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The Shocking Conclusion: Church Resilience Experiment Part 3


20% Child poverty rate in his community

Welcome to the conclusion of our church experiment. To give you a recap: in late December 2022, we decided to reach out to some churches in southern Appalachia to see what they were doing to be resilient in their communities. Our primary question was: are any of these places actively living out their faith in Jesus Christ by being a force for good at the local level? Using google maps as our guide, we located churches in Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. The "some churches" quickly became 508 churches.


Some of the churches we contacted for the experiment

In part 1, we shared the letter we sent to the churches. In part 2, we showed you the fantastic growing guide Christopher David developed to help the churches understand the importance of growing a community garden. In this article, we will give you our impressions and what we learned by going through these 500+ churches. We were stunned by what we saw. So much so that we felt compelled to discuss our findings in an attempt to raise awareness about this dire situation.


Our overall impression left us almost speechless (but only for a short time). The extravagance, hypocrisy, ambiguity, and straight-up evilness of the places we observed were not something we expected, and it's bad news for anyone who hoped that the Christians would be the ones to help our society and inherit the earth. It's unfortunate because we know the potential of what these places could do to provide their communities with abundance, but all the resources are spent on their hedonistic desires. They are facilitators of collapse because they are extracting all the remaining resources that these communities have in an attempt to extend their power and influence.


This discussion might cause some cognitive dissonance for some people, so proceed with caution.


Legality


When dealing with a sensitive subject such as religion, we find it crucial to put everything in context, so we are all on the same page. Unbeknownst to us, we did not fully understand the full scope of legal privileges the Christian Church (and other religious organizations) receives from the U.S. government.


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) classifies churches in the United States as 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organizations, which are exempt from federal income tax, and are able to accept tax-deductible donations. Unlike secular charities, churches are automatically considered tax-exempt and don't even have to file for that exemption or pay the application fee ($600 in 2021).


Also, unlike secular 501(c)(3) charities, which have to submit their financial statements to the IRS on form 990, churches don't have to disclose anything to anyone. This means churches don't have to pay property taxes, income taxes, or sales taxes on items they buy. In addition, they don't have to disclose their earnings to any governing body.


As the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, said, "You don't get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion."


When you start to look at the majority of churches in southern Appalachia, you can see perfectly well how their tax-exempt statutes have helped them amass enormous fortunes. Yet, at the same time, the community that feeds their greed and grandiosity whithers and dies.


Definitions


Now that we have a clearer understanding of how churches receive preferential treatment from the government, we can frame the conversation by defining some key terms that are crucial to dissecting our impressions.

Apathetic Evil: someone who is contributing to evil acts because they are either too thoughtless or too stupid to understand the bigger picture of the evil they are aiding. We are including the churches and the people who attend them in this category because they are still culpable for their actions in perpetuating evil. They have the same access to information everyone else does, yet still contribute to and comply with unethical activities around them.


Racketeering:

  1. dishonest and fraudulent business dealings

  2. a pattern of illegal activity that is carried out in furtherance of an enterprise that is owned or controlled by those engaged in such activity


Yes, the Christian church operates within the legal means set forth by the government, but the lack of transparency in their finances leads to far more questions than answers. Unregulated accumulation of wealth invariably leads to corruption. We call the Christian church a racket because these places receive special exemption from the government that enables them to plunder their local communities of money and resources. From an ethical and religious standpoint, a church that does not provide full transparency of its financials or diligently works to eliminate poverty and hunger from the community is nothing better than a cartel.


Communal Narcissism: a form of individual narcissism that occurs in group settings. It is characterized by an inflated sense of importance and a need for admiration from others in a group. Individuals who display communal narcissism often seek out positions of power and influence within their groups. They may also attempt to control or manipulate group members in order to achieve their own goals.


We saw countless examples of communal narcissism in almost every church we looked at. The grandiose display of devotion to their pastors is not mentally healthy, nor is lying face down on the ground in front of the audience a typical display of worship. Yet, in one instance, the pastor was awarded an engraved glass trophy for "1000 days of consecutive service". So not only are pastors pillaging their communities, they even get awards for it.


