Evangelicalism has a problem with celebrity culture.
I mean, everyone has a problem with celebrity culture. But it can be worse in the church because we’re supposed to put Jesus front and centre, and too oten we’re protecting celebrity and ignoring the way of Christ.
Today on the podcast I interview Katelyn Beaty about her new book Celebrities for Jesus, and then Rebecca and I have an important talk about how you choose who to follow on social media–and what to do if someone is saying something obviously wrong.
Sheila: Welcome to the Bare Marriage Podcast. I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from baremarriage.com. We have moved our domain where we like to talk about healthy evidence-based, biblical advice for your marriage and your sex life, so you can find us at baremarriage.com. Not tolovehonorandvacuum.com. Yay. I am joined today by my severely allergy affected daughter, Rebecca Lindenbach.
Rebecca: End of August is bad for me, folks.
Sheila: It is. So she’s got no makeup on.
Rebecca: I can’t wear makeup. I can’t blow dry my hair. I can’t put contacts in. I’m on multiple allergy meds. Like the Green Day song, “Wake me up when September ends.”
Sheila: So that’s why she looks like that. We have a really exciting podcast for you today. We are going to talk about Celebrities for Jesus and how to figure out who to follow. Katelyn Beaty has just released an amazing new book, and I interviewed her before the book came out. It is now live. You can now get the book. And so without further ado, here is Katelyn Beaty. I’m thrilled to have on the podcast today, Katelyn Beaty, who is a journalist, a book editor, and the author of an awesome new book, Celebrities for Jesus. Hello, Katelyn.
Katelyn: Hey, Sheila. Thanks for having me.
Sheila: Yeah. Well, thank you for sending me an early copy of your book. I read it a couple of months before it came out actually, so I’ve been thinking about this for awhile now. Excited about this because it’s such a big topic and an important one to talk about how celebrity has really impacted and hurt the church. And I have all kinds of questions for you. We’re going to get into some personal counseling here at the end.
Katelyn: I don’t charge. I offer one free consultation for all of my clients.
Sheila: Awesome. But to start off with, tell me what is your definition of celebrity?
Katelyn: I define celebrity in the book as social power without proximity. So we’ve always had people in every time and age and place that are famous. Their accomplishments, their personality, their family lineage, military prowess takes their name far beyond a particular time and place. But celebrity is really a modern phenomenon that relies on mass media to project an image out. I think what’s crucial for conversations about celebrity in the church is that celebrities wield immense power in shaping how we think about the world, how we think about God and our faith. They can often make a lot of money on celebrity. But over time, celebrity has a shielding effect. The higher your star rises the bigger your pedestal is that you’re put on the fewer people surround you that actually know you. And I think that can be a really dangerous place to find yourself in where you enjoy the spotlight. You enjoy the feeling of people kind of looking to you, hanging on your every word, following you on social media, kind of attaching their own identity to you but without actually knowing you and without proper accountability that any leader, anyone who wields power in the church needs. And celebrity has a way of kind of shielding people from that proper accountability and proper friendship too. If you’ve ever been friends with someone who got famous really quickly, you start to feel like, “Oh, they don’t want to talk to me anymore.” They’re in this new circle. This new echelon. And there is an isolating effect that celebrity can have as well.
Sheila: Yeah. We even have these things now which is a total oxymoron to me. Celebrity pastors with the huge churches especially in the U.S., but not only in the U.S. Where you have pastors that are almost untouchable and unaccountable because they rake in the money. They bring the money in for the church, and so they lose that accountability.
Katelyn: Yeah. I spend a chapter in the book talking about the mega church model. Obviously, it’s such a successful model of church in the United States and beyond. But what you find almost to a church is that the church’s identity and branding is wrapped up or centered on one charismatic male leader, and they’re almost always men. I think there are like five female mega church pastors. Don’t quote me on that. But overwhelmingly white men whose charisma persona speaking abilities, that’s a really big component of this. People—they’re really good speakers, really passionate. People flock to the church to hear them or download the sermon recordings. And oftentimes, the church’s success is so wrapped up in the pastor that the church leaders, other church leaders, do not want to hold the pastor accountable because if we start saying no, if we start limiting their travel schedule, or their budget—I won’t even get into salaries. If we start kind of putting in place checks and balances to limit this person’s power, we’re worried that the church is going to fail. We’re worried that the church is going to stop growing. And if your model of church is so oriented around success based on numerical growth, there is an—you are disincentivized to tell your pastor actually you can’t do that. Actually, that’s inappropriate. Actually, you need to be at home more. Actually, you need to let other people preach. And then what happens to is that when the pastor falls, the church has such a hard time recovering because they’ve built so much of their success around this person’s name and brand. I mean Willow Creek Church in the Chicago suburbs is still really struggling to rebuild after the credible allegations of harassment against Bill Hybols. How do you separate out the Willow Creek brand from the Bill Hybols brand? I don’t really know that you can.
Sheila: And I think part of the issue too with celebrity and with starting to do church or—and it’s not just church. It’s parachurch organizations. It’s our mass media or whatever is that we turn Christianity into a spectator sport almost so that for the average person your expression of Christianity has more to do with who you’re a fan of and who you’re following than it does in what you’re doing in your interpersonal relationships because everything has become like I sit on my couch and I participate in that way.
Katelyn: I think that’s really perceptive. I think about the ways that a lot of churches kind of outsource discipleship to celebrity authors and pastors and teachers. Now I know that if either of us found our books being taught in a small group in a church we probably wouldn’t mind that.
