Thursday, October 24, 2013

Steven Furtick is an Ass: In Defense of Making Fun of Furtick

Steven Furtick is an ass.
And so am I.
And so are you. 

When I saw an article in the local newspaper yesterday talking about Furtick's ridiculous house-purchase, I laughed. Then I went home and laughed my way through a blog post that I knew would get a lot of traffic because A. People like to see someone with power taken down a notch, and B. Steven Furtick is an ass.

In that post, I explicitly stated that I wasn't going to get into a discussion of the phrase "don't muzzle the ox," and yet that is what most everybody seems to want to discuss. How much is too much? Does a pastor with more money have a right to shinier toys? If he gives a bajillion dollars of his apostles' money to charity, doesn't that entitle him to a gated mansion in the woods? And cetera.

This is ridiculous. Like, Emperor's New Clothes ridiculous. 

Steven Furtick is a pastor who claims to represent Jesus, and is building himself a multi-million dollar mansion in the woods. When people question this decision, his response is to have his CFO talk to the newspapers and downplay the size of the house, while loudly bragging about how much money his church gives to charity. This is not what makes him an ass, but it is definitely an asinine thing to do, and it is perfectly legitimate -- given that he postures himself as a representative of the upside-down kingdom in which the first are always last -- to have a good laugh at his upside-down priorities.

What makes Steven Furtick an ass is that he is a human, and humans are nothing if not asses. They (we) are selfish and self-centered, and, given the opportunity, will almost always grab money and power and use it to grab more.

Let's take the argument away from Furtick for a moment, though. 
Instead, lets talk about starving children. 

Last I heard, roughly fifty million children die worldwide of malnutrition-related illnesses every year. That's a staggering statistic, and even if it's only halfway true, it's ridiculous. But that's what it is... a statistic. Statistics are cold and dry and don't mean anything. So let's say, instead, that there is a starving child sitting next to you at the table in your house. Your plate is loaded with food. The starving child has nothing, and is bawling her little eyes out and reaching hungrily for your food. You have more than you need. But you do not share. This makes you an ass (actually it makes you the orifice of an ass, but let's keep it clean for the kids).

Now, say you start to feel guilty, so you share one bite -- are you a "good person" now? NO. You are definitely still an ass. You are an ass until you've shared enough of your food that that child is no longer hungry. You are an ass until, like corrupt little Zacchaeus, you have paid back four times what you have stolen. You are a Christian when there are no more starving children anywhere, and you have shared enough of your food that that child now has more than you, and the injustice that led to her starvation has been righted.

And even then, you're still an ass. 

Just because a starving child does not die sitting at your table with you watching it happen, does not mean that you are not culpable. And if you live in a culture that is glutted with wealth while children die by the millions worldwide, and yet you never give it more than a passing thought -- you are an ass.

We are ALL asses. We all choose to spend money on stupid, frivolous things for ourselves, while ignoring the desperate needs of the world around us. We all toss off a few dollars here and there to assuage our dirty consciences, and then go right back to what we were doing -- trying harder and harder to acquire more and more wealth, luxury, and pleasure. This is normal. This is what we are.

This is... dare I say it... not entirely the worst possible thing.

My favorite part about who Jesus was and what he said is not that he spoke the Truth to power. It is not that he sided with the poor against the rich. It is not that he turned water into wine, and that if he wanted to, he could have turned wheat into marijuana, and sugar into cocaine. No, what I love most about Jesus is that he looked around at all us asses and he said, "You guys. You guys are serious asses, you know that? But you know what? I love you, and it's okay." And I love that Jesus taught that the best way to get free of your asinine tendencies is to admit them, but that even when we didn't admit them, he still had us covered. Because God is love. And love wins.

I didn't make fun of Steven Furtick so that I and everyone else could delude ourselves into thinking that we weren't asses like he is -- so that we could ignore the fact that every single time we spend money on frivolity (Starbucks, anyone?) while the hungry stay hungry, the thirsty stay thirsty, and the marginalized continue to be oppressed, we ARE the asses we like to condemn.

This is the Worst Possible Thing: to stand up and loudly proclaim that we are not asses. To say, instead, that we are the mouthpieces of God, and to point vigorously at our pathetic little attempts at sainthood in an effort to distract from our asinine selfishness. 

This is why I chose to make fun of Steven Furtick. Because Steven Furtick is an ass and, as far as I can tell, doesn't seem to be aware of it. Not only that, but he has around fourteen thousand apostles who go out every single Sunday to listen to him talk, and they don't seem to be aware of it, either. No, they positively worship the guy -- as though he somehow weren't an ass.

A number of these people are my friends. One of them even said, in response to my post yesterday, that Furtick makes his skin tingle. And he meant that in a good way.

The Cult of Furtick worships a golden ass. And what's funnier than a bunch of people gathered around a golden ass, bowing as though it were a god?

