Megachurches have long been subjected to major moral inquiries, both from within the Christian community and outside of it. One of Jesus’s major principles was to shed oneself from all material wealth and to focus solely on his message. In contrast, megachurches have been derided by many as “McChurches” that focus on consumer culture and franchises above all, paired with the lavish lifestyle of their pastors, who fly in private jets, have private airports named after themselves, and live in mansions paid for by the lowest earners of society. It is clear that the morality of Jesus has escaped the majority of these individuals.
Pastor Ed Young of the Fellowship Church in Dallas, Texas, is no different. Whether he’s using Dallas Cowboys playoff tickets as bait to attend church, an uncomfortable obsession with the homosexual community, or various “sexperiments,” Young has never been far from controversy. He also fulfills the megachurch pastor cliché by owning a private jet, living in a mega-mansion, and even franchising his church to locations overseas.
Young has also displayed a real talent for slick visuals, youth-friendly use of social media, entertaining media output (including attracting popular artists to perform at services)—all stemming from his background in reality TV.
Several years ago, in a series of well-produced videos, Young dauntingly compared God to drones and designated August as “drone month.” It seems naïve of Young to compare drones to God, with their deadly presence, and the backlash that his comparison faced should, in theory, have caused him to backtrack on his words. However, Young doubled down on his claims, stating that after he first encountered drones while filming a reality TV series, he noticed their efficaciously omnipotent nature, and how God “makes a drone seem like a drone doesn’t know a thing.” While not completely inaccurate, Young isn’t describing toy drones with cameras that are gifted to children for Christmas but rather killer drones, a comparison he was so eager to make after emerging on stage through a shroud of smoke standing before a militarized drone.
Even more troubling, was the megachurch pastor’s allusion to drones as “cultural icons.” Young defended his metaphor by comparing himself to Jesus using cultural icons to deliver his message—the same Jesus who preached tolerance, loving thy neighbor, and warned that killing was a grave sin. The fecundity of Young’s allegory continued with his idea that he’s never seen drones as frightening, blind to the drone’s missiles standing behind him on the stage in the video, and to the ubiquitous danger of hellfire missiles.
As a child I was taught that God’s overseeing eyes were always cast upon me regardless of what I was doing. I learned to do good not because it was good but because I didn’t want to displease God and go to hell. How does this drone metaphor translate to children? If children were to misbehave, instead of eternal hellfire, would they be targeted by a hellfire missile?
In the video, Young puzzlingly details the purpose of drones, believing them to exist to “kill the bad guys.” It is discouraging that a man in a position of power like Pastor Young, who has the audience and platform to encourage peace, tolerance, and love for one’s enemies and fellow human beings encourages and celebrates the act of killing them. Gluttony is a cardinal sin outlined in the Ten Commandments, but you don’t see Young or his cronies decry those living a lavish lifestyle at the expense of their poor congregation. Perhaps the most frightening message of his sermon was that a drone was at that moment circling the skies above the congregation and had the ability to “shock every single person who’s being stingy with God.”
This idea is prevailing in the new neo-Christian faith that parishioners expect a glamorous, glitzy show of the word of God that exists solely within their echo chamber. Messages of peace and tolerance have taken a backseat to a continuing message of fealty to the military, consumerism, and political candidates who boast of sexually assaulting women. I find it ironic that churches view millennials and the youth leaving organized faith in droves as a problem with the “millennial attention span” rather than our strict aversion to hypocritical and amoral messages. Young people do not want to go to church because pizza is on offer, or a football game is being played right after and the church offers a viewing party. Young people want to see a church that advocates for equality among all of us, where the message of “love thy neighbor” is respected and observed, yet those inclined toward religion don’t see that message in the megachurch. More and more, nontheistic leaders are the standard-bearers of the message of respect and tolerance.
When messages of death by drone become the norm and people are divided into “enemies” and “allies,” the message of love dissipates. Pastor Ed Young is part of this movement, dividing this country into Christians vs. their enemies, an idea that has led to a false idea that Christians in America are being persecuted. And our new president wonders why we are so divided.