Katelyn: But when we think about discipleship in the local church and pastors feeling like we want to use this curriculum or this book or this DVD kind of a plug and play approach instead of tailoring and really equipping and providing agency for every day Christians to kind of take ownership of their own faith and discipleship in Jesus. There is something about—there is something easier and very American and very consumeristic about watching these mega Christians, quote unquote, do the big grand heroic things for God. And we can just buy their stuff, and somehow we feel like we’re participating in it because we’re consuming their content.
Sheila: Right. And yet Jesus often walked away from the crowds and spent his life pouring into his 12 disciples and the many women who followed him. It was just a few people. And much of Christian life—we see this in Acts 2 as well—was really done in relationship. It was people participating, fully participating. And we have made it very passive which worries me. But this idea that you need a platform in order to become someone in Christianity is—I find this. This is where the counseling comes in here, Katelyn. And I know you’re struggling with this too. But when you have a book, when you have something that you really feel like God wants you to say, that God has put on your heart, in order to get a book contract with—what book publishers want to know is do you have a platform.
Sheila: And so it isn’t about just the message. It’s about do I have all of the skills to create this big online presence. So I need to make myself a celebrity before I can get a book contract. And that plays into which books are published.
Katelyn: Mm-hmm. And then that plays in—and then which books are published plays into discipleship and kind of shaping your everyday Christian imagination that these are the books that are feeding them and the kind of personalities that are feeding them. What does that communicate to your everyday Christian? As you know, I have a chapter in the book critiquing the Christian book publishing industry, which is a little bit awkward because not only am I publishing a Christian book with a Christian book publisher. I work for a Christian book publisher.
Sheila: Yes. And full disclosure, that’s the same publisher that I’m with too. With Great Sex Rescue, I believe. You’re with Baker, aren’t you?
Katelyn: Yes. We’re in different divisions, but we’re both connected to—their publishing group.
Sheila: But it’s full disclosure there.
Katelyn: And part of my day-to-day work is getting proposals from authors and agents and assessing their—value their worth. Should we pursue this? Should we offer a contract for this? And, of course, the conversation about platform comes up all the time. Now my hope at Brazos—and I know that this is true for my colleagues. Yes. We need to ask questions about platform, but we really do need to balance those questions with other factors like quality of writing. Is this a good topic? Is this person—do they have a credibility for writing on this topic? Do they have life wisdom? Do we see signs of kind of spiritual maturity or reflectiveness? Some of this is hard to assess, of course, from a proposal. But in general, as a whole, 50% of all Christian book publishing is part of a multinational conglomerate company that is not driven by values of faith.
Katelyn: And when you’re a part of that, the bottom line really is so central to the books that you acquire and the authors you work with. And I know authors—this places a huge burden on perspective authors to feel like, “Oh, I not only have to write a book, but my whole second job after that is to promote the book and create a personality and a brand around myself.” And that almost feels more central than the writing itself. So I think this is a huge burden for both book publishers and for authors. And at the end of the day, celebrity sells. Everybody knows that. And are there ways that Christian publishers can stem the tide? Or can kind of push back against the centrality of celebrity? And I think there is actually a financial and business wisdom in doing that because what can happen and what has happened is that you—a book publisher will contract a famous pastor or marketing guru or comedian, and that person will publish their book and then within a period of time will be credibly accused of moral, sexual, financial impropriety. The publisher will have to pull the books and sometimes pull endorsements. So there is a wisdom in trying to vet somebody before giving them such a big platform and giving them a lot of money to write the book. Are you partnering with people who, for all you know, are upstanding, grounded, humble spiritually mature leaders who deserve a chance to disciple other Christians through the book?
Sheila: Right. Right. But it is really tough on the author’s side. And I’m sure you see it now that you’re on both. But one of the things that I have been doing and that I see a lot of my role as doing, and I’m grateful that Baker gave me the chance to do this, is to talk about the problems with other authors. And no one does that in the Christian world. You’re not allowed to call other people out. Just as an example, Mark Driscoll.
Katelyn: I’ve heard of him.
Sheila: Yes. And you write about him in the book very well. A very abusive pastor. He was credibly accused of having anger outburst, being very controlling, being very spiritually abusive. He was let go from Mars Hill. Christianity Today did a whole podcast series on the rise and fall of Mars Hill. And yet, so many big name authors endorsed him, and they haven’t rescinded their endorsements. And they’re still sharing platforms with him.
Katelyn: Yes. So I think that anybody who endorsed Mark Driscoll’s books in the past should absolutely publically rescind their endorsement in part because of issues surrounding Real Marriage, not just in terms of the content.
Sheila: Yes. But him buying his way onto the New York Times Bestseller list.
Katelyn: Yes. The ethic—at very best, ethically murky ways in which this book was promoted, sold, and church money was used to buy into this marketing scheme that could land the book on the bestseller list. So I don’t see, at this point—we’re coming up on a decade since that book came out—why somebody who endorsed that book wouldn’t rescind it. But what you’re describing, Sheila, is this broader—celebrity Christians know that if they call someone out publically—and not just call out. But try to hold someone to—try to hold another public figure to account that they could very well lose their own standing in a particular network, organization among a conference organizer with a publisher. They might lose their—that open door. And so there is a true cost in speaking out even though it’s the right thing to do. So often there are these informal networks where the appearance of showing somebody the benefit of the doubt or just not speaking up when they do something wrong is key to you keeping your social standing and then keeping your ability to be paid for conference appearances or to be paid for book contracts. And I know that these Christian leaders would probably offer some kind of biblical rationalization for why they wouldn’t speak up. Oh, you go to someone one on one. What about second chances? What about grace? It’s really hard to hold someone to account who you kind of need or feel like you need in order to continue on a path of success in the book publishing and conference speaker circuit. And I think Christian leaders, in particular, are reticent to rock the boat because of a kind of faux niceness.
