Most of America's problems are cultural. Even our economic problems stem from the cultural rejection of personal responsibility and the acceptance of collective responsibility. And none of our problems would be as bad if the church was still shaping the culture instead of merely responding to it. I was reminded of this during my annual holiday trip home to The Woodlands, Texas.
I've attended Christmas Eve services four out of the last six years at the Woodlands Church (formerly Fellowship of the Woodlands), which is a Southern Baptist mega church that keeps its Baptist affiliation well hidden from the general public. That is symptomatic of what ails the church in 21st Century America. Production and marketing take center stage. Core beliefs are lost somewhere in the process.
Make no mistake about it; the production is good at The Woodlands Church. The set is grand and the music is wonderful. Pastor Kerry Shook and his wife Chris are largely responsible for that. Their son, a musician living in Nashville, comes home to perform in the Christmas services every year. I've seldom heard a more talented young singer and guitarist.
Couched in the musical productions of these mega churches, one sees an overwhelming desire to deliver a product that demonstrates the cultural relevance of the church. This is especially true on holidays when the church has more visitors than usual. This Christmas Eve, one of the singers was dressed like Michael Jackson and was moon walking around the stage as others sang. I didn't see a likeness of baby Jesus in a manger. But I saw a likeness of Michael Jackson in a sequin outfit.
Many people dispute whether Jackson was a pedophile. No one disputes that he is still culturally relevant. Nonetheless, it was strange seeing Michael Jackson's likeness on stage just minutes after the church staff assured parents that the church nursery provided a safe environment for their young children. Mega churches are seldom short on cash or irony.
After the music, an enormous train engine (actually, it was a life size model) appeared in the middle of the stage. It was slowly moved in on a set of make shift tracks in the midst of smoke and accompanied by the sound of a real train whistle. The pastor boasted that the whistle could be heard all the way over on highway 242. I agreed that the set was impressive. It probably took the church staff as much time to build it as would have been required to build a medium sized home for an impoverished Houston family.