Celebrity Christians?

A few years ago when I was leaving a noted Christian writers’ conference, I was sitting with others in a van, waiting to head off to the airport. As I gazed out the window, I saw our conference speaker exit the hotel and step to the curb where a limousine awaited. After the bags, the speaker piled in and was whisked away.

Mind you, this individual’s name is well-known by Christians, but nothing I observed during the conference made me think I was listening to someone who felt entitled or stuck on themselves. Rather the opposite. But the limo created a divide.

On another occasion I watched writers flock to a speaker like groupies to a ball player. One editor noted that at conferences he was treated like a rock star. Not so long ago two friends, commenting on different occasions, mentioned a writer who paraded about very much like a rock star.

And we’re talking about Christians.

Some years ago after a church service, I had something I wanted to discuss with my (now former) pastor. The problem was, I had to wait in a fairly long line, not because people wanted to shake his hand but because they wanted him to autograph their bulletins.

What’s more, a few years ago I wrote a short piece that was printed on the back of our weekly, and a friend asked me to autograph it.

We live in a celebrity culture, as PR pro Rebeca Seitz (Glass Road Public Relations and Reclaim Management) pointed out in her 2010 Mount Hermon workshops. We can wish things were different, but this is the time and the culture in which God has placed us — a culture preoccupation with celebrities.

So what’s a Christian to do, embrace the way the world works? Should Christians become groupies, flocking to the name-author as if being in his shadow makes us Somebody, too? Should name authors take full advantage of their status and accept perks or adulation, or even expect such?

My inclination is to see what Scripture says that might give an answer to these questions. Nowhere do I see instructions for how to treat celebrities. I see instructions for how to treat neighbors and enemies and fellow Christians and parents and spouses and children and God and rulers and false teachers, but nothing about celebrities. Could it be, then, that we are not to put celebrity Christians in their own category or treat them any differently than we treat other Christians?

And what about Mr. or Ms. Well-know Christian Author?

I don’t see in Scripture that Jesus said, If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet — except for you celebrities.

In the book of Philippians Paul used Jesus, probably the person in Scripture who received the kind of treatment closest to that given to today’s celebrities, as an example of humility. The qualities he highlighted were Christ’s willingness to give up status, to take the role of a servant, and to sacrifice Himself.

Those are very un-celebrity-like traits.

Paul and Barnabas received celebrity treatment once. After healing a lame man in Lystra, the crowds wanted to worship them. Literally. They were ready to crown them with garlands and to offer sacrifices to them.

Groupies today don’t go that far, do they?

The truth is, the way we express adulation has changed. Animal sacrifice isn’t the accepted method, but we still give those few famous the kind of recognition once given to self-proclaimed gods — people like the Egyptian Pharaohs and the Roman Caesars.

Paul and Barnabas wouldn’t put up with it.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you (Act 14:14-15a)

So what am I saying? Should well-known authors not give autographs or pose for pictures? Should they wear a button saying, “I’m just like you”? Hardly. In fact, that kind of behavior, though well intentioned, could actually come across as elitist, as if the Name Author is too good to have his picture taken with a lowly No Name.

I guess the bottom line, for the famous and the not so famous is this: what matters most is our heart attitude. Our behavior should be its reflection.

If we are following Christ’s example of humility, we shouldn’t have a problem treating others with respect.

The famous aren’t idols and they aren’t property. They are people. And the not so famous aren’t unimportant, nor are they something to avoid stepping in. They, too, are people.

Finally, in a celebrity culture, it’s probably inevitable that well-known Christians will be marked as Somebody Famous. Wisdom would seem to say, however, that Average Christian shouldn’t jump on that bandwagon. And Celebrity Christian shouldn’t either — no one says a celebrity has to act like a celebrity.

Published in: on September 14, 2011 at 1:54 pm  Comments (9)  
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