Toxic Heroes

Rocket-damaged_apartment_building_in_Kiryat_Malachi,_Israel_(cropped)

Rocket Damaged Apartment Building in Israel_David Katz, The Israel Project_CC

We all have them.

Our heroes.

For some of us, our moms and dads were our heroes (and remain so to this day); for others, we had strange Amy Grant fixations. (don't ask… ha!)

We all seem to have this need to root ourselves in places where others have already begun to grow. We see that growth and, in turn, seek in ourselves. This growth, this human mentorship is healthy as far as I'm concerned in and of itself.

I believe it's become unhealthy in our North American churches (even in any ideology) insofar as we now create battlegrounds based on what a leader says or does; we pick our teachers, our preachers, our theologians, our heroes based on what's right to us… and we charge.

We stand behind them as they write, speak, profess, contend and defend. We place them up high & then we bow down low.

Of course many of us don't agree 100% with everything these larger-than-life people say or do (thankfully), but it seems to me that we've gone so far in our hero worship that it's become toxic to our systems, personal and communal. 

When I was in Bible College, John MacArthur, John Piper and Ken Ham were top contenders for heroes. While I appreciated their robust teaching, I became increasingly uncomfortable with teachings on women, the LGBTQ community, miracles, the treatment of Christians who sin, literal 6-day creation science, and more. I'd ask many questions, but most were answered with proof-texting and roundabout answers with the these theologians' own words. To doubt was to malign.

In short: to call out sin where I saw sin was to cause division and public gossip.

Yet these teachers could turn around and do precisely the same thing to others, except they knew the Scriptures far better than I and could pad their arguments well. Soon, Mark Driscoll was the up and coming thing: his cussing, MMA-style charisma drew in "the man's man". Even as much as I'd like to think I'm a confident woman, I was scared of Driscoll. Even when he spoke against domestic violence, I was scared of him.

I had to take a step back and look at this reality differently. Forget how these leaders were treating marginalized people (for now). The question became:

"How had I, Erin, put these people up on such high pedestals that when I found them to be wrong, it was me who fell?"

How had I idolized these people so much that my own spirit was poisoned?

Theological superstars could not care less if I fall or not. They don't even know my name. How had I contributed to this voracious need for spiritual stardom in my life?

Right now, I love Rachel Held-Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber and Matthew Vines (a post-evangelical, a Lutheran, and a gay conservative Christian respectively). I picked up Rachel's book "Evolving in Monkey Town" (now re-titled "Faith Unraveled"), read it and screamed: "That's ME!!!!!!"

Of course I gravitated towards Rachel — a female, a thirty-something who had grown up with all the correct Sunday School answers, a person who began to discover that what we'd been taught was springing leaks like a June flood.

Of course I gravitated towards Nadia — a female, a person born and raised in the evangelical tradition, a soul who struggled with bullying as a teen and self-harm/addictions as a young adult, and who was called into a MAINLINE tradition no less to pastor queers, drug addicts, and everyone else unlovable by the rest of the popular church.

Of course I gravitated towards Matthew — a gay man taking on the entire system of conservative Christianity… whoa! Stop right there. BAM! Hero points boost straight to the top.

I do NOT like: Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, or Bishop John Shelby Spong. 

To me these teachers come off as arrogant in their spirituality, spoon-feed pop sugary junk (calling it nutritious), uproot sound wisdom when it's not needed, and offer… smoke. A lot of smoke and mirrors. I read their stuff and sense the "it's all about me" schtick coming through smoothly like oil, even if the words are speaking of 'The Other'.

I know a lot of people would rearrange this list. I know Rachel, Nadia and Matthew have all been called out as heretics and apostates in many circles. And I know that Eckhart, Deepak and John also have been called a variety of names by some of those same circles.

So I have to ask myself again: "How am I, Erin, putting these people up on such high pedestals that when I find them to be wrong, it is me who falls?"

"How am I supporting my heroes by idolizing them?"

I'm not.

Rachel will be wrong.

Nadia will be wrong.

Matthew will be wrong.

I'm sure they already are on some points, and have admitted to it. But the thing I love about these new heroes is that they don't want this "right/wrong" paradigm. They want a "both/and", so when we disagree, there's room for all at the table instead space for one at the top.

I suppose to, then, I need to look at my blacklist: Tolle, Chopra, Spong, MacArthur, Piper, Ham… if refusing to put my favourite teachers on pedastals is helping to keep me toxin-free, then I also need to consider the reality that, despite my dislike for certain teachings/teachers, perhaps they aren't fatally flawed through and through.

That's hard for teachers I find self-centered (Tolle, Chopra and Spong), but it's super hard when I come across teachers that were spoon-fed to me even when it was bitter. That's not just a preference thing or a "agree to disagree" thing. That's a forgiveness thing.

That's a "I put you too high up, and I poisoned myself" thing. For me to open any of MacArthur's stuff now is like pulling teeth without freezing. It hurts. And to be honest, I still recoil in revulsion when I think of how I actually believed his teaching.

How can I forgive people when they keep hurting women, queers, the poor or "—-" (insert sinful group here)?

How can I ask forgiveness of God for idolizing imperfect creations?

I can ask these things all day long, but..

It remains a forgiveness thing.

I saw how I adored people then.

I see how I easily adore people now.

And I see how I blacklist people I disagree with rather quickly.

My toxic heroes.

How now then shall I live?

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