What to Do When Christian Celebrities Are Offensive

facebookDid you read what a celebrity pastor wrote on his Facebook wall?

I hope not. However, if you did, I’m pretty sure you heard about it because other Christians told you about it.

Ironically, you, your non-Christian friends, or anyone who may feel “bullied” or “attacked” by his insensitive remarks would probably never have heard what he wrote if some other Christians hadn’t made a big public outcry out of it.

And that leads to a dilemma when we deal with offensive Christian celebrities.

We feel like remaining silent just lets them win. If we don’t speak out, we’re letting down everyone who is wounded by this pastor’s coarse jokes.

And so blog posts are written, the word spreads, and the message goes out: “Celebrity pastor is a bully, and we’re not going to stand for it.”

Unfortunately, the part that tends to stand out in people’s minds is the first part, “Celebrity pastor is a bully.” That’s what the news media wants to report on. That’s what will remind people of old wounds.

Here’s what I’m wondering about all of this…

In this particular instance, must we really care what some pastor on the west coast writes to his followers on Facebook? Yeah, a few thousand people read it, but then he writes something else about Jesus being a cage fighter with tattoos or whatever and his insensitive remark fades away.

Very few people who could actually be offended by his remarks would have actually read them. He’s going to keep making them, and the sooner we leave him alone with his remarks and his gang of followers, the better. The perception of an assault from outside of his ranks only strengthens him and convinces his macho followers to ignore any calls for change (see the Backfire Effect).

Is there another way forward?

I have a couple of examples in mind, but the most powerful example I can think of is the “It Gets Better Story” in the aftermath of a teen’s suicide over homosexual bullying. Fort Worth councilman Joel Burns shared his own story of growing up as a homosexual, and his vulnerable moment overshadowed all of the outrage and transformed that horrible situation into a beautiful step forward.

Granted, there wasn’t a celebrity or organization to target, but the story changed from teen suicide to open dialogue about supporting teens during a particularly fragile time in their lives. Instead of focusing on the offense, everyone’s attention turned to healing.

How could anyone listen to such a real, powerful story and persist in bullying someone? (Well, let’s hope at least, eh?)

I think that could provide us with a good path forward in this particular case.

While it would be appropriate to confront a pastor in our own congregation, a nationally known celebrity who makes offensive remarks is another matter. Offensive celebrities need to be drowned out by a counter-message so that they can fade into their own obscurity—especially since this pastor’s personal brand is being offensive.

We need to drown out his message because once we confront him publicly, we give him free publicity that he probably wants and spread his message to people who don’t need to hear it. I doubt very much that he cares about critics outside his congregation and affiliations. He probably doesn’t even have time to consider it.

Therefore, the best way I can think of countering an offensive message, such as the one delivered on this pastor’s Facebook wall, is to tell stories of Jesus’ radical love and inclusivity and how those stories have shaped us—how we’ve put his love into action. This macho pastor would probably want to punch himself in the face if he ever understood the extent of Jesus’ radical, inclusive love that accepted sinners who were willing to repent.

That is, he’d punch himself in frustration for underestimating the love of God.

Dealing with celebrities and public figures is not the same as dealing with someone in your community. We can personally confront someone in our community, and if they want to be part of our community, they will reform. Celebrities don’t have the same things at stake.

Celebrities thrive on exposure. They draw their power from attention. If we deny this pastor the oxygen of attention, his flame that burns so many can be reduced to a tiny spark that few will notice or care about outside of his immediate circles.

And while we may think we’re somehow standing up for someone by opposing this man, the truth is, we really aren’t adding anything constructive. We are just telling others what we’re against. We need to oppose offensive remarks with real neighborly love to people around us, creating stories that overshadow what this pastor has done.

This is not the easy way forward. It will cost us our lives to create stories powerful enough to overcome messages of intolerance, hate, and fear. But the costly path of love is the only way I can think of changing what this pastor writes on his Facebook wall.

