Monday, December 6, 2010

Deceit in the Evangelical World

How would you feel if you found out that your favorite Christian book was written not by the famous name on the front cover but rather an editor at the publishing company? The practice of using ghostwriters in Christian publishing has been far more common than widely known over the past few decades.

In 2002, Randy Alcorn wrote an article entitled, “Scandal of Evangelical Dishonesty,” which can be found here: In the article, he tackles the sensitive issue of deceit in the evangelical community and cites several examples of areas in which Christians seem comfortable with a certain level of deceit.

For instance, did you know that sometimes charitable organizations that help children actually pay Christian celebrities to mention them at concerts? Alcorn writes:

A disturbing recent fundraising development is purchasing celebrity endorsements of charities given at conferences and concerts. A speaker or musician gives an appeal for a ministry’s child sponsorships. For every child sponsored as a result of the appeal the performer receives $25 to $50. (In the secular world, this is called a kickback.)….

I have no problem with a ministry presenting its vision to a speaker or group and then asking them to pray about calling attention to their cause. I have major problems with offering them a percentage of “the take” (the offering). Unless this is done with full disclosure, unless clear verbal or printed recognition is made of this financial arrangement, the offering is a deception. Anything less than full disclosure to potential donors constitutes fraud. Such arrangements will inevitably promote abuse, and sometimes lead to public scandal. Consider the temptation to overstate or misrepresent needs or to speak with artificial enthusiasm for the poor, while thinking of the larger kickback they will get for doing so. Our enemies dish out enough temptations without us dispensing them to our friends. Think of a Christian speaker appealing to people to give to starving children, knowing what the audience doesn’t—his personal wealth will increase directly in proportion to what he says and how convincingly he says it.
Regarding ghostwriting, he distinguishes between collaboration and ghostwriting, which is “when the actual writer’s name is not on the cover, or when a person’s name is on the cover…who did little or nothing to write the book.”

Alcorn is right to be concerned. The evangelical community, perhaps enamored by the lure of fame and popularity, is willing to look the other way on many practices that in the secular field would be unthinkable. One day I received an email from someone suggesting that I listen to a "great message" given by a pastor of a mega-church that was about a theology of adoption. I went to a church’s website and as I listened to the message, I realized that this was a message that I had given at a conference! Illustrations from my message had been changed to make it more the speaker’s own, but my name was never cited as the original source of the material.

I don’t believe the pastor who did this had wicked motives. I like to think that he was simply unaware of proper ways to cite where material came from. (Most annoying, given his natural charisma and fine speaking voice, I think he delivered the message better than I did.) His possible unawareness that he was doing anything unethical, however, is a byproduct of an evangelical culture where we have lax standards for transparency. It is my fear that these lax standards stem from an infatuation with wanting the esteem of men.  We fear honesty and desire prominence.

Jesus has this warning for those of us who desire the approval of men:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV)

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