A Christian Web site criticized a Southern Baptist mega-church’s enshrining of cheerleading and beauty-pageant memorabilia to honor the senior pastor’s wife as an example of modern-day idolatry.
“How do you build a ‘Cult of Personality’ in a church?” the blog titled Exodus 20 asked in a Friday post. One way, it concluded, is to build a glass-enclosed “shrine-like” display like one at Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., containing personal trophies of Donna Gaines.
She is the wife of Steve Gaines, senior pastor of one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s most-watched congregations.
“One has to wonder why she allowed this abomination,” the unidentified blogger queried alongside pictures of cheerleading, a tiara and love-letter written by Pastor Gaines to his future wife early in their courtship. “Perhaps someone can clue me in on how cheerleading memorabilia and tiaras glorify God or the mighty work of Christ on the cross?”
The tendency of churches to turn their leaders into celebrities is one way modern Christians break the Second Commandment against making and worshiping idols in Exodus 20:4-5, the site says.
While a little harder to pin down now than when ancient cultures typically worshiped a pantheon of gods, the author uses a working definition of the sin of idolatry to mean “when anything or anybody gets what God alone deserves.”
Bowing down to false gods isn’t just a problem for the non-churched, the Web site contends. Christians, it says, too often become “star struck” and idolize Christian entertainers and speakers.
“Satan is getting a great victory as we seem to worship these ministers on tapes and records, and clamor to get their autographs in churches and concert halls from coast to coast,” the blogger says. “Can’t you see that you are hurting these ministers? They try desperately to tell you that they don’t deserve to be praised, and because of this you squeal with delight and praise them all the more. You’re smothering them, making it almost impossible for them to see that it’s really Jesus.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics–who earlier this week criticized a Southern Baptist seminary for offering homemaking courses for pastors’ wives that he said paint women as subservient to men–said the posted photos of the Bellevue exhibit send the message that women are objects of worship. “Both story lines are false,” he said.
Other examples of churches worshiping “false” gods, the Exodus 20 Web site says, include pictures of the “laughing Jesus” that feature Christ as a “fun dude”–speculated to be motivated by an effort to rationalize “the entertainment culture” in churches and to market “cheap grace.”
Other targets include Joel Osteen, senior pastor of the 30,000-member non-denominational LakewoodChurch in Houston, the largest and fastest-growing church in America.
“America has a plenteous pantheon of idols,” the blog says. “Riches, hero worship, pleasure, human praise and the worship of self are too common.”
A blog started last year to provide an open forum for both disgruntled members of Bellevue Baptist Church and defenders of embattled pastor Steve Gaines, weighed in on a link to Exodus 20 posted Monday.
Gaines has been criticized for his leadership since taking over for his predecessor of 33 years, three-term SBC president Adrian Rogers, including mishandling the admission of a long-time member of Bellevue’s staff that he sexually abused his own son.
One of more than 220 comments posted by Tuesday afternoon said Bellevue has always set up displays about its pastors and included their wives.
Another couldn’t remember ever seeing comparable personal memorabilia on display from the wives of former pastors Adrian Rogers or R.G. Lee.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.