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American Idol - Good for TV. Bad for Church

Last night I joined millions of entertainment-hungry consumers to engage in a tradition known as the season premiere of American Idol. Fox’s hit primetime program is a well-oiled entertainment machine with the ability to dispense thrills, talent, comedy, and cliffhangers like an ATM machine.

Strip away all these things and you’ll get to the bare purpose of the show: A.I. praises those who are successful, those people who seem to have it all together (the beautiful, the talented, the charming) while making fun of those who don’t (the awkward, the struggling, the unaware the socially inept, the ugly).  

Back up a minute though. Is this mere television? Haven’t we seen this format somewhere before? Let’s take the “tv” out of the phrase. This is "reality. "

I grew up in church learning that if I acted a certain way, dressed a certain way, said the right thing, memorized the write words, I could achieve significance. Whether or not the church accepted me was based on how well I could pull off my “togetherness.” In many ways I still feel this way.I don’t think I'm alone. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of room for losers in the Christian boxes we’ve created.

It’s easy to love people different than us. In fact, it’s downright cool. We can easily add how accepting we seem to our performance stats.  If I’m white and you’re black we can be friends. If you like country and I like hard rock we can easily move past that. But what about people who are really different? What about the Idol losers? The awkward, the struggling, the socially inept, the ugly, the difficult, the prideful, the poor, the weird, the addicted, the ungrateful? It seems that we have a  strict limit to how much love we’re willing to dish out. We’ll give a few bucks to a homeless person if we’re convinced he’s using it to buy food or shelter. The minute we grow suspicious he’s spending it elsewhere, we stop. We’re willing to by a Gap T-shirt to help fight the AIDS crisis in Africa, but once we realize the amount of Africans who continue to live promiscuously even after education, we become disenchanted.

We’re a compassionate generation…on our terms. It isn’t really compassion if we look at people solely through the lens of their sin and circumstance and not as a fellow sibling of the King Creator. That’s real hope and change, but I’ll admit it’s much harder for us to move toward this than it is to move toward the Gap T-shirt rack.

…because if we really believed we are just as depleted as those we distance ourselves from….that would change everything about the way we live.

Here are two examples from my own life:

The first one is about a guy named Saul who used to work in my college cafeteria. We never knew exactly what it was but it was clear he had profound mental disabilities. They weren’t the kind of mental disabilities that made him endearing, fun to be around, or particularly inspiring if you knew him as an acquaintance. He wasn’t the guy you would root for in the Special Olympics. He didn’t give you the warm and fuzzies. Saul was extremely difficult to love. He was the kind of mental case that would latch on to you if he liked you and never let you go. He would seek you out, hug you when you had a tray full of food in your hands, sit next to you at lunch, then proceed to insult you and your friends, ramble about how angry he was at life, and oftentimes bring up the fact that he was a devout misogynist. Yet if you peered hard enough past the discomfort you could see Saul was just looking for acceptance.

Oftentimes, however people blew Saul off, or worse they tried once or twice to interact with him, inviting him inside their social circle. But when Saul didn’t adapt, wouldn’t shut up,  wouldn’t listen, they would get tired, frustrated, upset all to easily and give up.

The second example involves a homeless man and a Christian concert. My friend and I had free tickets to an event at a huge arena in a very well off city, the cream of the crop. Right before the show we stopped across the street at a restaurant for a bite to eat. In front of the restaurant there was a homeless man begging for change, which I ashamedly dismissed. About halfway through our meal I noticed the guy was still out there begging. I looked around the packed out room and realized by the way these people dressed, the bumperfishes on their SUV’s, etc. that most of them were about to attend the same Christian concert we were. I literally lost my appetite. Here we were going to a Christian event full of thousands of people spending money to entertain themselves with safe, sugar-coated rock and roll, a private sub-culture party... and none of us thought to usher in the one person who couldn’t afford to eat a meal. Surely a quarter from each of our pockets combined would have paid for his dinner. I went out to find the guy but he had left.

We’ve been conditioned to accept the people we can handle, those we can wrap our minds around. We plant churches in neighborhoods with like-minded, well-established people who are likely to provide us with the proper income to support our staffs. Our most popular churches are filled with similar looking people (whether you’re a college church with Christian Hipsters or a contemporary one sporting members in polo shirts and golf dockers).

When did church become so much like American Idol? When did it become a contest to see who could look the best, sing the best, teach the best program, or give the best sermon?

And where the he[[ are all the William Hungs???

If the church (being you and I) doesn’t come a long side the unlovable, the outcast, the wretched, and the poor no one will. Christ warns us flat out that it’s not easy. In fact, we’re guaranteed persecution. When we live completely opposite to the American Idol formula, that’s to be expected from those who thrive on it. But deep down no one truly thrives on self maintance. We all break down. We all need repair.

I have a great idea…a few of us should get together and repair those who need it most, giving them tangible hope and love all the while introducing them to Christ even when it’s difficult and stretches us to the core….we could call it church.


This is a gem, CJ. You hit the target here.

CJ, I resonate with your comments here. I often feel judged by a certain (and unreal) standard when I am in certain groups. I also like your comments on us being able to be accepting as long as it is people we can handle. Accepting and loving those we can not handle is very difficult. We tend to like homogeneity, and even when we look to love the unlovables, they are often like us in many ways.

Thanks for the good read.


Excellent post CJ...

Wow. What a great challenge. I love every word of this, and it has me thinking about learning to love the unlovely.

