “Christians” stand for the wrong kind of ‘values’ and demonize true Christians who value God’s commandments above all else. I’m heartsick of all the celebrity Christians who are demonizing God fearing Christians with the “homosexuality is natural” lie and casting any of us out who stand by the truth of the gospel as being phobic and hateful. Just because they’re famous, rich and have a cousin who’s gay that doesn’t make God’s commandments null and void.

    Yet people wanna kick Manny Pacqiao, Kirk Cameron and Lisa Whelchel to the curb for refusing to compromise their Christian values to be considered ‘most relevant.’ What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? I’d rather be persecuted for not going with the flow. Jesus endured much worse for me so I can take some verbal assault to defend His honor. My Savior is worth it!

  • Jeremy

    And if I hear another person say “I’m tired of Christians saying I love gay people but homosexuality is a sin, they don’t love gay people because that’s just hateful” I just may scream out loud. I get being a non-believer and not knowing or understanding the will of God. But shouldn’t COMMON SENSE dictate that it IS possible to love someone and not agree with them? I can love a murderer and still know that murder isn’t right. Why do gays get a free pass to live foul and bully anyone who doesn’t see eye to eye with their lifestyle? UGGGHHHH! So over that attitude!!! Sorry. Just venting. I’m Christian but I’m also human.