Collective Narcissism: a group of people who collectively have an inflated sense of the importance and entitlement of their ingroup and exhibit an inflated sense of ingroup contributions to society. According to an article in Psychology Today, collective narcissism can be described as "...strong ingroup identification, unrealistically positive beliefs about the ingroup's communal contribution, entitlement about the group's communal worth, and grievance for lack of ingroup recognition in the communal domain."


In the context of our investigation, the collective narcissism of the Christian churches in southern Appalachia precludes them from understanding that what they are doing is actually hurting the community. If, for example, two guys who preach living a simple life were to call these churches out on their errant hypocrisy and evilness, the group would attack those individuals instead of taking a moment to examine if maybe the group IS responsible for what they are being accused of.


Cult: a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object. A cult is an organized group whose purpose is to dominate cult members through psychological manipulation and pressure strategies. Indicators of a cult includes:


  • Absolute authoritarianism without accountability

  • Zero tolerance for criticism or questions

  • Lack of meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget

  • Unreasonable fears of the outside world that often pertain to phantoms of persecution

  • Abuse of members (mentally and spiritually)

  • A belief that the leader or leaders are always right

While not every church in southern Appalachia displays all of these indications of a cult, many of them hit a lot of the bullet points right on the head. Through our research into these churches, as well as a background in rural sociology, it's clearly evident that an overwhelming number of Christian churches exhibit strong indicators of cultlike leaders and followers.

People who find themselves in a cult may not even know it is happening. Many unaware followers have unresolved anxieties or personal trauma they haven't addressed, making them susceptible to manipulation. “Leaders” in cults are chronic narcissists who use charisma and psychological manipulation to deceive people into thinking they are the authority to believe in.

Leadership that keeps their followers in an infantile mental state where food, parties, and artificial missions replace authentic ministry is tantamount to spiritual terrorism. Severely economically depressed areas, like coal country, are chronically infested with cultlike narcissistic pastors. These leaders insist that the reason for the suffering of the locals is directly due to sin and that the only way to rectify the situation is to babble on in incoherent prayer and give the church more money. Neither of which is supported by scripture.


Child poverty: the official definition of child poverty as defined by the United Nations Children's Fund is extreme deprivation that results in children not having their needs met or not receiving the bare necessities of life due to a low to no-income household.


We know that childhood poverty is directly correlated to decreases in brain development, low test scores, and health. While it increases criminal activity, drug addiction, and substance abuse. It is, therefore, evil that churches do not obsessively work to reduce any and all prevalences of childhood poverty in their communities. We believe it is the church's responsibility to front-run these developmental and social disorders so that the community is healthier than how they found it.


Areas of Major Concern


Given the large sample size of our social experiment, we were surprised that regardless of the socioeconomic status of the congregations, there were several quite startling similarities. Hedonism is the best word to fully capture the range of indulgencies in which all of these churches participated to varying degrees. The lower the income level that a church resided in, the lower the extravagance, but they still exhibited astonishing amounts of hedonism. Conversely, no matter the location of larger churches, they all were the most overt in displaying their disregard for the community and the sanctity of the church.


Opulence: An overwhelming number of churches included in our experiment displayed garish opulence while the community around them suffered from neglect. Examples of the luxury we observed included: weekly parties with mountainous buffets of unhealthy food, engraved glass drinking cups, extravagant catered dinners with fancy place settings, excessive amounts of aesthetic decor, purchasing and building state-of-the-art religious palaces, overly-expensive church vehicles, numerous vacations to resort destinations disguised as spiritual retreats, industrial-scaled kitchens (for their many parties), professional level audio and video equipment for an otherworldy multimedia experience, and so much more.



Gluttony: As mentioned in the opulence category, there seems to be no limit to what these people would do to stuff their faces. At the same time, thousands of children within miles of their sanctuary are unable to obtain the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, medical care, etc. Finding nauseating amounts of food and consumption in almost every church was standard.


