To the Pastors of the TikTok Generation
By now, you’ve probably encountered the infamous video of Pastor Mike Todd of Transformation Church in Tulsa, OK. No, not that one, the other one. No, no, no, even more recent than that. There you go, THAT one.
I could sit here and break down bar for bar what made Pastor Todd’s sermon illustration so absurd that all of Christian Twitter assembled like the Sanctified Avengers to clown him, but there are people with far more theological eloquence that are better suited for that task.
We could discuss how spiritually abusive it is for a pastor to humiliate a person by smearing his saliva in their face–NOT to heal a blind man of his affliction and expose the ills of a society that treats disabled folks as disposable, as Jesus did–but to illustrate a point that had little to do with the text he was deploying. (Yes, the person with spit all over their face is Mike Todd’s biological brother. No, it doesn’t change anything about what he did. This also is not the first time he’s done this “illustration.”)
We could talk about how this is not the first time that Todd’s pulpit antics have led to widespread criticism or that he has been accused of perpetuating egregious harms from the pulpit.
But I’m not here to talk about him at all really. Mike Todd is but a cog in the well-oiled machine of making excuses for the sake of power. I’m not in the business of zeroing in on individuals when there are entire power structures to rebuke and tear down.
Every few years, older church folks gather to coalition-build and tackle the task of “getting these young folks back in church.” They told the 20-year-olds of the 90s/early 2000s that “gospel music has gone too far” when Kirk Franklin came out with Stomp and Revolution. But eventually, they conceded and added reformed Christian hip-hop to the mix because at least they got ‘em talking about Jesus instead of drugs, right?
More recently, “getting these young folks back in church” has consisted of pandering to 20-year-olds via smoke machines, gigantic billboard screens, and pastors stomping around in Bred 11’s and tailored plaid suits, quoting Tik-Toks, and performing goofy skits to make weak sermon points.
I’d be lying if I said it never worked. There are folks out there who are more than willing to dedicate 10% of their paycheck every month to make sure their church is equipped with the best purple spotlights and handheld microphones that money can buy.
Sometimes the “cool church” aesthetic becomes smoke and mirrors that distract churchgoers from the decontextualized scripture passages coming from the pulpit. There’s only so much that the best musicians and a charismatic preacher wearing the latest Forces can do for a young person seeking answers to their deep theological wrestlings. There are only so many vapid spiritual platitudes that church leaders can give before we start to see through the ruse.
To the pastors of the TikTok Generation:
Where do we go when we hunger for a gospel that is undebased by hot takes and corny cliches?
Who is Jesus when you are not parading him around as the mascot for consumerism?
Do you have a point to make when you’re not performing for our likes, comments, and shares to prove to your publishers that we’ll buy the book you’re proposing?
What’s left of the good news when misogynistic fear-mongering has started to bore us because we’ve been hearing the same ‘ole tune since we were first made aware of our bodies? Do you have a stronger antidote to a culture that reduces women to the sum of our body parts than deploying the same attitudes in the pulpit and throwing some Holy Ghost shame on it for extra seasoning?
Is there healing available for those who have come to see that what passed as faith for all of their natural life was really spiritual abuse at the hands of narcissistic leaders?
How do we contend with a sacred text that has provided the fuel for every egregious act of violence under the sun, from colonialism to chattel slavery to domestic abuse to upholding structures designed to keep people in poverty?
Is there a good God under all of that somewhere?
Our rejection of the institutional church has led some saints to believe we’ve given up on Jesus. We’re not leaving Jesus. We’re leaving misogyny masquerading as mission, capitalism claiming to be calling, and narcissism naming itself fresh revelation.
Many of us would happily go back to the hymns and the pews if space to wrestle through the questions that have been cast aside as “off-limits” came with it and the space for spiritual abuse was left out. But we are past the point of sticking around while pastors obey their own whims, slap the name of Jesus on it, and dare us to question their authority to do so.
There has to be more to this church thing than clout-chasing and viral sermon clips.