Perhaps one day this pastor will ask for examples of the best ways his readers have been loved in a time of need. He’ll only do that if we give him something to write about.

30 thoughts on “What to Do When Christian Celebrities Are Offensive

  1. Stephanie S. Smith

    Thanks for this post, Ed. I am humbled by your perspective. I see in our culture and in myself a need to feed conflict; and while conflict in some cases requires confrontation, it’s best in all cases as you said to focus on drowning it out by countering it with love and a positive example.

  2. Ray Hollenbach

    I may end up writing a blog-length post, Ed: please forgive me!

    Modern life may complicate the method sometimes, but Jesus himself gave all of us a manner for handling the offenses we receive. It starts with contacting the other person directly, with an eye toward “winning your brother.” There are other steps beyond the first–all of which come at great personal cost to the offended one. Jesus is pretty smart, he has his reasons, and we would all do well to follow his advice.

    I’ve also noticed a strange pattern of grace when it comes to offensive marks and repeating the matter. Frequently the target of an offense is given grace to absorb the offense while others, operating from the perspective of observer, do not receive such grace. For example, someone may insult you, and God provides grace and patience to you. Meanwhile, I hear of the insult, become angry, and *do not* seem to receive the same supply of God’s goodness. I’m left operating out of my anger. I recall something about human anger being unable to achieve the righteousness of God. I have a gay friend in my hometown who is regularly the butt of crude and hateful jokes, as well as simple bigotry. He regularly response with grace and charm I admire and want to imitate. He becomes an example to me.

    Finally, celebrity pastors need our prayers. The good ones need our prayers and the bad ones REALLY need our prayers. Has anyone suggested a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of the pastor?

    1. ed Post author

      Awesome comment Ray. That adds so much insight into this matter. I think you’re right on. Didn’t you write a post about this once? If so, can you drop in a link. If not, I’d love to read more.

  3. Alise

    I think this is why I love my bff from high school. She suggested that folks share stories of effeminate men or tomboy women who have had a positive impact on their life. The tone of the post seemed to invite negative stories – her idea is to share positive stories to drown out those negative ones.

    That’s a response I can absolutely get behind.

    1. ed Post author

      Right. And I’d suggest that our long term goal should be to win this pastor over with our better stories.

  4. Jennifer

    Ed, thank you so much. While I was quick to get my feathers ruffled over this, something still felt weird and wrong about it the outcry. The fact that there are such things as “celebrity” pastors is the first weird thing. But I know we can’t address that today. I really like the ideas of ignoring his nonsense or drowning it out with light. I wish I had read this yesterday. Thank you again.

  5. Leann Guzman

    I love this post, and I also love what Ray says above: “Jesus himself gave all of us a manner for handling the offenses we receive.” That’s exactly what’s been going through my head since I heard about the FB post. All these Christians who are screaming about how horrible the Christian celebrity is for tearing down and bullying effeminate men are no better than the Christian celebrity. They are tearing him down in a vitriolic and bitter manner that’s far from a Christian attitude.

    1. ed Post author

      It’s a fine line since this pastor’s comments do dig up a lot of past hurt and pain that God needs to heal. I can understand where folks are coming from in their reactions, but when it comes down to action, I think we need to weigh our options carefully here.

  6. Chad Estes

    I really appreciate your post, Ed, and the tone of it. I agree with you that the best thing you can do is “create stories powerful enough to overcome messages of intolerance” and I love Alisa’s idea above to post positive stories. At the same time John the Baptist, Paul and Jesus verbally and publicly went after those who abused others with their faith. Sometimes I think we should as well. This one, to me, felt like one of those times.