Legacy Church Members

There were popcorn machines, full-time baristas in their cafes, tables upon tables of decadent deserts, pizza parties, snow cone machines, barbecues, soda machines, ice cream tubs, Halloween bashes, hot dog cookouts, and just about anything else their insatiable hearts desired. You name it, and the church was gorging on it.


At a church in Mason County, West Virginia, they hold a weekly men's breakfast at Cracker Barrel, throw lavish dinner parties, have weekly concerts in their auditorium, and have their own line of merchandise, all while the county child poverty rate is at an astounding 25%. While they are partying it up like it's 1999, over 1,300 children go to bed with their aching stomachs rumbling just down the street from the church.



Communal narcissism: In one of the few displays of a church giving back to the community, we observed them handing out food in styrofoam to-go boxes on their social media page to people driving through the parking lot. But, instead of just giving to the community without expecting to be worshiped and exalted, the church wrote their name in black sharpie on top of the to-go boxes, so everyone knew where the "kindness" came from.


Look at us! Look at us! New Hope "kindness"

Observing the pastors at these churches should be required for anyone looking to get a psychology degree. The amount of communal narcissism oozing off these creeps makes professional athletes look like Mother Theresa. In many cases, it seemed like the churches were worshiping the pastor, and Jesus was an afterthought. The self-glorifying actions of the pastors are in stark contrast to what they profess to believe.


Another perplexing example of communal narcissism was multiple churches cooking meals for the local football team (with a bunch of store-bought unhealthy food) before a big game. Moreover, the church provided breakfast to the local middle and high school teachers. What about the students in the schools who might be too ashamed to ask for help and could really use a nice hot meal? What about those in arts, literature, science, or any other group? Why favor the socially esteemed groups who can presumably provide for themselves? Because it elevates the Christians at these churches. It's easy to "help" the cool kids while being too dense to see the implications of their actions. They see themselves as good people above reproach.


One of the worst displays of pharisaic piety was members publically carrying crosses on their backs and walking down the street holding up traffic. For these folks, it is the ultimate act of devotion to God, but to everyone else in society, it's a blasphemous theatrical display of communal narcissism. To think that their 10-minute walk with a two-by-four on their back honors their Lord and Savoir, who had a literal crown of thorns pushed into His head, was whipped mercilessly to within an inch of His life, suffered for hours with colossal iron nails hammered through His hands and feet and slowly suffocated to death all while people mocked and cursed Him is genuinely despicable to us.



Laziness: While we went from church to church, we got the impression that many of the places were making it as difficult as possible to get in touch with them. Whether through utter incompetence or simply a lack of caring, little to no contact information was provided on their websites (if they even had one). This made it very difficult to reach out to everyone we wanted to. Although we emailed over 500 churches, we probably looked at nearly a thousand that didn't have emails, contact information, or websites. This may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it indicates that they are not taking their faith seriously by enabling people to easily contact them.


Sorry to break it to these people, but putting their church's location and phone number is not "contact information." This is not 1940; no person interested in a church will call them to get information unless they’re 102. Given that churches are not burdened with taxes like the rest of us lowly peasants, spending $20-30 per year on a functional website is not too much to ask. Why wouldn't churches put as much information into the world as possible to attract new customers? Whoops, I mean new members. Placing a link to your church on google maps is not trigonometry either.

East River Church responding to our email request

While reaching out to a church in West Virginia through their only avenue of communication, Facebook, they insisted that it was unnecessary to put an email on their page because people could talk to them through messenger. Unfortunately, it never occurred to this church that many people may not use Facebook and would like an easier way to reach them. We have a Facebook account for our website, but neither of us has a personal Facebook account.


We're amazed that it's 2023, and many churches are too lazy and incompetent to manage a coherent website, provide basic contact information, or take their outreach seriously. We are unsure why it eludes them, but you must put your best foot forward. First impressions are everything. It turns folks off when people cannot find meaningful information about a church or are forced to stumble through a shitty website with broken links and misspellings all over the place.


It's not about the money but it really is though

We do want to mention that the most consistently functioning link on these websites was the “Give” or “Donate” buttons. Every time we clicked on them, they were always in working order directing us to a page to see which method of “tithing” worked best.


