Not At All Surprising: Western Christians Meets the Heirs of ‘Arthur Jensen’

This past week, the Irvine Company, managers of the Fashion Island Mall in Orange County, California, made the decision to take down all ads for Pastor Greg Laurie’s annual Harvest outreach, to be held Aug. 17-19 at Angel Stadium. The Harvest ads had been contracted and paid for but, apparently, just the sight of a well-known Christian pastor holding an unmarked, unnamed book in his outstretched right hand was seen as sufficiently offensive to well-heeled southern California shoppers, prompting a modern-day business decision that took me back over 40 years.

Greg Laurie's Harvest Outreach falls victim to modern-day "Arthur Jensens"The movie Network premiered in New York City on Nov. 27, 1976, and went into nationwide release soon after. I was 15 years old at the time. Intrigued by the buzz generated by glowing reviews and word-of-mouth, my parents decided I was probably mature enough to handle its content…plus they really wanted to see it, too. Seeing that film, at that age, impacted me far more deeply than either of them probably ever suspected.

Thanks to writer Paddy Chayefsky, director Sidney Lumet, and the fiery, Oscar-winning performance of actor Ned Beatty as Arthur Jensen, I think I have some sense of why it was deemed necessary to eliminate all possible controversy from Fashion Island. One scene in particular helped me gain insight into how corporations go about making what appear to be moral or political decisions, and which factors play into a company’s decision to take a particular side in any dispute.

Penned by Chayefsky, the Arthur Jensen character provides chilling insight in one memorable scene:

You get up on your little 21-inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state? Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime.

In other words, for the Irvine Company, the removal of contracted, paid advertising (Christian or otherwise) very likely boils down to nothing more or less than a bottom-line, dollars-and-cents decision. Of course, the Arthur Jensen diatribe was not written from a Christian perspective, but I do think it points to several truths that believers ought to take to heart as we interact with what appear to be increasingly-godless (and powerful) political and corporate entities.

  • Jesus Christ is bigger and far more important than Apple, Google, Microsoft, Starbucks, Twitter and the Fashion Island Mall in Orange County…combined! (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3) In our tech-addicted, hurry-up, information-drenched culture, it’s getting increasingly easier to ignore Jesus or forget about Him altogether, as if He were irrelevant. Our modern gods awaken us in the morning, tell us what’s important throughout our day, and fill every waking moment with news, email, sports scores and cat videos. It’s easy to forget that all this noise is temporal, whereas our relationship with Jesus is eternal. I will not be taking my iPhone with me into eternity; remembering this refocuses my energies on those things I believe I will take with me.
  • Most corporations and political entities were never centered around God to begin with, so it should not surprise us that their decisions may be “anti-Christian.” (Matthew 6:24; 1 Timothy 6:10; Hebrews 13:5) If we lived in a time when wholesome, traditional Christian values “moved more product,” then we would expect to see that reflected in our popular culture and advertising. Right now, as our culture tilts away from biblical values, it only makes sense that corporations are bowing down to the prevailing mindset. It brings more shoppers to the mall. We should never be caught off-guard when any organization reveals itself to be worshipping the almighty dollar…even to the point of breaking a valid, signed and paid-for contract.
  • Christians should never, ever be shocked to find out that they are hated and their message despised. (Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 6:22; John 15:18) The Christian message has been consistently hated and persecuted for the entirety of its roughly-2000-year existence; the Jewish community from which the Christ entered our world has been hated and persecuted for longer than that. The notion that all of humankind is evil (Romans 3:10) and in desperate need of salvation is deeply offensive to much of humanity…even to some who profess to be Christians.
  • While Scripture tells us that all believers will suffer persecution, I think it’s helpful to make a distinction between hatred that is intentionally pointed toward Christian beliefs and cynical business decisions made by corporations chasing the almighty dollar. Believers who call bottom-line decisions “persecution” can inadvertently dilute the impact of the very real attacks against our faith, which in turn could dilute our witness to unbelievers (Romans 5:3-5).
  • The biggest manifestation of evil is not geographically located in Southern California or anywhere else; it is instead spiritually located in the darker recesses of my own heart…and yours. (Matthew 15:19; Luke 6:45) Whenever the various forms of low-level Christian persecution make headlines, my strongest desire is to point a finger at the Irvine Company, Google, or some other faceless, corporate entity, thereby locating evil “out there.” Doing so allows me to temporarily forget the evil in my own heart…just as a shopper asking for a billboard to be removed mistakenly believes that removing the discomfort “out there” will alleviate his or her own internal feeling of conviction.
  • Christians are not called to demonize the culture in which we live, we are called to serve it. (Mark 10:44-45; John 13:12-14; Galatians 5:13-14; 1 Peter 4:10-11) Some of the greatest Christians in our shared history “made their name” by faithfully serving wicked, depraved kingdoms. In the Old Testament, the examples of Nehemiah and Daniel leap to mind. On this side of the Cross, outside of Scripture, there are countless examples as well. Despite the unhinged wickedness of many of its rulers, Augustine lamented the fall of Rome in The City of God, as just one example.

This list is not exhaustive, but it can help us reframe the hatred we see for the Christian message in biblical terms, which sometimes isn’t actually hatred so much as “doing good business” in a Christian-hostile culture. Jesus told us flat-out that we were going to experience persecution and suffering in this life (Luke 6:22). We just don’t believe Him. Not really. The primary reason why incidents of persecution seem so daunting to us is because we have temporarily “forgotten” Who God is and why his message so profoundly upsets people.

In the film Network, the character of Howard Beale got in the way of international commerce, and he eventually paid for this serious transgression with his life. In Orange County, Greg Laurie got in the way of commerce, and his ministry has paid for it by being unjustly censored. In Scripture, Jesus got in the way of commerce (Matthew 21:12-13) and He, too, eventually paid for this offense (alongside many other trumped-up charges).

Whenever injustice shows up in our lives, we need to remember that we are in good company.

I wish Pastor Greg Laurie tremendous success for his outreach event this month. My prayer is that God would use this hardship – the unjust removal of paid advertising – to great good, perhaps causing many who otherwise would have had zero interest in the event to perk up and wonder to themselves, “Yeah, why was this such a big deal?” Maybe, with God’s enabling, some of the curious will wander into Angel Stadium. Weirder things have happened.

One Comment

  1. Tena said:

    We just happened to be dropping off our daughter at college in Orange, CA the weekend Mr. Laurie spoke at Angels Stadium. We could see (and hear) the stadium from her dorm balcony and I assure you, there was not one open seat. Even the hotel “Ayers” had flyers sitting on a table next to the elevators for all to see. The event looked amazing!!!

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