Christianity and capitalism
Source Louis Proyect
Date 05/05/26/23:53

(Excerpts from the May 2005 Harper's)

Soldiers of Christ: Inside America's most powerful megachurch
By Jeff Sharlet

In Pastor Ted's book Dog Training, Fly Fishing, & Sharing Christ in the
21st Century, he describes the church he thinks good Christians want. "I
want my finances in order, my kids trained, and my wife to love life. I
want good friends who are a delight and who provide protection for my
family and me should life become difficult someday ... I don't want
surprises, scandals, or secrets ... I want stability and, at the same time,
steady, forward movement. I want the church to help me live life well, not
exhaust me with endless 'worthwhile' projects." By "worthwhile projects"
Ted means building funds and soup kitchens alike. It's not that he opposes
these; it's just that he is sick of hearing about them and believes that
other Christians are, too. He knows that for Christianity to prosper in the
free market, it needs more than "moral values"­it needs customer value.

New Lifers, Pastor Ted writes with evident pride, "like the benefits,
risks, and maybe above all, the excitement of a free-market society." They
like the stimulation of a new brand. "Have you ever switched your
toothpaste brand, just for the fun of it?" Pastor Ted asks. Admit it, he
insists. All the way home, you felt a "secret little thrill," as excited
questions ran through your mind: "Will it make my teeth whiter? My breath
fresher?" This is the sensation Ted wants pastors to bring to the Christian
experience. He believes it is time "to harness the forces of free-market
capitalism in our ministry." Once a pastor does that, his flock can start
organizing itself according to each member's abilities and tastes.

Which brings us back to "Order." Key to the growth of evangelicalism during
the last twenty years has been a social structure of "cell groups" that
allows churches to grow endlessly while maintaining orthodoxy in their
ranks. New Life, for instance, has 1,300 cell groups, or "small groups," as
Pastor Ted prefers to call them. Such a structure is not native to Colorado
Springs; in fact, most evangelicals attribute it to Pastor Paul Cho, of
South Korea, who has built a congregation of 750,000 using the cell-group
structure. American megachurches that have adopted the cell model unaltered
have had only partial success.

Pastor Ted's insight was in adapting this system for the affluence of the
United States. South Korea, he notes, is on the "front lines" in the war
against communism, "so they needed a strong chain-of-command system." But
not so Americans. "Free-market globalization" has made us so free, he
realized, that an American cell-group system could be mature enough to
function just like a market. One of Pastor Ted's favorite books is Thomas
Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree, which is now required reading for
the hundreds of pastors under Ted's spiritual authority across the country.
From Friedman, Pastor Ted says he learned that everything, including
spirituality, can be understood as a commodity. And unregulated trade, he
concluded,.was the key to achieving worldly freedom.

Free-market economics is a "truth" Ted says he learned in his first job in
professional Christendom, as a Bible smuggler in Eastern Europe.
Globalization, he believes, is merely a vehicle for the spread of
Christianity. He means Protestantism in particular; Catholics, he said,
"constantly look back." He went on: "And the nations dominated by
Catholicism look back. They don't tend to create our greatest
entrepreneurs, inventors, research and development. Typically, Catholic
nations aren't shooting people into space. Protestantism, though, always
looks to the future. A typical kid raised in Protestantism dreams about the
future. A typical kid raised in Catholicism values and relishes the past,
the saints, the history. That is one of the changes that is happening in
America. In America the descendants of the Protestants, the Puritan
descendants, we want to create a better future, and our speakers say that
sort of thing. But with the influx of people from Mexico, they don't tend
to be the ones that go to universities and become our
research-and-development people. And so in that way I see a little clash of

So the Catholics are out, and the battle boils down to evangelicals versus
Islam. "My fear," he says, "is that my children will grow up in an Islamic

And that is why he believes spiritual war requires a virile, worldly
counterpart. "I teach a strong ideology of the use of power," he says, "of
military might, as a public service." He is for preemptive war, because he
believes the Bible's exhortations against sin set for us a preemptive
paradigm, and he is for ferocious war because "the Bible's bloody. There a
lot about blood."

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