Though we know Jesus faced fame and popularity when he walked this earth (the word “crowds” is associated with him), he often pulled away from those crowds to replenish under a desert sky with his Father. He understood the nature of humanity, and he must have spent that regular solitude caring for his heart, preparing himself to meet the dangers awaiting him. When we look at his temptation that inaugurated his public ministry, we see fame in play.
Satan revealed all the glory of every earthly kingdom, then tempted Jesus.
“Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him” (Luke 4:5-8).
Jesus understood that to serve his Father meant forsaking this kind of earthly glory.
We should be as cautious.
Because when the spotlight spins and lands on us, we can either run to the hills and fellowship with the One who created us, or we can glory in the praise of crowds.
This week, several allegations arose about popular Christian comedian John Crist. How he preyed on women, traded show tickets for solicitation, and pushed boundaries, sexually harassing several. Social media erupted (as can be expected), typically forming two camps.
- Camp one: Think of what those women endured, how hard it was to come forward.
- Camp two: Poor John, he’s being framed by angry women.
Of course there are nuances to both camps, and a spectrum of thought all around, but when evangelical scandals like this blow, this is typically what happens. Those who may know the victims or accept their stories of abuse rally around them. Those who think they know the person who harmed others simply cannot think him to be that way. Surely there is another reason. It’s his addiction to alcohol, perhaps. Or the pressure he’s under. Or it’s spiritual warfare coming against a man of God.
Somehow the latter camp believes they know this man. And in that knowing, they rally.
But do we really know him?
We know the carefully curated persona, sure. But do we know what happens behind closed hotel room doors? Can we possibly? If this were one woman with one complaint, we could chalk this up to a disgruntled person, perhaps with a vendetta, but with so many coming forward, we have to look logically at this–besides the fact that John himself apologized.
So where does that leave us?
We have to face the problem of fame in our ranks. I see three stages:
Our Christian culture has, sadly, has wholeheartedly conformed to the culture of celebrity at large. We have pedestalized others to their detriment and ours. Fame, though we see it as the pinnacle of joy, brings an emaciation of the soul. It ruins the heart. It impoverishes a robust relationship with God. We move from believing the reality of our own sinful desires to deceiving ourselves to believe we are invincible, powerful, and loved by many. We pursue fame like a drug. We connive to get it. But once we obtain it, we find ourselves lonely and empty. So we need more. Or we don’t have the fame or recognition we want so we project our desires upon the one who has the fame. This, too, is idolatry.
We have to ask ourselves, If Jesus had to escape the crowds, how much more should we?
The other issue we need to face is this: when someone becomes famous, the tendency is to have yes-people all around. These people no longer have a prophetic distance from the famous one, so they do not speak into that person’s life, fearing that if they do so, they’ll be ousted from the inner circle. Yes people do not confront sin or predation when it happens in the small places, and that allows the predatory person to continue to take advantage of others. The fame of the one perpetrating minimizes the will of those who would be in a position to confront.
Fame Gives the Predatory a Platform to Prey More
Perhaps the most insidious nature of fame is that it can give a predatory person carte blanche to prey on others. His position gives him leverage over the one who is star struck. The power differential makes it difficult for the victim to say no, or they tend to think maybe they’re crazy, and keep thinking the best about the famous one. Surely that couldn’t have just happened, right? When someone has predatory tendencies coupled with the fame card, it can (without intervention) become an unhindered “playground” for the perpetrator. He/She begins to think their behavior is acceptable, and it is without consequence.
With all that in play, it’s important we look at ourselves and ask ourselves why we’re so enamored with fame. Why do we chase it? Why do we revere those who have it? Why do we worship the idea of it? The upside down kingdom reminds us that the latter is true: the meek are heralded; the widow with the mite is praised as generous; the unnamed woman at the well is lauded and becomes a missionary.
But we have it backwards. The powerful are both envied and praised. The poor are dismissed. The victims of others are silenced in the background.
I don’t know John Crist. I can’t know his heart. But I can take a look at this situation (and so many like it) from a 10,000 foot perspective. The church should never be a platform for celebrities–it must be the fellowship of the unnoticed, a place of healing for the broken, a community where the fame of Jesus trumps everything.