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*Note: I put a lot of time into giving you this ad-free reading experience. If this post means something to you, you are more than welcome to pay me back by linking the bejeebers out of it on your social medias. And/or better yet, you could go pick up a copy of my book, "IMMORTALITY (and other short stories)." Dankegratzithanks.

13 comments:

  1. I think what always bothered me since I met him in the 90's and still bothers me about a lot of these types of people in ministry is the brazen manner in which people are told how to live their lives.

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  2. Even better than the first post, Mr. B. I have such respect that you can say what I've tried (and failed) to articulate about Elevation and Furtick in a way that is both awesomely satirical yet not self-important.Thanks.

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    1. Oh, let's never underestimate my self-importance, Holly :)

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  3. Everything you say about Furtick could be accurate, but I can't shake the feeling you're being a bit self-righteous too. You are maintaining a following and entertaining as well. Does the simple fact that you're not as famous excuse you from giving all your wealth to those less fortunate?

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    1. Did you read the whole thing, Jonathan, or just the title? Because I did in fact say that I am an ass (multiple times). I will also add, for the sake of clarity, that I am incredibly self-righteous, on a regular basis.

      Pointing and laughing at Furtick's assininity in no way denies my own. That's like saying that anyone who points out Anthony Weiner's sexual indiscretions while he was in office is somehow claiming to be sexually perfect. Not so.

      But a public figure who purports to be a leader of the people is therefore accountable to those people for his/her behavior. While it is perhaps acceptable for me to make a slightly ribald joke to my friends, the same would not be true in my classroom, whilst I was a teacher.

      What annoys me about Furtick is not that he is selfish, but that he is LOUDLY selfish, and in the name of Jesus. What annoys me is that when someone points out his tomfoolery he doesn't own it, he excuses it in the name of God. And for that, there IS no excuse.

      I am an ass, and hoping that I never forget to admit it. As long as I do that, I think it's okay to laugh at someone who does something anti-Jesus and won't own it.

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    2. Yes, I did read everything before posting and I still disagree strongly. Admitting that you're a hypocrite doesn't make it OK. The only thing I can conclude from these articles is that you're no more worth listening to than Furtick.

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    3. Wait... I didn't admit that I was a hypocrite! I said I was a selfish ass. But sure, yeah, fine. I'm a hypocrite, too.

      And you're definitely right about me being no more worth listening to than Furtick. I do think I'm funnier than him, though. So, there's that.

      Also, it is MY OPINION that you're kinda missing the point of what I'm trying to say, here. And you owe me eight dollars. And I love you :)

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    4. I think my earlier comments were too terse to adequately explain my argument. I am certain that there many areas of thought and life in which I am hypocritical, though I am often not aware of them. I am also selfish. I don't think anyone on this earth can claim they've never been hypocritical or selfish, so if it seemed I was making a general statement about your character, I'm sorry. I will attempt to make it more clear that I'm making statements about specific positions and actions rather than about general character.

      AFAICT, you have stated that it is never acceptable for a Christian to spend money on anything frivolous as long there are people starving somewhere. I think that's an extreme position, unsupportable by the words and acts of Jesus, but let's assume for now that it's a reasonable standard. You have stated correctly that nobody can attain to this standard, including you, me and Furtick. I think the argument is consistent so far, even if I don't fully agree.

      Then, you say that because Furtick and those who listen to him preach are unaware that they don't meet the standard, they are legitimate targets to be made fun of. You also maintain that because you are aware that you don't meet the standard, you can make fun of anyone who isn't. How did you come to this conclusion? AFAIK, Jesus said, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her," not "Let any one of you who is totally sinful and knows it be the first to throw a stone at her."

      How do you know whether Furtick or anyone who listens to him are aware of their inadequacy? Have you asked a single one of them whether they think they're righteous? Can you give an example of when Furtick or anyone at Elevation has stood up and said "I am not an ass" or something less crass that means the same thing? Have you even visited Elevation or are you content to make judgments from afar? To claim it's a cult is bold and needs evidence.

      Here's a hypothetical: What if Furtick said to his thrall one day, "I am an ass. We are all asses. We will continue to be asses until no one in the world is hungry," yet did not move out of his mansion? Would the fact that he had made his knowledge of his inadequacy known to the world make him ineligible as a target for ridicule, or would it still be OK because he's more of an ass than you?

      Now, I would like to challenge the idea that it is not acceptable for a Christian to spend money on anything frivolous. As you point out, Jesus turned water into wine at a party, not because there had not been any wine, but because the wine had run out and the guests wanted more. This seems at least as frivolous as a $4 drink at Starbucks. Unless you contend that there were no starving children anywhere for the duration of that party, how can you support your extreme standard of Christian frugality?

      Finally, I'd like to respond to your response. I cannot believe that you don't think you're more worth listening to than Furtick. You put a great deal of your time into communicating your ideas to others, whether through short stories, movie scripts or this blog. You called the people who listen to him unthinking worshipers and I don't think you're seeking that kind of following with your writing. As you point out, you are funnier than he is, based on the few times I've heard him. I said you aren't worth listening to more than he is to illustrate a logical flaw, not because it's what I think personally. I gave you $200 to realize your cinematic vision and I haven't given Furtick a cent, though I realize this makes me look like an ass because I didn't give it to starving children.