    1. ed Post author

      But the Pharisees didn’t have book deals that branded them as “The Cussin’ Rabbis”…
      Though that could be a rich avenue for an April 1st book release in the future…

  7. suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter}

    i hear this and appreciate it. i, too, love the It Get’s Better campaign and find it to be very powerful, but i’ve also heard a tremendous backlash about it within the christian community and a powerful reluctance by the Church to address gay bullying and our own role in perpetuating it.

    conversations need to be had–locally and as a body–so that the conversation can change. i agree that we don’t necessarily need to shine spotlights on celebrity pastors behaving badly (especially when it just serves to make us feel self righteous), but certainly there can be a place for calling influential leaders (our very brothers and sisters) to accountability–from a place of truth and love.

    1. ed Post author

      Suzannah, I’m all for addressing gay bullying. That’s what this post was all about. And I also tried to make it clear that we need to address these things in our communities. However, in this case with a celebrity pastor who loves conflict and opposition, the last thing we should do is let him define the terms of “the fight.” We need accountability in our communities, we need to speak up and address this issue, but we don’t need to give this celebrity exactly what he craves: a fight.

  8. Kurt Willems

    Ed, I see many good points in this post. However, if Christians don’t speak up publically about the residual abuse the philosophy behind those comments creates… then many good people become the victims of an over-appropriation of Dricollism.

    I got an email just yesterday about a worship leader who got mocked by a Driscollite pastor that led to depression and many other tragedies in his marriage. This person was blessed that they “aren’t alone.” Now, this public debating ought to be done in love… but with over 600 comments, I can assure you they were full of gossip, hatred, and perpetuated an attitude of violence toward good / godly men who may not fit the jock mold. I appreciate your approach but think that if a public figure has a pattern of outrageous statements like Mark that trickle down into many wings of Christianity, that passively not speaking out publically leaves many people feeling isolated and many others… to over-appropriating jock strap fundamentalism.

    So, I think each situation needs to include discernment. I think Rachel was right to post as she did. Will it help the immediate situation? Who knows. Will it help many Christians who are confused in the mess of the polarities that are evangelicalism? I think so… as long as these are dealt with in love.

    1. ed Post author

      Kurt, I’m about to start banging my head on a table here. Seriously. There really is nothing in this post about not “speaking up publicly”. I think we should make a hell of a lot of noise. I think we should flood our blogs with stories that make that pastor’s horrible little “joke” fade away into irrelevance. I’m not saying we should back down. I am saying that we need to stand up to him, but we need to do it right.

      This is not about remaining silent. This is about addressing the problems and possibly even the remarks, but ignoring a person who feeds on our opposition. Let’s speak out, let’s condemn, let’s do everything possible to affirm others. Really. This is about actually doing a hell of a lot more than writing a letter to a church, no matter how pure the motives are behind it. Just because you’re doing something for a good cause does not mean you’re doing the best thing. That’s what this post is about.

      Jesus gave us a more compelling story. Jesus gives us great power to overcome hate. We need to figure out how the meek will inherit the earth, because if there’s an ounce of truth to that statement of the Lord of the universe, then we’d better figure out how that looks in our lives. Fighting someone like that on his own terms will fail. We need to fight him with the radical acceptance of God and the stories that come out of his power in our lives.

      This is about as public a response as I can think of. I’m sorry to get a bit heated here, but I really feel strongly that the only way we can deal with this guy is by redefining what it means to “speak up” against him.

      1. Kurt Willems

        Well, don’t do that. I’ve had a concussion and well, it doesn’t lead to anything good except thinking you are Batman. :-)

        Ed… again, I get it. Mentioning a celebrity fuels the beast. Yet, not mentioning him can kill the spirit of many who are wounded by him. And yes… we ought to tell a better story. I am FULLY committed to that. I’d say that even in my letter I told a better story. But beyond that… I spend countless hours telling that better story bro. Whether through writing or speaking or in my personal sphere… that is the passion of my life. Tell a better story… summarizes my goals quite well. And notice that even Jesus called out Pharisees whose comments and practices led to the suffering of the many in the margins. Jesus told a better story while calling out the damaging words and actions of the Legalists.

