When the Church is the Borg: Assimilate + Dominate

I'm really not interested in partisan political discussion, but blogger Andrew Sullivan has an observation that I want to post here for discussion on its parallels in the church.  He writes about former Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin joining Fox News:
In my view, we're seeing the fusion of a political party with a media company. It's like a state-run TV that only runs pro-GOP stories. Think of the TV in Iran and you'll get the fuller picture.

And by sealing off Fox viewers from any other news source, and feeding propaganda 24 hours a day, and having a monopoly of the base, FNC is more powerful than the RNC in determining Republican politics.
Andrew Sullivan, The FNC-RNC Merger

In Sullivan's view, the Fox News' approach of assimilate and dominate is unhealthy to the elected leadership of an ideology in that it replaces the elected leadership of the RNC with Fox News corporate-chosen agenda.  Regardless of whether the results are as Sullivan outlines, the approach of Fox News seems to be this embrace of the echo-chamber:
  1. Rail against the "liberal media" so that you only watch the one network (theirs) 
  2. Promote a one-sided viewpoint that may fudge the lines of fact
  3. Recruit and exhibit a monopoly of voices in their ideology.
It strikes me that I've seen this approach in churches as well.
  1. Rail against other churches and/or ideologies in the town/area so that parishioners treat their statements or actions with suspicion.
  2. Promote perceptions and beliefs that are counter to the facts but helpful to the pastoral/leaders' message
  3. Allow in only voices that complement the pastors' or leaderships' messages
I think this is a natural tendency to exclude, assimilate, and dominate a particular area of influence...it is certainly the most effective!  But in doing so we are not critiquing the most dangerous aspect: the echo-chamber that reduces Christian compassion and stunts Christian expression!  Indeed the churches that most often use these tactics are ones that spawn replicas of themselves rather than partner with local expressions of their faith, which further extends the echo-chamber to new areas.

I admit that I don't invite in Beth Moore bible studies or Pat Robertson content into my parish.  But I do engage their sentiments and theologies in sermons and interactive bible studies.  I get uneasy when the choir sings songs that promote pre-dispensationalism or when the lector prays to "Father God" but I don't dictate that such things are anathema or seek to insulate people from those ideologies.

Engagement with dissonance is preferable to insulation.  The worst thing you can do for a growing child is put them in a medically-pure bubble where they do not build up immunity to disease.  I fear such chambers that we create in our churches are free of dissonance and full of self-fulfilling statements that are harmful to Christian witness and personal growth.  If you build your whole life around freedom from dissonance or challenge, then how can Christ (who challenges and offers dissonance) be made real?

This is a problem, from my perspective.  I just don't know what to do about it.  Thoughts?


John January 26, 2010 at 8:32 AM  

Well, I don't really have a dog in this fight, but yes, the Church can be Borg-like at times. I've even heard of "Minister of Assimilation" positions. It's a reasonably good idea if Christianity is true; catastrophically bad if Christianity is false.

Marla Marcum January 28, 2010 at 3:20 PM  

I'm a few days late to this discussion, but I'd like to respond to John's comment. I guess I could agree with John's assessment if there were just one Christian theology/ideology/interpretation/experience/story/witness. For me, the question isn't "am I sure that Christianity is true?" (and if I am sure, then I can go ahead and try to keep out other voices). My concern is not whether Christianity (or my Christianity) is false. The catastrophe of assimilationist approaches to building up a faith community is that they prioritize building a monolith (such as, say, the tower of Babel) over building a community that is strong because of its diversity of experience, expression, and gifts. A Christian community that values diversity of opinion and belief (in addition to the diversities of race, gender, class, etc.) is strong because it is not built on a false sense of a static truth that one person or group gives to the community. None of us are so good at communicating with God that we are fully able to know and then communicate and do Truth... we're lucky to have occasional access to truth... I get uncomfortable as soon as I think I know something "for sure"... I have to start asking myself, "what am I missing? who is left out? what would they say?" This to me is the heart of Jeremy's concern... if we approach our Christian communities as sites for assimilation, we may stunt our members' abilities and motivations to receive the spirit and call of the Christ who challenges and offers dissonance...

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