I started out reading this completely agreeing, nodding my head and even thinking about how to the church I am one of those people who don't fit into the box they so want me to. I am the rebel, the one standing against most things in the church, hopefully in a respectful yet challenging way. And I feel ostracized a lot of times even in my own church because I say what's unpopular.

But even I have to admit that there's those people in the church that even I don't want to be around and interact with....

Thanks for a post that will be with me all day and have me rethinking how I interact with those around me both in the church and out....

You totally stole my idea for an American Idol blog.


hey cj! it's alice. :) i loved this. really great. so totally applicable too. i struggle with this myself, i think from both sides of the glass at different times...your two anecdotes are so powerful...good stuff. thanks. :)

Well done, CJ. This is all totally true and well articulated.

Something I've been thinking about a lot, b/c I'm reading Ragamuffin Gospel. However, we have to be careful that in our anxiousness and passion to include the broken, we remember that everyone is broken. Even the ones who we feel are creating the culture of exclusion in the church. If we are called to love the unlovable that includes the "christian hipsters" and those with "bumperfishes on their SUVs". I personally find it a lot easier to love a person whose lifestyle i disagree with, than someone who looks just like me but spouts ideas that I abhor. Good thoughts.

word. That was one of my big points...we're just as broken (even the people we align ourselves with).

I would like to start off by saying that i am not christian. i take the niechian view of christianity. it's interesting however to see that american idol is appealing to christians. it is, in my opinion and like you said "a well oiled entertainment machine" cranking out bland uncreative nonsense. i would've thought that simon colwell's very well renouned nasty streak would turn off most chrisitans due to it being against christs teachings .. isn't it? christ said "judge not lest ye be judged" and "love thy neighbor" and he fails on both accounts. he is a mean spirited little man held together with a mixture of self loathing and immature emotional behaviour.

This is a very timely reminder. :) thank you! =)

I pray that we Christians remember that we are meant to be God-pleasers and not man-pleasers, also praying that we answer the challenge of loving the unlovable and also not evolve into the first two men in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Like this post very much!

Good article. I've noticed the hypocritical attitudes of many (most?) religious people my entire life. If you're catholic you don't get to park in the front row at mass unless you drive a cadilac. I've never seen a poorly dressed, homeless type enter the mega-church down the street and I doubt very much someone like that would be welcome. I've noticed that many churches these days look more like social clubs for the well-off and the "haves," and the "have nots" best take it on down to the service conducted at the shelter. If you can't tythe, we don't need or want your kind! This new "moral" majority is tightly affiliated with the right-wing, conservative, republican ideology not because of taxes, or abortion, or gay-rights, but because this group considers themselves better than the lower classes. When I think of liberals I think of kind, generous, giving people who feel it is important to help those less fortunate than themselves - and many liberals have no association with the church; they do it because it's right. Conservatives on the other hand seem to represent greed and corruption and are more concerned with themselves than those who have fallen on hard times. You can cut the hypocracy with a knife it' so thick! Perhaps it is time to leave the bible study and spend some time at a homeless shelter practicing what the bible is supposed to be teaching you. And instead of the Christian family gathering around the television watching your favorite christian idol, how about spending that time volunteering for some community service? Oh, right, you've already volunteered when you helped your mega-church add a media center to house the new recording equipment. Yes, Jesus loves YOU the most!

Wow! I couldn't agree more with distopia! I have been soured on religion for years (since the Crusades) and I like the comparisons distopia makes between Christians and the conservative right. It's not about all those little hot-bed issues, it's about $$! The big secret here is that the right wing pulls these single-issue idiots into their camp by claiming they want to fix the issue (abortion, gays, etc..) but look at what they've done: NOTHING! Well, nothing but screw everyone in the country then laugh their asses off all the way to the bank! Are abortions illegal yet? Is gay marriage banned coast to coast? Nope! But hey, they cut taxes for the rich (not yours, Joe Sixpack but you're so stupid you keep shouting about your taxes but the right isn't concerned about your taxes - only about your vote!) and continue to deny you health care and cheap medicine because they're in bed with the respective industries, and those lobbiest just keep wheeling the campaign money into the Capitol building! The republican party does not care about you or they wouldn't keep lying to you while stealing your tax dollars to redo their kitchens and suck each other off in airport bathrooms! WAKE UP AMERICA! Get the church out of Washington and keep the politics out of the church and try voting in the interest if your entire country instead of your pet peeves!

yeah ~ idol ~ does bank on vocal vanity ~ who has the best pair ~
real success doesn't come instant ~ it's a product of shows, effort, communication skill, a solid fan base, & hopefully trans-generational appeal ~
how man idolers have become the next beatles or U2 or elton john ~

Anyway ~ in regards ~ to discrimination ~ I believe it's subjective to those who dish it out~ true ~ pandering helps ~ ultimately ~ if U don't "jive" to the clan's beat ~ Ur out ~ or mayb other(s) see it as a way of embellishing or gratifying ~ their own sense power ~ personally, w/ the beautiful & strong ~ i've normally got along ~
~ it's the outcasts types ~ I've had problem(s) w/ ~ strange ~

I've suffered discrimination from manipulative christo-tubes ~ that see christianity as a ploy for praise & power ~ w/n doctrinal substance & plenty of hyprocritical, rebellious-ness ~ which I find fascination ~ bcoz ~ I simply can't comprehend their logic ~

any solid replies are welcome ~ screw-balls~ find a jezuzfreek777 or angeljenny55 to play w/ ~ dont' involve me ~

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CJ is a writer, artist, and cultural communicator with a passion for raising a new generation of innovative leaders and forward thinkers. He is's Social Evangelist and manages their Undiscovered Artist Platform.