Having been a professional wrestling fan in the late 90’s and early 00’s, I have fond memories of Mick Foley doing things “right here in…” whatever city he might have been in, and The Rock finally coming back to… the town that he happened to be in. In pro wrestling, this is called a “cheap pop”, a term that Foley is generally credited with coining.
A cheap pop would be used by a face (good guy) in order to energize a crowd, and secure their loyalty to your side in the oncoming conflict. It is usually something as simple as the mention of the city that they are in, or reference to one of the local sports teams.
This would be something that nearly everyone in attendance would be able to rally around and support. Almost no one in Pittsburgh is going to boo you if you come out and voice your support for the Steelers.
You get the idea.
I feel like I might be starting to see the beginnings of a trend in certain conservative Christian circles, and it takes the form of a cheap pop.
What is the nature of this cheap pop?
Let’s call it evolution bashing.
I have now stumbled upon a number (it’s an odd number more than one) of sermons that have strangely meandered into an exposition of the creation vs evolution debate.
I have seen this range from a comedy routine about not being a monkey, to a call for counter-cultural living, but the disturbing part is that all of them have been completely out of context and entered into seemingly at random. None of the sermons were on the Old Testament, let alone Genesis, and all were mid-sermon digressions that did not touch on the point of the root passage even tangentially.
The first question is why?
My suspicion is that it is used in very much the same way as the “cheap pop” in pro wrestling.
The cultural currency of the creation debate has been raised to such a level in some settings that it has divided us into warring camps. Touching on the topic of creation to a “friendly” audience is almost an act of patriotism. There are few subjects more effective in getting a conservative congregation on your side than demeaning evolutionary science.
If this were just a performance that was meant to elicit cheers or laughs, I wouldn’t care all that much. A sermon is presented as being more than just entertainment.
The following are a few side effects of using this maneuver in your preaching.
It contributes to a culture of antagonism.
The creation debate is often presented on the terms of cultural warfare. In this case we are presented as the champions of truth while anyone that opposes us is, whether it is the scientist who is cast as the unbeliever, or someone who has a different interpretation of scripture who is characterized as a liberal (at best), cast as the villainous heel (bad guy). The creationist is either described as the virtuous hero battling the worldly influences of evil or the emasculated faction who is being crushed under the boot of a tyrant.
Neither of these leads us to an attitude that encourages us to fellowship with and love our brothers or reach out and show compassion to our neighbors. It props up a culture that values smug condescension over the humble exchange of ideas.
It elevates a secondary matter to primacy.
Imagine yourself as part of a lively wrestling crowd at the old Civic Arena in Pittsburgh.
The Rock’s music hits and everyone goes crazy.
He enters the ring. Raises an eyebrow. Tilts his head back, and says, “Finally, The Rock has come back… to Pittsburgh.”
The crowd loses it.
You? Not so much.
You live in Columbus, and just so happened to make the drive because this was the closest they got on this tour.
For just a moment, you are an outsider.
In a pro wrestling context this hardly matters, but in the context of a sermon that assumes your allegiance to this belief, you have been placed outside of the camp with the heretics and unbelievers.
The only things that should ever do this are absolute essentials of the faith. By elevating your view on creation to the level of essential belief, you are either condemning your brother or throwing a stumbling block in front of the unbeliever.
It is manipulative.
Being able to handle a large crowd of people, and pull a string to get a desired response is a great talent. When a performer is able to do this, they are to be congratulated for their charisma and skill. A preacher with the same skill should do just about everything in their power to suppress it, and refrain from using it.
When we are handling the word of God, the word of Truth, we should never be manipulating people into accepting what we have to say. A sermon should serve to clear away as many pitfalls and hindrances as possible for us to hear a clear reading of the word that has been passed down to us. Feel free to give me a well reasoned teaching of your view on some passage of scripture and I, along with the Spirit and others in the body, will weigh it and determine whether there is truth in it.
In the most recent case that I experienced, the most disappointing part was the “bait and switch” of it. I was told that I was going to receive teaching on a passage that I had not studied extensively up to this point. What I received instead was pandering to a debate that I have long grown tired of.
I’m glad that you got your laugh… I guess.
I feel cheated.
Is this something that you have experienced as well? How do you feel about preachers leveraging their own charms in order to sell you on a point?