Sheila: We’re just such a small group, right? There’s not that many of us. There are not that many conferences. There’s not—
Katelyn: Everybody’s connected in some way. There’s three degrees removed from everybody else.
Sheila: Totally. And so if you—if we need endorsements to get a book published and if we need to get invited to conferences to speak because there aren’t that many conferences that pay well. Sure. There are a lot of churches. But if you want to get good speaking engagements that can actually pay a decent amount, then we can’t go ticking people off. And so I often find that people just don’t call others out. And I know the conference circuit is tricky. Is it okay to speak at a conference where someone you don’t—where you think is harmful is speaking? That’s a murky thing. I think if I were invited to speak at a conference that was filled with all Gothard people I would totally take it just because of the chance.
Sheila: Oh yeah. Just because then I could talk to the audience.
Katelyn: Right. Right. Yeah. I mean I know this came up recently as you mentioned. This came up recently in a conference line up where Mark Driscoll was invited to speak. And I think—well, obviously, they would never invite me because I’m a woman. But also I do place more of the blame on the organizers and the people who are continuing to financially benefit from giving Mark Driscoll a platform. But also I guess I do think about the appearance for the other speakers. Like okay. I may not be signing off on everything Mark Driscoll is planning to say in his talk. But what does it signal that I am also aligning myself with an organizer who is giving Mark Driscoll a platform? There is a—only one degree of separation. And am I kind of associating with a group that is giving a platform to someone who has unrepentant and continues to lead in an angry and abusive way in his new church.
Sheila: Yeah. And who has never attempted reconciliation with—or repentance with those that he harmed too. No. Yeah. It is a really tricky thing, but this is something that I just don’t think that we do well. And by we, I do mean influencers and authors, is that we don’t call each other out. We don’t hold each other to account. This is something that I’ve really been struggling with. Your final chapter in your book is What Do We Do About It? After showing how celebrity totally messes everything up because you’re focused on the wrong thing. You allow abuse to flourish. You lose sight of what Jesus really—real mission is. What do we do about it? And I keep thinking I don’t want to become what I’m criticizing, but it’s really hard. Like it’s really hard.
Katelyn: What are—if I could ask you a question?
Katelyn: Because I think anybody who has published a book and has a social media platform and has a message that they want to get out into the world and recognize okay. In order to communicate this message, I need some kind of platform on which to stand. But how do I do that in a place of integrity? What are, for you, temptations or signs that am I losing sight of the things that I think I’m called to do with this? That is a lot more vulnerable than I expected it to be. It came out more vulnerable. Like what are your temptations, Sheila? What are things to be on the lookout for? Things that you’re looking out for for yourself?
Sheila: I think for me it’s am I chasing—am I chasing money or conference speaking engagements or things like that? And am I being silent on something where I should speak? Because I think for years I was.
Sheila: And that’s the thing. I’ve been blogging since 2008, but most people haven’t heard of me until 2019 where I started—when I decided to go ballistic online. And like this isn’t okay, people. Women are not methadone for men’s sex addictions. I was quiet for a really long time, and I had a lot of friends who—many of whom I’ve now called out. But I was really surprised that they didn’t listen. That’s actually been the hardest thing of everything that I’ve done is—and that’s been the hardest thing of my faith really is seeing these people that I thought were really doing this to serve Jesus. When I went to them privately and said, “Hey, what you’re saying here—we now have data that what you said here really hurts women,” and they just replied that I’m not doing it in a kingdom way. And that I need to stop.
Katelyn: Even though you went—you did the Matthew 18 to go to them privately.
Sheila: For two people, yes. Because for two people, I had the relationship already. For others, I didn’t even know their email. But for the ones that I had that friendship with, yes.
Sheila: And that was really hard. And ever since I’ve done this, I’ve been blacklisted from conferences. I used to have tons of speaking engagements. And then, of course, COVID hit, and that all dried up. But even though my book sales are good, the powers that be don’t like me. And I think that’s a good place to be.
Katelyn: Yeah. I think there is something there about retaining the integrity of what you feel that you need to say for the church and for—for the church to be healthier and for women to be set free recognizing that this isn’t always going to be a popular message. This is going to ruffle some feathers. This is going to upset certain power structures in the Christian counseling world, in book publishing, in—I don’t know—marriage retreats. And so the willingness to speak truth when it comes with a cost, I think is actually a really effective way to keep us humble and keep us attached to why we are doing the thing that we’re doing. I mean I don’t know that I have been blacklisted by any—I guess I wouldn’t know. But yeah. When I worked at Christianity Today for several years and then left in 2016 and started doing more freelance writing and reporting, this was a very tumultuous time in evangelicalism. I did report on things that called specific people to light. But named names. As a journalist, I feel like what am I doing if I’m not willing—it’s not enough to just describe problems in general. You need to be specific as a journalist and for there to be change. But there’s also the rationale that public figures need public accountability.
Sheila: Yeah. If it’s taught in public, it’s correct in public.
