By Pastor Robert Perez
In social media spaces, click bait is when someone uses hyperbole (exaggerated importance) in their titles to get you to desire knowing more by clicking on their link. Most people are aware of this, but succumb to it just the same, because some part of their brain is reacting and responding to it. In other words, we can’t help being human. Our culture is accepting of the practice, even if we grumble about it. Scroll through a feed on Instagram, Facebook, Flipboard, Apple News, Twitter and you will see that almost all of it is click bait now, even from established reputable content creators. It’s survival for attention, but it’s rendered it meaningless. Not everything can be “The Best” or have multiple “Top 10 Reasons Why”. It’s all so silly.
Celebrity endorsement is the original click bait. Companies capitalized on a celebrity’s popularity to gain attention to their product(s). If you like the celebrity, you’ll like the product. Our current culture takes that one step further with ‘influencers’ who are popular social media ‘stars’ and low hanging ‘celebrities’, that use their platforms to endorse anything that pays the bills. It’s no different than Home Shopping Network.
Some recent celebrity endorsements in the Christian world have me alarmed enough to write a warning. Kanye West and Mark Wahlberg are two recent examples. Is this a new practice? Not at all. Christian leaders have sought the endorsement of popular figures since the beginning. Anyone that can bring attention to the church was deemed worthwhile.
Are they any different than what Tom Cruise is for Scientology?
Let me say firmly, I do not at all deny the sincerity of the celebrities and their faith and their intentions, but rather their understanding of the impact it has. I do question the sincerity of the followers. Yes, to use celebrity influence to get attention to faith is potentially a good thing. But people shouldn’t trust any product is good just because of celebrity endorsement, the same goes for God. Every person must decide for themselves and do it on their own accord.
God will know if you’re there for the celebrity or for Him. You cannot fool God, but you can fool yourself. This is more serious than it may seem at first glance. You may say, what is the harm? The damage is the smokescreen celebrities make that hinder a genuine connection to God.
How often does a product fail in public opinion when a celebrity endorsement ends or becomes less prominent? Too often. It becomes a true test of the actual value of a product or service if people continue to ‘stick around’.
Here’s some examples of successful celebrity pairings:
- Steve Jobs and Apple.
- Tom Cruise and Scientology (talk about being led astray).
- Mathew McConaughey and Lincoln.
- Flo and Progressive Insurance. (She’s more popular than the company itself, despite her sole purpose of being created by the company for the company.)
- President Trump and politics. (When Trump is out of office, now or in four years, the interest in politics will tank.)
- Elon Musk and Tesla. (At least he owns the company, like Steve Jobs owning Apple, but can you trust their endorsement? It’s in their selfish interest that you do.)
- ‘Love’ and Subaru. (Hello, Subaru’s are cars made by a company for profit. Do you think love goes into the engineering? Do you think Mercedes or Chevy put any less love into their cars or into their customers? You’ve been sold non-sense.)
- The Kardashians and, well, anything they want (good for them).
- Andy Warhol made being a celebrity the art, above the art itself (although Salvador Dali did it first to be fair).
- Jeff Koons, Damien Hurst and Banksy have all made their brand more important than the art. (Not that I think their art is bad in any way. I think it’s brilliant. But do YOU think its brilliant or you’re just into the name?)
- Kanye West and Lakewood Church. (WARNING. WARNING. I love Pastor Joel Osteen, but even he owes success to the church based on his own popularity. If Joel was gone, a considerable number of people would fade away from practicing Christianity. Kanye West?)
- Mark Wahlberg and the Catholic Church. (“Maaaahk is Catholic, well freakin’, so am I! Hey Maaahk, you want me to take care of this non-believing yo-yo?” Sorry Mark, it just sounded funny. Seriously, Mark is particularly important, because I believe that he is so genuine in his beliefs and his love of God and Christ, and his love of us. Like Bono, I believe he feels a calling. From the outside, I see it too.)
It’s fashionable to follow celebrities, even notoriously bad ones. When Steve Jobs died the company literally panicked thinking it would sink with him gone. Do you think Lincoln would be cool if it was associated with Woody Allen instead of Matthew McConaughey? Same with Tesla. The day Elon decides he’s bored, so will most of the fan boys and girls.
This is my sincerest warning; you are being sold all day all night every day. Wake up from your complacent slumber and get real with yourself. Confront yourself about everything you do or want and ask, “do I genuinely want to do this or am I just in it for the image of it”? Don’t follow the celebrity, follow Christ to God. Forget the celebrity, you are as meaningful as any of them.
Look at the movements in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, like BAID AID’s Feed the World. Everyone was all for it if the headlines were big, and the music played. Once the party was over, everyone went back to the same lives they had before. None of it stuck! It’s shocking that the messages of starving children and world hunger and disenfranchised people can evaporate so easily. The takeaway is you cannot make people ‘stick around’ if you don’t genuinely change their belief system. People do what they genuinely believe and that’s that.
Making God “cool” with celebrity endorsements is dangerous territory. God is cool, Jesus is cool, whether Kanye or Mark or anyone, including myself, tells you or not.
Jesus was ahead of the pack from the beginning. He foresaw it all. He warned to beware of false teachers and charismatics that charm you but bring all the attention to themselves. Jesus called out the Jews of his day precisely for that reason. Their faith was about outward appearances and not about true faith to God.
Jesus spelled it out in plain language over and over and over and over. We are nothing. You and I are nothing. Celebrities are nothing. Nothing, next to God. In fact, to be a genuine Christian you must abolish the self in favor of your pursuit of God. He tells the rich man that if he really wants to show his faith, he must give away all his possessions and follow him. He goes on to say, it would be harder for a rich man to enter Heaven than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
The Apostle Paul said, don’t be showy, but do works when no one is looking and for no credit. What do celebrities REALLY do when the cameras are not on them? What are their truest sacrifices for Jesus? Can they, really, give it all up for God? Power is suspiciously seductive, especially under the guise of Jesus. False prophets abound. Celebrities only create mimics, with no genuine understanding or care for what they’re practicing.
People do things because of the celebrities and not with sincerity. When they’re gone, so are they. The enemy wants us to have a “weak pretend faith” and for us to falsely believe that we are genuine.
Celebrities have more responsibility than others because of the power of their influence. How much more so when it comes to Christ and God. It’s the responsibility of the celebrity to do all they can to take the emphasis off themselves and on to God. If they don’t, they’ve fallen into the enemy’s tactic of seductive power for attention.
Jesus made this the most important part of his ministry that, ultimately, it’s not about him, but He who sent him. The proof was sacrificing himself through shame and suffering. His entire being was destroyed in front of us all to prove it. “I am nothing, only God matters.”
How often in the bible does Jesus walk away from the crowds and question the faith of his followers when he recognizes that people are just there for him or to be healed, and not for God? If you don’t get that, you have the same obstacle that has plagued Christ’s mission from the beginning, empty worship.
Celebrities must immediately, with all their truest power and genuine faith, divert the attention to God and His purposes or they risk getting nothing but transient “feel good” moments from mimics who sadly don’t know any better.
The truth? You only need to read the New Testament with a sincere open heart. Nothing else. Find the spirit inside you and tether it to God. Christ will show you The Way.