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 IF IT'S BROKEN...FIX IT

Getting Serious about LA’s Sidewalk Repairs: A Five-Point ‘Let’s-Get-On-with-It’ Plan

Ken Alpern
FIXING LA-Last Tuesday night's City Council Board of Public Works and Budget Committees met and allowed a lot of good public input to a series of concerned and available Councilmembers and City officials. The attendance and input were both outstanding--I want to thank Councilmember Mike Bonin, in particular, for allowing the outreach and advice to…

Latino Politicians Putting Climate Change Ahead of Constituents

Joel Kotkin
POLITICS-Racial and economic inequality may be key issues facing America today, but the steps often pushed by progressives, including minority politicians, seem more likely to exacerbate these divisions than repair them. In a broad arc of policies affecting everything from housing to employment, the agenda being adopted serves to stunt upward…

Worlds Apart on Kathryn Steinle: When Political Opportunism Reigns Supreme

John Mirisch
MUSING WITH MIRISCH-The small Swedish Jewish Museum in Stockholm is tucked away on a side street. Discreet signage instructs would-be visitors to push a button which activates a camera, so they can be screened before they are granted entry. The museum's permanent exhibition fills one fairly small room. Most of the objects on display are Jewish…

Garcetti Passes, Wesson Fails

Jack Humphreville
LA WATCHDOG-Our Los Angeles Times has issued midterm letter grades for Controller Ron Galperin (B-) and City Attorney Mike Feuer (B+) and will be posting grades for City Council President Herb Wesson this Sunday and Mayor Eric Garcetti the following Sunday. Our City is facing many difficult issues, ranging from a lagging economy, relatively high…

What LA Really Needs: A Part-time City Council and a Part-time Mayor!

Dennis Zine
JUST THE FACTS-There are so many serious and pressing problems facing the City of Los Angeles and few if any real solutions are being proposed or implemented by our elected and appointed leaders at City Hall. I will start with the current city budget. Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had a $7.7 billion total budget in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.…

Why Don’t the City’s Women Managers Hire More Women?

Denyse Selesnick
MY TURN-Perusing the web is a little like the soap operas of yesteryear. You get suckered in! One link leads to another link and then one is exposed to a barrage both facts and idiocy. The reason for this discussion was my attending a July Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils (VANC) meeting with the Department of Water and Power. General…

Cleaning Up LA City Hall: ‘It’s What’s Legal That’s the Problem’

Bob Gelfand
GELFAND’S WORLD-Everyone understands that developers own our city government. Sure, there are some officials here and there who are upright and independent, but recent history shows that the developers typically get their way in spite of public opposition. Whether it is a zoning change for an office tower or the required permits for a new mall,…

Not So Fast LA! Let’s Consider the Real Costs of Hosting the Olympics before We Jump In

Greg Nelson
SPORTS POLITICS-On Monday, Boston withdrew from its offer to be the nation’s bidder for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. In January, Los Angeles finished second to Boston when the U.S. Olympic Committee made its decision. After Boston was selected to polish up its bid before submitting it to the International Olympic Committee for a final decision,…

Party Crashing for Political Access: Schwarzenegger and My Pantsuit

Charlotte Laws
CALIFORNIA ACCESS POLITICS-Party crashing—or gate-crashing, as it is sometimes called—is an art form that I stumbled upon as a teen. I taught myself how to finagle into any event, anywhere, anytime. It required being part private eye, part actress and part chutzpah machine. I had to think outside of the box, throw myself into the role, and whip my…

 

Reynolds Rap Video: Joey has hope for the pope in Philly.





Art or Ad? LA’s mural law written in gray ink

Escape the Room-Conan goes for the record … and the laffs


LADWP Rates Overview

 

 

  

 

 

 

For Sale: 10,000 Panes of Glass and an Organ

RELIGION AND DEMOCRACY, MORALS, MARKETING AND MEGACHURCHES - If this year were like years past, the Crystal Cathedral, the Philip Johnson-designed Protestant megachurch in Garden Grove, would be abuzz with the “The Glory of Christmas” pageant, with angels suspended from ropes and with a parade of camels, horses, sheep, and donkeys. Not so this year. Bankruptcy is dampening the holiday spirit at the institution that once embodied the megachurch movement in the United States, and the pageant is off. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange has put up the cash to take over the Crystal Cathedral.