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    5. Those all feel like good points, Jonathan, and I appreciate the fact that you took the time for clarification. I probably shouldn't respond before taking some significant time to think through what you've said, myself, but I am, after all, an ass :)

      First of all, I attempted to ameliorate that by calling EVERYBODY an ass, as a way to point out that I wasn't picking on him, I was picking on HUMAN NATURE. I think you did understand that, but perhaps the repeated use of the word "ass" belies my point. I am, if nothing else, inconsistent. Perhaps that's what you mean by "hypocrisy." Guilty as charged.

      I think it is ALWAYS a bad idea to equate behavior with identity, and I would not want to do that to Mr. Furtick. It is far wiser (and has a much better chance of actually effecting change) to separate the two, and I failed to do that.

      This, perhaps, is why my initial post was so popular. People LOVE looking down on someone. THIS post was an attempt to provide a corrective to the first, and was of course much less popular as a result.

      The same effect happened when I was writing about the Dude Who Jacked my Car. The first two posts, which might have seemed to have been making fun of him, were widely shared. The third, which poked fun at myself and others for judging him... not so much.

      I don't know how I could say much more without digging myself a deeper hole, so let me just offer a few clarifying central points and be done with it:

      1. Calling him and us "asses" was intended as hyperbole, to make a point. We ARE asses, but we are also angels. I think his house-buying behavior is asinine, but no more asinine than any of the luxury items we all buy. I'm sure Furtick has many redeeming and lovely qualities, beyond his snappy fashion sense.

      2. It may be a flaw to equate Starbucks with luxury mansions, and I may be ignoring Jesus' water-to-wine miracle... but I don't think so. We live in a VERY different world than Jesus did, and I think the stakes are different. I think Jesus DID make it pretty clear where our priorities ought to be, and I think we've gone so extravagantly in the other direction that yellingscreamingsatirical anger is not to be easily dismissed.

      3. I am aware of the frivolousness of art. And I have absolutely no good defense for it other than... I want to? That, and I spent a long time hating myself because I couldn't solve world hunger, and eventually concluded that I am an artist, and that is where my contribution can lie. I can make art that could help change the world toward the better. I'm playing the long game, here, but perhaps (undoubtedly) I am fooling myself.

      4. And lastly, I said that I'm not more worth listening to than him partially out of false modesty, yes, but also because I've got a nihilist streak in me a mile wide, and despair over the human condition is never far from me. My humor comes from pain. I laugh, as often as not, as a coping mechanism against tears.

      Also, thanks for contributing to the short. I think/hope/pray you'll find it worthwhile. I have no idea if it is... but I hope so.

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  4. Hey Josh, what if you met Steven Furtick one day and he was a cool dude who wanted to finance one of your movies? Would that change any of your thoughts/emotions/attitudes towards him? Do you love him as a Christian brother or have you labeled him as a Pharisee whom you can now discredit?

    I know its very easy for me to vilify people who rub me the wrong way or just annoy me. But that doesn't mean they're evil. Just means I don't like 'em. But I have a duty to try to show love even to people I don't like. Cause of what Christ did for me.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Andrew.

      See my response to your bro's last comment for some clarification. But to repeat: I don't think Furtick is evil. I think his action with the house is stupid and anti-christian, but perhaps no more so than any of the other stupid and anti-christian things I do on a regular basis. It does annoy me that he's taking such a loud, visible, anti-christian action IN THE NAME OF GOD... but I probably care far less about it than I'm letting on.

      Furtick's church already finances movies. I've seen some of them. I applaud their efforts. Making art is a good thing. I highly doubt he'd be into financing the sorts of things I write... but I'd take money from anywhere. That would not, however, change my thoughts on the frivolousness of luxury.

      Perhaps my best answer, though, is my more recent post exploring my own awfulness... perhaps that'll better explain how I feel about the whole issue. Cheerios, brotherman: http://www.joshbarkey.com/2013/11/i-am-you-and-you-are-me-and-we-are-kind.html

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    2. Perhaps some of the biting tone of what I wrote comes from frustration at knowing that it's POSSIBLE to be so much more, as a Christian leader. There ARE truly great Christian leaders, and they're most often ignored. They get very little media attention, and sadly -- ALMOST NO ONE FOLLOWS THEM.

      Notable exception: This new pope. I mean, this guy may crash and burn and do stupid stuff like any of us, but WOW. Seriously. Read this article about him: http://theamericanjesus.net/?p=11084

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  5. Steven Furtick is just plain annoying to listen to period.

    I love:
    Joel Osteen
    Charles Stanley
    Joyce Meyer
    Myles Munroe
    Joseph Prince

    I could listen to them all day!

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