Katelyn: Yes. Yes. And if they are not willing to correct it in public or have a public exchange about it, you sometimes feel like, “Well, I don’t have any other options.” This needs to be yes. Public communication deserves public response. And what I’m sure you have found with some of these teachers or leaders, they don’t even want to have the private conversation. You’re just a problem to them. You’re just a distraction. I assume they can spiritualize it. Like you’re just trying to—
Sheila: Or threaten lawsuits. We’ve had four of those. Yeah.
Katelyn: Oh, well, I guess you could spiritualize or you could bring forth a lawsuit. Different options.
Sheila: I think the other thing that I find really difficult though is when people with platforms don’t call out other people with platforms—if someone needs to be called out, if the people with platforms around them, if their peers don’t call them out, then it’s up to those who don’t have power to call them out.
Sheila: And that’s putting a really huge burden on the people who don’t have power. To me, I think if we do have any level of celebrity—I mean, in the words of Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Is that what the quote is from Spiderman? I think that’s it. But anyway—
Katelyn: I don’t know if Spiderman came up with that, but it sounds right. Yeah. We’re going to go with Spiderman. Yeah. Either Spiderman or Plato. Whichever of the two. Yeah.
Sheila: But if I don’t call out the fellow marriage authors when they’re promoting things which we know increase harm to women—for years, women have been writing in. I’ve got their emails that they sent to these authors. I’ve got the Twitter—the Tweets that they’ve sent that never were replied to. That, to me, is what I find the saddest is that so many with platforms aren’t willing to name names. And yet, things can never get better. I want to bring us back. In your last chapter, you were asking about how to fix it. And this was your—one of your answers. Friendship. “None of us needs another fan, but we all need another friend.”
Sheila: Is that instead of aiming to just have fans that we surround ourselves with real friends who can hold us accountable. And that’s something I even try to do online is I don’t answer all my emails. I get too many of them. I don’t answer all my DMs. But if people talk to me publically in Facebook comments or in the comments of my blog or on Tweets or in the comments on Instagram, I’m all—I participate. So I try to be as accessible as I can. But that’s hard too.
Katelyn: Mm-hmm. Yeah. That came out of a—the centrality of friendship came out of a conversation I had with Andy Crouch. And I really think about the friends that have known me for a really long time and knew me long before I ever wrote books or had a position of leadership in an organization or had Twitter followers. People who both know you and love you beyond whatever you’ve accomplished or whatever kind of attachment that you might have to your work or your persona. I need people in my life who do not care that I have a Twitter account.
Sheila: Yes. Yes.
Katelyn: Who would much rather sit down with me over coffee or a meal and have a real, genuine, authentic conversation about our life than figure out what I have to say on Twitter. So I feel like one sign for me is am I just hoping to connect with people who I might be able to get something from down the road. Or am I really investing in the kind of relationships that are grounding where there’s truth, where there’s accountability, where there’s vulnerability. I know these are all clichéd terms, but I still believe that we all want to be both known and loved. And that is what God wants for us too. And that’s the kind of love that God has for us. And so people in our lives who can keep us centered on that truth when the world says you are what you do. You are what you accomplish. You are how many people you influence. You are your number of followers. People in your life who can keep you grounded in the central truth of belovedness over accomplishment, I think, is really important and something that I want.
Sheila: Right. Now you finished writing this book a couple of months ago—probably a year ago by the time this comes out, I’m sure—and the problem with finishing writing a book about celebrities is that there’s always going to be a new scandal that you’re going with you could have put in.
Katelyn: Yes. For example, I was—I did speak about Hillsong New York. I did write about Hillsong New York and Carl Lentz and the implosion of Hillsong New York. But a lot has happened in the Hillsong world—
Katelyn: – since I finished the manuscript. And yes. That is the nature of trying to report on specifics is that they’re always changing. And it seems like more bad news is coming out every week about celebrity leaders in the church.
Sheila: But maybe that’s just God’s way of signaling us again. And actually, I want to read a quote that I found really important, and I underlined many times. Maybe this is a good one as we’re wrapping up. You said this almost at the end of the book. You said, “Celebrity in the final analysis is a worldly form of power and evaluation of human worth. It is not a spiritually neutral tool that can be picked up and put down even for godly projects. The moment celebrity is adopted and adapted for otherwise noble purposes, sharing the Good News and inviting others into rich kingdom life, it changes the project. And it changes us.” And I think God is showing us that very, very vividly lately. So what gives you hope?
Sheila: Is there anything that gives you hope?
Katelyn: Yes. Although I will say writing this book—there were some depressing seasons of writing it. I think especially of the chapter on abuses of power. And I spoke of several instances where celebrity allowed someone to abuse. But I scratched the surface. I mean there are new stories coming out all the time. I am encouraged to know that there are Christians the world over whose names we will never know who are seeking to love God and neighbor in quiet, hidden ways. And the fact that we don’t know about them is precisely the point. That their faithfulness is not measured by how many retweets it gets or how many likes it gets on Instagram but is measured by the depth of the impact and the depth of the love that people in their lives receive from them. I have to believe that that is true because I believe that God is doing God’s work among people all over the world to bring healing and restoration. God doesn’t need our work to be on a platform on a stage. God is content to work among the vulnerable, the lowly, the no names. And we see that in the kind of people that Jesus surrounded Himself with. Jesus could have very easily tried to get in with the powers of His day, and He did the opposite. He was happy to spend his life—at least His public ministry among people who others discarded. And are we willing to do the same?