The Crystal Cathedral is certainly among the most famous megachurches in the world, but it is just one of many. Los Angeles and Orange counties have nearly 80 megachurches. They range in congregation size from 2,000 to 25,000 and include all races and ethnicities. In all, they claim over 350,000 congregants.

The question, now, is what the demise of the Crystal Cathedral may portend for megachurches more generally. Was this simply a story of changing demographics in Orange County, which has become more racially and religiously diverse? Perhaps. But it’s also possible that the megachurch model is, ever so slowly, going into eclipse.

Megachurches like the Crystal Cathedral have become successful by doing two things really well.

First, they use professional-quality entertainment and familiar (and often secular) cultural themes in their services to make their members more comfortable. Second, through these programs, megachurches have turned themselves into a destination for their members on days besides Sunday, and this creates a distinct sense of community.

One result has been the creation of a huge market in Christian consumer goods like T-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, and music. The church grounds are often campus-like, with bookstores, public gathering areas, and food courts—which of course serve Starbucks coffee.

Yet this large-scale consumerist model also entails immense costs: not only employees to run and track the many ministries and programs but also maintenance of the physical plants that support all these activities. Just think, for example, of the cost of maintaining a building made entirely of glass.

For this reason, megachurches cannot easily withstand drop-offs in attendance or membership, and they are compelled to compete with each other for religious market share. Who has the most members, offers the widest array of programs, and produces the glitziest Christian-oriented media?

This “keep building, keep growing” mindset necessitates more and more new programs and products to keep attracting new members. The results are often a form of “religiotainment” for seekers, and, whether the product is Christian-oriented positive thinking (“possibility thinking” in the parlance of the Crystal Cathedral’s Robert Schuller), T-shirts, CDs, or bumper stickers, the goal is to get people into the pews and make them want more.

Unfortunately for the megachurches, congregants have not always wanted more. Over the past decade, the megachurch model has been showing signs of giving way, slowly, to a more intimate spiritual culture. Some megachurches have even tried to accommodate this apparent trend by creating multi-site churches to give the impression that they are smaller than they actually are.

The new form of religious infrastructure manifests itself in churches that focus less on physical sprawl than on cultivating what they call a more “organic” understanding of religious organizations. The new communities are expected to have a birth, life, and—yes—even death.

These are generally (not always) smaller groups that rent space for their weekly worship services and spend a lot of time creating a spiritual and physical community of mutual care. They don’t put on big, highly produced pageants to draw in the masses; instead, they create space for anybody to come and join in worship. They see themselves as a part of local civic life and seek to play an active part in those communities as an equal partner, sharing with others rather than imposing their programs and vision on them.

What these groups also have in common is a more democratic form of authority, in contrast to the more top-down model that characterizes most megachurches (and indeed most religious organizations). These newer groups are taking authority and leadership out of the hands of the few and putting power in the hands of the many who make up the religious community of the church.

Whether this newer model will continue to gain ground is of course uncertain. Organized religion, after all, is about authority, and democratizing it may threaten religious institutions in ways we haven’t even thought of yet. Quite possibly, some of these new movements will succumb to the inevitable temptation to create their own empires, regardless of how “authentic” they may appear. For now, a model of shared, democratic religious authority is on the ascent, and it has more in common with grass-roots political activism or NGOs than it does with a church modeled on American business culture.

Regardless of what format people choose to worship in, the biggest social contribution that religious groups can make is to lend their moral voice to the cacophony in the public square. The examples of figures such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, formerly of Los Angeles’ First AME, remind us that the prophetic power of religion in civic life is about more than giving us what we want.

Ideally, it encourages us to engage each other in the pursuit of a just and moral society. If the form of religious community that emerges after the era of Crystal Cathedral and other megachurches embodies this potential, the real glory of Christmas may be just a bit closer to reality.

(Richard Flory is associate research professor of sociology and Director of Research in the Center for Religion and Civic Culture [link] at the University of Southern California. This article was posted first at zocalopublicsquare.org.  Photo courtesy of Kwong Yee Cheng.)

-cw

Tags: Crystal Cathedral, megachurches, bankruptcy, democracy, Christian, Christian consumer, Martin Luther King, Cecil ‘Chip’ Murray, First AME, Robert Schuller, religion, marketing, morals, Roman Catholics






CityWatch
Vol 9 Issue 102
Pub: Dec 23, 2011

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