“When the Devil came he was not red / he was chrome and he said / come with me”
Scrolling through Instagram the other night I came across a picture on the account of an old friend. The glossy perfection of the image perplexed me. The friend in question is a Pastor’s Wife. (Don’t shoot! “Pastor’s Wife” is the unproblematic terminology in that milieu, or at least it was when I walked in those circles in my early 20s. Perhaps that’s changed.) The Pastor in question is the founder of a “mega church” in Sydney. His wife’s Instagram feed is a study in perfection. Perfect smiles. Perfect skies. Perfect children. Perfect dreams. Perfect views. Perfect visions. Perfect faith. Perfect life. Perfect. I don’t blame her. A part of us wants to be perfect, but…
hell is chrome, dear reader.
In the Instagram picture my friend and her husband are praying for another Pastor and Pastor’s Wife. Eyes are closed in anguished concentration. Heads are raised heavenly. Hands are laid delicately. The congregation are out of focus in the foreground, blurred and anonymous.
The caption beneath the photo reads, “Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.” It’s a hallmark-hokey caption, but I agree as best as I can with the sentiment beneath that candy floss. I remember my friend did the best she could to help out my family a little, sending some gift vouchers and food when we went through all kinds of grief.
The comments are more revealing though. None come within a hemisphere of mentioning what all this is about. They’re full of the unreality these churches feed on: “Our God is greater! Praying for strength and a miracle!” reads one. It’s an interesting prayer; as succinct a declaration of fantasy as you’ll find anywhere.
The pastor being prayed for in the photo is Kong Hee. He’s just been sentenced to 8 years in gaol for embezzling around $50 million to fund his wife’s singing career. Court documents show that Sun Ho, the Pastor’s Wife at the centre of all this, pocketed about $450,000 a year from 2007 to 2009. Other numbers during the same period are equally miraculous – she spent $300,000 on travel, more than $100,000 on food and close to $100,000 on hair and make-up.
I know, it’s an old story.
I mention this not to shame my friend. I haven’t spoken to her in many years and I remember her as a kind, fun, insecure, artistic soul. I mention it because this kind of disfunction is just so common in the culture of these, and other churches. It’s common because the aspiration to perfection is hard-coded into the DNA of these institutions. Difference, failure, brokenness, doubt (all the good stuff! all the fertile ground!) are suppressed. And so lies metastasise.
I recognise in this small Instagram post a small manifestation of a culture that thrives on uncritical thought, emotional exploitation and narcissism. It sweeps the difficult stuff under the carpet. It mirrors the culture of the over-developed capitalism it aspires to. It’s exclusive, slickly produced, suspicious of outside or secular authority, dazzled by certainty and celebrity, and ultimately damaging. It certainly damaged me.
I’m interested in pulling back the covers and resisting that kind of culture wherever it manifests. So I hope you’ll join me next year at a series of events I’m planning where we’ll use sound, music and stories to investigate and celebrate the diversity of our shared human experiences.
More on this soon. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, pop your email in the sign up below and I’ll let you know when we’re launching.
Hell is chrome, dear reader.