Sheila: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s a good challenge. Instead of looking at big, let’s look at meaningful and deep and real.
Katelyn: Mm-hmm. I think that’s what’s happening in the—I mean this is a really big statement, and I’m not claiming that God spoke this to me. I do think we’re seeing—we’re in a very stripping down moment in the church where so many idols are falling. And the truth is kind of being laid bare, and it feels like a stripping away. And it feels like a humiliation. But at the end of that, what if what we have is a more authentic church? A more grounded, deep, meaningful, true way of living out the Gospel? I want us to be content with a smaller, more boring church than what we have right now because the big, exciting, growing church has obviously left so much damage in its wake. That emphasis on growth alone has done so much damage. So I think we’re ready for—I think we’re ready for a small Gospel.
Sheila: Right. Well, if you have been the last few years wondering what God is doing and confused and hurt at all of the people who are falling, take a look at Celebrities for Jesus. Is this still your cover? I have an advanced reader’s copy.
Katelyn: It is. The final book is hardcover. So you got the flimsy version. But yes. The design is the same. Yeah.
Sheila: Okay. So Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits are Hurting the Church by Katelyn Beaty. And Katelyn, where can people find you?
Katelyn: katelynbeaty.com is a good place to start.
Sheila: All right. And go check her out and check out the book, which is available now. Thank you for joining us. I really appreciate it.
Katelyn: Thanks so much for this conversation.
Sheila: I think this is such an important conversation.
Sheila: And I am so glad that we are having it because a lot of stuff has happened this week.
Rebecca: A lot of stuff has happened this week. Yeah.
Sheila: For those of you who don’t know, Matt Chandler, at the Village Church, is on a leave of absence because of some inappropriate texting. We’ve seen just scandal after scandal among mega church pastors. And it really needs to stop. And so I’m hoping that we can redefine what it means to be in leadership and maybe reenvision what church is supposed to look like and that may help. And I just want to say, on a personal note, than you to all the people who sent us such kind words of support especially on Instagram after last week’s podcast where we were talking about how the celebrity authors are handling our critiques from The Great Sex Rescue. So thank you for that. Another big question that you and I get, Rebecca, is how do you decide who to follow.
Rebecca: Yeah. Because I feel like a lot of people’s goal with The Great Sex Rescue and all that we’re doing is to kind of create a church or a social media, Christian environment where there are no false teachings. That’s not the goal, guys.
Sheila: Yeah. That’s never, ever, ever going to happen.
Rebecca: No. Even Jesus says the birds rest among its branches, right? The idea that we will—the wheat and the chaff are together until they are separated at the end.
Sheila: At the end. Yeah.
Rebecca: We’re never going to not have false teachings. The goal is to figure out—is to learn discernment and to learn the voice of the Shepherd so that false teachings don’t lead you astray.
Sheila: Right. And it’s also, I think, as much as possible to take platform away from the false teachers for sure.
Rebecca: Oh, completely.
Sheila: But we’re not going to eliminate false teachers. And that’s why I’ve always said my goal has never been to change the mind of the pastors and authors. It really has been to help people recognize that those are not safe people to listen to.
Sheila: So what happens on Instagram is I often call out people. I use my—I fixed it for yous of problematic things people have said. And so people send me these awful things that other influencers have said and want me to fix them. And we kind of have a rule, and I thought today might be a good day to talk about how we figure out what to do.
Rebecca: Yeah. Let’s go.
Sheila: Okay. So generally, I only like to take on people who are respected and credentialed in some way in the evangelical church.
Rebecca: Yeah. People who have a platform and who have endorsements and who are in a position of spiritual authority.
Sheila: Yeah. So maybe they’ve got book deals. They’re pastors. Like Owen Strachan ran the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—or Council. Those kinds of things. So they’ve got some sort of credential. And just because somebody has a million followers on Instagram—
Rebecca: That’s not credentials.
Sheila: That’s not credentials because it doesn’t mean that the evangelical church has—
Rebecca: It doesn’t mean that they’re going to be invited for a marriage conference. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to be seen as a guest preacher. It doesn’t mean that they are going to be seen as an expert.
Sheila: Right. And now some people have huge platforms. And they’re deliberately trying to stir the pot. I sometimes wonder if they’re just trolls with blogs.
Rebecca: Oh, completely. They just live for the negative attention.
Sheila: Yeah. And they say the most outrageous things.
Sheila: I mean I think Owen Strachan does that to a certain extent. But he is a credentialed, and so that’s why he’s legitimate. But then there’s some people who—and you probably—some of you who are in the know know which blog—
Rebecca: Are figuring who we’re talking about pretty easily.
Sheila: But I don’t tend to critique her because she’s not—
Rebecca: She’s just kind of—the thing is—here’s the thing. When we are talking to someone, we’re really putting the heat on them, right? We’re lobbing fireballs over at someone’s platform. If you’re already a flaming pile of horse poop as a platform, the—putting more heat and fanning the flames is only going to help their goal, which is notoriety, attention, fame, shock value, all that kind of stuff. So we just don’t fan the flames of people who are already trying to build a platform that is more akin to a flaming pile of horse poop.
Sheila: Yeah. And what I would really like to challenge people is if you follow people simply because they are a flaming pile of horse poop and you want to see what outrageous thing they’re going to say next realize that you are boosting their numbers. And you are actually helping them to get more reach.
Rebecca: Yeah. What is the best way to put out a flame? Smother it from oxygen.
