The Shocking Conclusion: Church Resilience Experiment Part 3
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.
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.
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.
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.
dishonest and fraudulent business dealings
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.