Of sponsoring gift baskets and other cultural problems
My fellow Ref Packers have drawn my attention to the fact that Kevin DeYoung has republished his (and Ryan Kelly's) part of a friendly exchange we had recently in the British evangelical journal, Foundations.
I do not want to rehearse the arguments of my original piece but I do want to highlight one salient point regarding the current conservative evangelical machine which seems to be simply ignored by those who might actually have the power to do something about it.
The problem with the big beasts of the conservative evangelical world is that, whatever else they are doing, they are not addressing the serious cultural and, frankly, structural problems that exist within the world which they have helped to create. And because they fail to do this, nothing is set to change, other than the steady decline in numbers and influence which is already becoming evident as more and more people either see the problems or simply become impatient with acts of hindsight that are always 20-20, if just a tad too late.
For example, John Piper has called out bullying pastors. That is commendable. But everyone knew that a certain pastor operated in high-handed manner long before his recent downfall. I knew that and I was nowhere near to the inner circle of Big Eva. The Top Men glossed their engagement with Mark Driscoll under the cloak of piety and of a desire to counsel and advise him. At first glance, that was a good thing -- but even as they did this, they still allowed him to headline at their organizations and conferences. In short, they helped empower him under the guise of helping him. As Todd Pruitt would say, here’s the deal: they gave him mainstream theological and evangelical credibility; he gave them numbers and PR opportunities beyond their wildest dreams.
Then take the conservative mega-conference circuit: this is spinning (in every sense of the word) out of control. Pastors have agents and nobody seems to think that is odd. Some use market manipulation to build their brand and the movers and shakers excuse it or ignore it. I recently saw a corporate sponsorship request form suggesting that a $5000 donation would sponsor a gift basket for speakers and the orgnaization's council members in attendance at a conference. It was not clear whether each basket was to cost $5000 but that seems beside the point: why would the baskets being proposed require sponsorship in the first place? A basket containing a couple of bags of pretzels, an orange, a bottle of mineral water, and a tin of breath fresheners surely does not require four figure underwriting in a conference budget.
Yet there seem no voices within the establishment itself asking whether recent problems are not so much to do with the failings of one man as they are to do with the culture of pampered unaccountability which the big beasts have cultivated. One reason, of course, is that raising one's voice on such matters is a guaranteed way to lose one’s place at the table (and maybe one’s gift basket, who knows?). Not a good career move, as one might say. And as events have shown over recent years, few if any are willing to do that -- even though some tables are not really not worth stitting at and some baskets are not actually worth having. Another reason, I suspect, is that the big parachurch groups often confuse leadership ability with pulpit eloquence, PR savvy, or academic acumen. But one can be eloquent without discernment, good at PR without having integrity, clever without any ability to build a healthy organization, take hard decisions and to lead appropriately, especially with regards to one’s own corporate culture.