Sheila: Smother it. So stop following people that you’re following just to see what crazy thing they’re going to say next. And if someone does say a crazy thing, do not retweet it. Don’t engage with it. If you have to say something about it, the best way to do it is with a screen shot, so that you’re not actually adding any attention to the original tweet.
Rebecca: Yeah. You’re still giving them—
Sheila: Or the original Facebook post or whatever.
Rebecca: Yeah. You’re still giving them all the ability. People can go back and see it. You’re still citing them. You’re still giving them full credit, but the thing is that—
Sheila: Because it is important not to plagiarize.
Rebecca: Don’t plagiarize, guys. Yeah. And don’t just seal someone’s stuff and just—but I think the issue is that Facebook, Twitter, whatever it is all—they see all interaction as good interaction, right? So even if all the comments are negative, that person’s posts are now going to be more likely to show up in people’s newsfeed. Even if all the reactions are angry, they are still more likely to pop up.
Rebecca: And so if—the more that we add to that, even if you’re trying to fight back, when it’s someone who is obviously a troll or who really is just out there to stir the pot, you’re actually helping their goal. And I would much rather we just stop seeing these people be shared rather than seeing everyone calling them out because, quite frankly, they’re already in a niche. And I know that there are people who need to be reached who are in that niche. But they’re also in other niches that are not just being these trolls, right? If you’re going to be calling out both Focus on the Family and these crazy bloggers, those people are going to also see your callouts on Focus on the Family.
Sheila: Yeah. Exactly.
Rebecca: So I think that our efforts are better put somewhere else or could actually make a difference because it’s not just adding fire to a flaming pile of horse poop.
Sheila: Yeah. And by the way, the opposite also holds true. So when you like something that someone you like, like me for instance, has put on Facebook or Twitter, it actually helps my reach grow. So make sure that you are hitting the like button for things that you actually do like even—because it helps other people see them. It helps people that—other people who are your friends, it will show up in their feed too. So if you want to spread the message, make sure that you’re liking and commenting on things that you actually like even just to say, “Hey, I agree.” That’s great too. Okay. Then there’s this other group of people, who—and I see this a lot on Instagram and people even have websites and podcasts—who are trying to get big specifically in the marriage market.
Sheila: And they, frankly, don’t have a lot of credentials.
Rebecca: Yeah. Their only credentials are that they are married and hot, and so social media likes them. And they got really famous. And so now they’re like, “Hey, I guess we’ll become marriage mentors.”
Sheila: Yeah. And a lot of them are creating courses and things like that. Now, we have courses. Courses are great. Here’s a shout out for our orgasm course and our libido course. Do not get the libido course if you don’t orgasm regularly. You got to do them in the right order, okay? If you’re not looking forward to sex because you—sex doesn’t feel good, the problem is not that you’re not looking forward to sex.
Rebecca: The problem is that sex doesn’t feel good.
Sheila: So check out our orgasm course. But if you do actually reach orgasm fairly regularly but you still just never want sex, then check out our libido course. Okay. So we will put links to both of those things in the podcast notes. So there’s nothing wrong with courses. It’s just you need to ask yourself what credentials do these people have. Okay? Do they have any postgraduate degrees? Are they licensed counselors? Do they use peer reviewed research in what they’re saying? Because a lot of people don’t.
Rebecca: And by the way, using peer reviewed research doesn’t just mean they pepper in a couple of things.
Sheila: Yeah. Proof.
Rebecca: If someone doesn’t have education in a research setting, then I’d actually still be very suspect unless they, themselves, are an expert in the field.
Sheila: Yeah. And as we shared about last week on the podcast, even good people can make mistakes. We shared about the Tim Keller example in The Meaning of Marriage where he was talking about how sex hurt. And she wasn’t communicating about it, but he portrayed it like this was normal. And we shared the stories from women who were really affected by that. And there was a big podcast just last week—I got sent it—where the host was being asked about a woman who felt pain because she felt her husband was too large. And he just said, “Don’t worry about it. The vagina is designed to stretch.” No. Vaginismus is a thing. 22.6% of evangelical women.
Rebecca: Yeah. And not only that, it probably wasn’t even that the vagina had to stretch. It was probably that he didn’t get her aroused first. And so the uterus and cervix hadn’t tucked under. And so he was probably slamming against her cervix, which is like, “My dude, foreplay is a thing.”
Sheila: Yeah. Which really, really is not a comfortable experience.
Rebecca: There are definitely—yeah. That’s a whole other podcast, guys.
Sheila: But this is where you need to make sure the people you are following actually know what they’re talking about because there’s a lot of people who trying to be marriage influencers, who really shouldn’t be. And we need to start taking attention away from them.
Rebecca: And I want to say—I know it’s like, “Oh, but how do I know if they’re qualified?” Quite frankly, if their qualifications are that they are married and they have a large Instagram following and they are hot, they’re not qualified.
Sheila: Yeah. That’s right.
Rebecca: Just stop following—this is my thing, okay? I genuinely don’t understand why people want to follow these people. Because there are so many research based places out there. I mean I know there’s us because we’ve done the largest study on this.
Sheila: Yeah. There’s John Gottman Institute.
Rebecca: The John Gottman. But I’m going to be very honest. Between us and John Gottman and maybe Sue Johnson—her stuff—
Sheila: There’s some amazing counselors. Amazing counselors—
Rebecca: There’s astounding counselors.
Sheila: – with profiles on Instagram.