        Even so, there’s also a time to confront. We haven’t “increased” his celebrity in this case. He’s already too well known. And on this statement: “Very few people who could actually be offended by his remarks would have actually read them.” I think you fail to recognize that of those 600 and some odd comments and the nearly 100 “likes,” I assure you that friends of friends (which multiplies one comment significantly in web 2.0), were exposed to the statement and male ego fest prior to Rachel’s post – by seeing it on their FB homepage. That is the nature of social media. No getting around it unless we abstain.

        All that to say… I certainly will continue to tell a better story. But I also see public matters being dealt with in a public fashion in the NT. In this day and age, there are times when this is appropriate. If we don’t believe this, we ought to also boycott all news media I think. My point: at times, there is room for both.

        *sorry if I tick you off with my opinion friend. It reflects nothing of what I think about you.

        1. ed Post author

          I’m certainly not ticked off by your opinion. I just thought you were misrepresenting what I’d written. It happened all day at another blog where I left comments and on facebook. People kept saying that I was advocating doing nothing, when I’m really advocating doing something different. You unfortunately caught me when my frustration peaked.

          I agree that there is room for both, and I also really tried to say that what I’m advocating here is limited to this one dude in this one situation. There may be something else in the future that actually warrants a more direct approach. As such, something on his facebook wall written to his followers seemed a bit different than something reported in the wider media that is going to reach people who could be offended.

          However, he has now issued a statement that acknowledged his elders told him to tone it down, so it seems that the campaign worked to at least create a conversation that could do some good. So hey, what do I know anyway? :)

  9. Chad Estes

    Ed, back.away.from.the.table. We don’t need no head banging from you!

    I’ll be honest, the only reason I wrote an email to Mars Hill was so that I could tell legalistic Christians that I’d followed Matthew 18 and had tried to contact Driscoll directly. It wasn’t because I thought it would help the situation.

    1. ed Post author

      I can certainly appreciate that Chad. I’m honestly not too concerned about the motives of folks here. I think that Rachel’s response was done with the best of intentions.

      Sorry to flip my lid there. I have moved to the couch. :)

  10. Nikole Hahn

    Good point. It’s still a struggle, but good point. If it’s the pastor I’m thinking of, he wasn’t on my list as firm in the Truth.

  11. Stephanie S. Smith

    The vein of this conversation, especially sharing positive stories to overwhelm the bad, reminded me of a quote attributed to Michelangelo, which I think sums up how I would like to attempt to respond in disagreements: “Critique by creating.”

      1. Stephanie S. Smith

        Isn’t it?! Really an amazing standard if we choose to live by it. I just tweeted:

        “Christians are infamous for being reactive and polemical, but we would do well in the face of conflict to “Critique by Creating”

        It’s not hard to get a Christian all huffed up; we boycott, petition, point our fingers, and I’ve done it too. But there’s a better way.

  12. lisa delay

    You make me want to admit that I got all too caught up in this firestorm. I felt comforted by the strength in numbers, and that coming fwd would elicit positive change. When I heard Rachel AND Mark both have books coming out with the same publisher, at the same time, about gender issues, I think I took pause. Frenzies help sell books. Intentionally, or not, this reactionary behavior (all over the place, including mine) is not the best way to handle things or grow more Christ-like. My son has been a victim of repeated bullying. He is awkward and has strange not-super-manly mannerisms. It’s hard to find the fine line sometimes. The balance that has us properly stand up for the weaker ones while not taking on bullying characteristics ourselves. Thanks for your input on it.

  13. Faith Barista Bonnie

    Hey, Ed. You and I are on the SAME page on this matter. The best way to address a celebrity pastor’s controversial or damaging message is by DOING THE OPPOSITE in our own sphere of influence. Add to the truth — not add more spotlight to what is offensive! This is definitely a hot button for me because look at Jesus. He did not go around spending His time going around with a bull-horn about other heretics. He spent His life unleashing the power of God’s love, truth, healing people, freeing others and getting all of us filled up with following Him. Three cheers for you for writing this post – so clearly, directly and persuasively! 200% agree!

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