When it's time for some RICO indictments
Todd’s Eva Fever pinpoints a significant problem within the evangelical culture today. And there is more.
First, parachurch organizations themselves – including the Alliance – also need to act responsibly. Those which exist to replicate or supplement that which the church offers – especially preaching and teaching – need to understand that they are not the church. Such quasi-church groups can be useful but they can also end with disproportionate and inappropriate power and influence, especially in the USA where for some reason charismatic individuals tend to be trusted more than institutions. This goes some way to explain the weird ecumenism and the highly selective outrage I noted at First Things last week.
Second, such organizations need to make sure that the reason they continue is not simply that of self-perpetuation. Eric Hoffer once wrote that “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” Religious organizations seem particularly prone to this. Evangelical racketeering, whereby people with little or no church accountability wield huge church power, is a positive menace.
The passion that drives the early formation of a parachurch group soon requires organization. Organization, of course, demands the development of a staff and a payroll. That then brings temptations: the bigger an organization, the more influence it can wield and the more money it can command. It also brings obligations: livelihoods come to depend upon the group’s continuing success. The need to reinvent the market to which the organization appeals, whether through the creation of new products or the constant repackaging of old ones, quickly becomes the driving force. Once the addiction to influence is economically predicated on playing the market forces, the end is always nigh as regards integrity.
In Reformed circles evangelical racketeering is more common than many of the evangelical public realize. Huge money is being made behind the scenes, which helps to explain the manner in which even friendly critics are often treated by such organizations. It also explains the comparative silence about these things in the public sphere: the men of stature who could and should speak out are often invested in the racket themselves and thus co-opted for the cause. Their presence on the payroll both reassures the public that all is well and precludes any possibility of appropriate scrutiny.
In such circumstances, it can be very easy for both producers and consumers to fall for the propaganda and believe that what is being done by the group is vital for the church. But no quasi-church group actually does work that is truly vital to the church in any long-term way. If they did, then the Bible would have made it clear that such was the case and that such groups were necessary. Instead, the Bible just talks about the church and only makes promises to the church.
And, of course, where huge money is being made outside of the church for functions that fit best within the church, the church’s polity is ultimately damaged. When the papal structures of parachurch organizations have in practice the final say on who has the right to speak and what they can legitimately say, then biblical order and priorities are jeopardized.
When it becomes clear that such organizations now exist purely for the sake of existing, then it is time for them to close down. Once the same book has been written several times by the same man (or his ghost-writing team), that is a sure sign that what is happening is market reinvention. The larger purpose has gone and it is thus time to go. The same applies when someone’s every spoken word is marketed, where no thought appears to go unpublished, or where there is no subject on which the person or organization does not opine, regardless of the contribution’s value or competence. When these things happen, let the consumer understand: the third and final dispensation of Hoffer’s eschatological analysis has arrived and the day of judgment cannot be far off.