Rebecca: Oh, amazing. But if you only went with people who had either done research or have their PhDs or are licensed counselors, you wouldn’t need all these hot people who are 28. If I’m only 27 and I’ve been married 7 years and the number of people who will create marriage platforms being married my length of time—I’m like, “My sweetheart, no.”
Sheila: We got to be careful for that. And then there’s people who will say to us, “Hey, I follow this person on Instagram, and they said this really stupid thing.” And they’ll send us a reel or whatever, and they’ll ask me to call it out. And my general rule is unless the person is endorsed by evangelicalism in some way or is absolutely huge, I don’t tend to call stuff out because I’m not going to pick on people that are—
Rebecca: No. We get a lot of people sending us the live stream of their pastor’s sermon. And we’re like, “My friend, my friend, this is so not our arena.” I’m really glad people are starting to be able to see it in their own churches. But if you want to call things out in your own church, you are the one with influence. You’re the donors. You’re the—
Sheila: And, hopefully, later on in the fall, we’ll have a—we’re going to be creating packages that you can take to your pastor to explain why a lot of this stuff is wrong. Or you can just give him The Great Sex Rescue right now. We can’t call out the small pastors because we really want to call out the people who have written the big books.
Rebecca: Well, it also would be cruel. We have a larger group than—yeah. Exactly.
Sheila: Yeah. It’s kind of beating up. And some little 30-year-old person on Instagram who is mostly there making a homesteading channel who says something dumb about marriage, I’m not going to—no. But that’s where leaving a comment can help in that case because maybe she just needs to know, “Hey, if I veer into an area I don’t know anything about, I’m going to lose people.” Or just stop following. Just stop following.
Rebecca: That’s the thing is we have this culture where we expect to follow 150 people. You don’t have to. You can just stop following. What would happen in the church if it just stopped being so normal. I know you kind of talked about this with Katelyn. But what would happen if it just became less normal to be a celebrity Christian? Right? Why do we think it’s so important to follow the Christian, young couple, who has 3 million followers? Why do we think it’s so important to have Christians on our newsfeed posting their Forever 21 hauls? Why do we think it’s so important to have family vloggers, who are Christian, on our—why don’t we just not watch them? Why don’t we just not watch family vloggers? Why don’t we just not watch marriage TikTok accounts?
Sheila: Well, especially because like you always say, you have a big issue with kids.
Rebecca: Yeah. And I know—yeah. I have a big issue with people who—that’s a whole other podcast as well. We don’t have time for that. But my advice for people is just, if you’re stressed out about there’s so many negative messages out there, there’s all this stuff. Just maybe stop following people who are promoting messages. Why do you need to is just my question?
Sheila: Yeah. Because maybe then if we take their influence away then it won’t be as big.
Rebecca: Yeah. And if we become a Christian culture where we just stop giving millions upon millions of likes and follows to these people simply for the sake that they say I’m a Christian in their bio maybe we’ll stop having this problem of having people think, “Hey, I’ve got a million Instagram followers. I can make money teaching about my marriage that I’ve had for four years.” Or, “We’ve been married for 21 years, and I’ve struggled with a major addiction and also we cheated on each other 14 times. So now we’ve got all this wisdom to share with the world.”
Sheila: Yeah. That happens a lot too. Yeah.
Rebecca: It happens a lot. This kind of stuff only happens though because we’ve created a normal celebrity culture. It is expected to be a Christian celebrity. Christian celebrity is seen as a good thing. We want to have celebrity representation in Instagram models, in Instagram famous people. And I’m just saying why don’t we just not. Just stop following. Just don’t like. Just don’t engage. Just unfollow. Leave it alone. Take away the oxygen. And if they get less and less and less engagement, this will become a less and less lucrative operation, fewer people will go into it, and it’ll just kind of fizzle out a little bit more. And I know that might sound wishful thinking, but I really just can’t see another alternative because you’re—quite frankly, you’re allowed to be popular and wrong. What I see a lot of is you have your young girls who start on Instagram or TikTok just singing covers of their favorite songs and they’re pretty and they’re cute and they got lots of younger girls following them and then they post some pictures of themselves at prom. They do all the cutesy things. And it’s a personality channel, right?
Rebecca: And then they get a lot of followers. And then they realize, “Wow. Okay. I have a lot of followers here, and I’m a Christian. I feel like I should talk about my faith.” And so then they try. And they say some things that are good and some things that are okay. But for the most part, they’re still just talking about, “See what I can get at the dollar store,” or, “How I meal plan,” and that kind of stuff. And to go after these people who are—just happen to be popular and happen to be wrong is not the same thing as someone who has put in effort and work and money and time into specifically becoming someone who has power and authority over others.
Rebecca: It might feel like an influencer has power. They don’t really.
Sheila: Not in the same way—
Rebecca: Not in the same way.
Sheila: – as a mega church pastor or—
Rebecca: They have power in a different way but in a spiritual authority sense. In terms of spiritual teachings, right? I’m sorry. If you’re favorite 23-year-old influencer tells you bad marriage advice, why are we getting marriage advice from 23 year olds on Instagram? This is a level where we do need to be able to call out people for false teachings, yes. But false teachings is very different than just being wrong in public.
Rebecca: If you’re not someone who is a teacher, you’re not a false teacher. You’re just wrong.
Sheila: You’re just wrong.
Rebecca: And I don’t want to see us start to really just—I don’t know. Just go after these really young people, who are, a lot of times, kind of accidentally in the spotlight too. Yeah. They made the TikTok account, but they weren’t expecting 3 million followers.