Missions: The artificial mission work the church is up to these days is truly amazing. Let’s just say congregations are nowhere near interested in getting dirty helping the needy in their local communities. Now, if you are talking about getting on Holy Spirit Airlines and flying to the other side of the planet where they can tell third-world citizens how to live, they are definitely up for that challenge.


Notice the painters and that price?

One church was trying to extract $19,000 from the community for a toilet and shower installation in Ethiopia! Wait...what? Yup, $19,000 for one toilet and one shower. Since that region of the world has water scarcity issues, you’d think the toilet would be a compost toilet system, but nope, it was a western-style water-guzzling toilet. Why are these people so epically clueless to those who are not like them? In the advertisement for this "mission" trip, one can see a group of young white people painting the side of a building. Do you mean to tell me you flew 7,000 miles from Appalachia to Ethiopia to paint? Is there not any other more pressing service these people could use a helping hand on? Then again, what about the people back home?


Then there is the “missions” trip of a morbidly obese pastor telling an interpreter in a group of Guatemalans how they should live their lives. The level of absurdity is unmatched. How is any of that bullshit authentic when you have this hoggishly entitled American landing in a country thousands of miles from home, acting like the savior of the world? Never mind the fact, yet again, the thousands of children and adults living in poverty in his home county? Forgive us, but we find it hard to believe this man has any life experience or skills beyond bullshitting that could benefit this Guatemalan community.


Oak Dale Covenant pastor on right

Why do Christians think it's perfectly acceptable to gobble up vast amounts of fossil fuels to proselytize in another part of the world while ignoring their neighbor's suffering? Is it necessary for the Christian church to take a group of teenagers to a foreign country to spread the gospel? Seems to us like it’s a perverted way for spoiled Americans to emote about the lives of those less fortunate while they treat it like an exotic vacation.


Furthermore, what's with these annual “serve days”? Wasn’t it implied that being a Christian meant you were to live out your faith daily? Yet we see church after church doing the absolute bare minimum in helping their communities. No, face painting at a giant Fall Fest is not serving the Lord, nor does it qualify you to receive an award for ministry. No, selling Church merchandise is not spreading the message of Jesus Christ. No, repackaging donated food and shipping it elsewhere is not truly feeding the community either. Instead, churches should take their untaxed money and make every single person in their community fed, clothed, and skilled.


Honest to God serving means giving up a little of yourself and giving it to someone in need. It’s about pulling your sleeves up and making a positive impact in the lives of those around you—without anyone having to praise you for it. They can live out their faith in serving God by keeping their narcissistic traps shut while they help other people in their communities. You don’t need to force the gospel down anyone’s throat as a condition for your “service.”


If these people wore plain clothes, grew high-quality food, clothed kids, cleaned the neighborhood, insulated someone’s house, etc., and kept the Church and religion out of the conversation while ministering to the needs of those less fortunate, we guarantee it would impress unbelievers so much they would be thrilled to visit the church. Instead, “Vanity Christianity” is the name of the game where members have to advertise who they are, where they are “serving,” what they are doing, and shove a Bible down the throat of every poor unfortunate soul trapped in their web of delusion. What the demented Church fails to realize is that all this nonsense repels people from God because they are too busy making it all about themselves.





A Church of Dysfunction


What a pitiful state to find the church in as we continue down, industrial societies decline. We could go on ad nauseam with all the absurdity the Christian church is up to in Appalachia. Still, we feel that this sufficiently summarises how corrupted American Christianity has become. All the financial privileges, opulence, and members that these country clubs have could have been channeled into building individual and community resilience. Like so many institutions in this country, however, the Christian church frittered away the most prosperous time in human history on itself. God help us.

Facilitators of Abundance


Now that we've told you how perverted the Christian church has become, we'd be remiss if we didn't include what these places could do to fix themselves and their communities. It isn't too late for these organizations claiming to preach the Bible to put their faith into meaningful action.


Tiny houses: Churches with the space and proper funds should place several tiny houses on site for temporary assistance to those in need. We say temporary because local laws make full-time residence in such structures difficult. Instead, Churches are encouraged to creatively label such dwellings to work around such oner