Commentary

Media Occupation: Hypochristians

It took them about a week, but the preoccupied media finally got around to reporting the resignation of Reverend Joel Hunter as president-elect of the Christian Coalition. Hunter, who was elected in October to head the organization started in the late 1980s by televangelist Pat Robertson, was supposed to start Jan. 1. He didn't get that far.

Hunter made no secret of his plans to move the Christian Coalition away from its two-note, bang-the-drum issues: anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion. Instead, he focused on problems "Jesus would want us to care about," like poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDS and the environment.

That didn't go over well. In a conference call with board members Nov. 21, it quickly became clear that Hunter's priorities were not the priorities of the CC's base--and he offered his resignation. It was accepted unanimously.

Since one of Hunter's big issues is hunger, you'd think this would have been a great springboard for timely stories over the Thanksgiving holidays.

You'd be wrong, of course.

Hunger's a bummer, and the economy depends on you thinking about what you and yours don't have but want--not counting your blessings. The stories over the long Thanksgiving weekend were rabid rabble-rousing accounts of citizen-consumers spending money like spendthrift sailors, with lots of coverage about the exciting new trend of stores opening a minute after midnight to please ever-eager deal-seekers, plus the usual anxious tickers about whether this season's sales would top last year's.

These stories of unchecked consumer lust created an uncomfortable, bordering-on-sick contrast with the stories that same day coming out of Iraq--where it must have seemed as if all hell was literally breaking loose. .  Car bombs, missile attacks on civilians, topped by missile attacks on holy shrines, versus shop, shop, shop.

Talk about hunger, though, and it makes people uncomfortable. Don't want to think about it, don't want to talk about it. We want to make it go away in our minds because we don't want to address making it go away in reality.

If you don't believe me, how about this unbelievable, Orwellian turn: The government, through the Department of Agriculture, has eliminated the term “hunger” from its yearly reports on, uh, what they now call "low food security." Nearly 11 million Americans now have "low food security," but nobody's going hungry anymore.

So who needs a Christian leader to talk about it? The media knows hunger is a no-sell; nobody's going to watch Sean Hannity debate people about hunger. Christian leaders who appear on TV need to be inflammatory. They need to address issues that divide people. They need to talk about damnation, not salvation. They need to be Christian hypocrites: Hypochristians.

With all that in mind, my wife and I went to a Vanity Fair preview of "One Punk Under God," the Sundance Channel's forthcoming reality show that follows Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy, and his fledgling ministry. The show illustrates its struggles to gain a toehold in an era when much of the Christian power structure wants to wear jackboots. Bakker preaches a gospel of inclusion and forgiveness, one that believes Jesus is open to all, without judgment, and offers love unconditionally.

The new program itself was a mixed bag. Bakker the younger is a bit affected by the camera, and not all his actions seem particularly natural. But the panel afterward, which featured the tattooed, bespectacled minister, was refreshing and far more revealing.

Vanity Fair's usually deft Michael Wolfe was an uninformed and condescending moderator, but Bakker was graceful and unassuming. The key moment when Wolfe asked if Bakker's autobiography and new series weren't more about self-aggrandizing, like his father, than faith.

The most telling moment came when Bakker talked about one new member of his congregation, a transgender individual who came up to him after a sermon and said she found the church through the Internet. "She said, 'I really want to go to church, but I need to find one where people won't hate me,' " Bakker recalled. "That's why I'm doing this. People need to know Jesus is about love, unconditional love." Amen to that. "...Once a year when Christmas comes We give to our relations And perhaps we give a little to the poor If the generosity should seize us But if any one of us should interfere In the business of why there are poor They get the same as the rebel Jesus." -- “The Rebel Jesus,” Jackson Browne

Recommend (2) Print RSS