Sheila: No. Exactly. And so let’s just reevaluate what we’re looking for. Don’t follow the huge piles of horse poop. Think about if you really do need to be following all these lifestyle people. And some are fun to follow. We’re not saying don’t. We’re just saying think about it. And then if you are going to critique people, let’s remember to critique people who have real power and not to use our own platforms to beat up the 23 year olds, who are just wrong. I guess that’s what I—
Rebecca: Yeah. Well, and I think that if we do put our efforts towards those who actually have power and influence, quite frankly, those 23 year olds are going to get influenced too. Those 23 year olds—they are a product of the environment. Let’s change the environment, and they’ll change to.
Sheila: Exactly. So that’s what we wanted to say on this episode. Please pick up the book Celebrities for Jesus. It’s really good, and I think it’s something we all need to be thinking about is are we contributing to celebrity culture in the evangelical world and what can we do to stop that. And I love what I was talking about with Katelyn about how we need more friendships. We need more accountability. And we need to take away that it’s just about fame. So I really—I think that’s good. So pick up Celebrities for Jesus. Again, take a look at our orgasm course and Boost your Libido course. We will put the links in our podcast notes.
Rebecca: They are evidence based.
Sheila: Yes. Yes. And then join us next week. We’re going to do one more thing on celebrity culture. Before we get into our series on the podcast—the series starts on the blog next week, Marriage Misdiagnosis, and how sometimes we’re actually looking at the wrong problem when it comes to marriage. And that’s why we’re giving the wrong advice. So we have one more week on the podcast about celebrity culture. We’re going to look at the issue of plagiarism. Stay tuned for that one. It’s going to be wild. And then the rest of September we’re going to be looking at Marriage Misdiagnosis. So thanks so much for joining us on the Bare Marriage podcast. Remember you can find us at baremarriage.com now, not tolovehonorandvacuum.com. And we will see you again next week. Bye-bye.
Timeline of the Podcast
1:05 Katelyn joins!
2:00 Celebrity in church culture
8:30 Needing a platform to have a say
13:45 Calling others out
19:45 How Sheila sees her warning signs
25:30 The burden of accountability
31:00 Hope moving forward
36:30 Who should you follow online?
44:30 ‘Hot’ doesn’t equal ‘Qualified’
Celebrities for Jesus with Katelyn Beaty
Ravi Zacharias. Bill Hybels. James MacDonald. Mark Driscoll. Carl Lentz. And this week Matt Chandler is on a leave of absence for inappropriate texting with a woman! The list goes on and on of celebrities who have fallen.
But the problem is not just that Christian celebrities can fall–bringing their churches with them. The problem is that celebrity itself within the church can change the nature of our faith.
Katelyn has written an important book, and we sat down and talked about it–about megachurches, about sex scandals, but most importantly, what we can do to avoid contributing to celebrity culture. She talks about what it takes to get published, and how that leads to celebrity culture. And she asked me some great questions about how I navigate this too! Here’s just one quote that I read on the podcast:
Celebrity in the final analysis is a worldly form of power and evaluation of human worth. It is not a spiritually neutral tool that can be picked up and put down even for godly projects. The moment celebrity is adopted and adapted for otherwise noble purposes, sharing the Good News and inviting others into rich kingdom life, it changes the project. And it changes us.
How Do You Decide Who to Follow on Social Media?
Then Rebecca and I jumped in with thoughts on how you can decide who to follow on social media.
We tried to cover a lot of things in just a few minutes, but we talked about how so many people are trying to get famous right now in Christian marriage circles, creating podcasts and courses and social media channels, where they don’t have any training for what they’re doing, and what they’re teaching may not be right. Just because someone is famous does not mean they’re a good source for advice.
We also talked about who you should call out on social media.
We looked at different categories of influencers:
Those who are deliberately inflammatory and toxic, and are endorsed by evangelical bigwigs.
Doug Wilson here comes to mind–call them out! When they have influence because others in power have said, “this is a good person to listen to”, then it’s worth saying, “no, he’s not.”
Those who are deliberately inflammatory and toxic, but are fringe and endorsed by evangelical bigwigs.
Best thing to do? Starve them of oxygen. Don’t follow. Keep their numbers lower. Don’t engage in the comments (it helps their engagement). Don’t share, even to say, “look how awful this is!” Just ignore.
Those who are super popular but say stuff that isn’t right.
You’re allowed to be popular and wrong. We need to be careful here, because not everyone is holding themselves up as a teacher. Lots of people just have a ton of followers, and then they say something super off. It’s okay to call them out for that, but remember it’s not the same thing as John Piper saying something wrong, because these people aren’t holding themselves up as teachers.
It is a good idea to ask, though, do I need to be following people just because they’re famous?
And, as always, try to follow people who are evidence-based!
Look for Instagram and TikTok accounts of therapists, or leaders in their field, rather than just celebrity.
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Things Mentioned in the Podcast
- Our Patreon! Support us for as little as $5 a month and get access to an awesome Facebook group, unfiltered podcasts, and more. Or if you don’t want to support long term, considering leaving something in our tip jar!
- Katelyn Beaty’s book Celebrities for Jesus! Plus find Katelyn on Twitter ! That’s where I got to know her.
- Our evidence-based courses: The Orgasm Course and the Boost Your Libido course and the Honeymoon Prep Course!
How do you decide who to follow? Can evangelicalism get over celebrity? Let’s talk in the comments!