Authorial Note: The following is a small piece inspired by my father’s suggestion that I write a piece about Schuller’s passing, given that we had visited the Crystal Cathedral many years ago. It was submitted to a variety of publications two days after the passing, written under 1,000 words, and, I would like to think, very readable. If anyone while reading this could give me advice as to what it is that I may be doing wrong, please let me know and I would appreciate it very much.  

         It was the summer of 2005, and as a fourteen year old from Toronto, Canada it would have been hard to believe if someone had told me then that this was not the last time I would have seen duck hunting, riches, and Jesus go together as if nothing were amiss. We were in California for a family vacation, and we had found out that our hotel was near the famed Crystal Cathedral, founded by the now recently departed Robert H. Schuller, and decided that we should take a quick visit. jesus walking onw ater.0During our brief visit, as we were admiring the statue of Jesus walking on the water in the midst of a duck pond, we hear a small boy yell out, ‘I wanna go duck shooting! Bang! Bang! Bang!’ My father and I really laughed this off as some American kid just having fun with toy guns and what not—but it is eerily prescient of the rise of the now famous Christian family featured in the A&E hit-show The Duck Dynasty. Also in the midst of our visit there, as my father recalled, while we were impressed by the opulence of the cathedral, we were also astonished at the contrast between the decadence of the cathedral, and the near poverty-level living of the trailer parks and neighborhoods just merely across the street from it. It is this intersection of violence as fun, and the ignorance of riches, that really ought to make Evangelical Christians pause over the legacy of Robert H. Schuller and his peculiar American-positive-thinking brand of the Christian faith. For no matter how doctrinally correct he may have been, or how his television ministry was inspired by the likes of Billy Graham, it still should make one wonder- how is it that such a beloved and celebrated, and seemingly seeker-friendly movement as positive thinking and self-esteem with all the wealth and technology one could possibly hope for at the time, produce a church that colluded with and ignored Jesus’ teaching on such important matters as violence and poverty?

         Now some may say, ‘can duck hunting and opulent building structures really be said to be examples of this church’s love affair with violence and ignorance of poverty?’ to which one need only refer to one of Schuller’s poetic sermons delivered in 1972, I am the American Flag. The sermon is delivered from the perspective of the American flag itself, as if it were God himself speaking to his chosen people and why he is proud to be their God. As if the flag had taken Schuller’s own advice, it had a great self-image. ‘Sure’, it might admit, ‘I’ve had my sins and shames’ and like any evangelical making a humble confession, never state what those would be but only derail against its detractors’ false accusations. In the 2001 rendition of this sermon Schuller in the character of the American flag says that in America, ‘You can do anything you want to!’ while also saying that ‘Freedom depends upon morality’—which may as well be code for, ‘do whatever you like, no matter how immoral, just be sure to make an ethical justification for it’. Schuller then goes on to say that the Sermon on the Mount, has been part of the ethical foundation of the US…really? Does even the most generous account of America’s foreign policy really believe that it stands on the principle of ‘turn the other cheek’? Even with the enormous generosity of the US government’s foreign aid to other countries, does anyone really believe it is based on the principle not to ‘announce it with trumpets’? Or that prayer in the Oval office and elsewhere is really based on the principle not to pray in public? He then proclaims, “I see a new America, for a new century,” perhaps not even knowing that it was the Washington think-tank Project for a New American Century that pushed for regime change in Iraq in the years shortly following ahead of this sermon.

         Make no mistake, that Schuller’s depiction of the American flag’s self-image of itself may truly be the best representation of someone who has fully followed Schuller’s own teaching concerning self-esteem. God is your sponsor, and is there to help you feel better about yourself, and if one continues to say ‘Lord, Lord’ then your conscience can be clear—

         “Repentance’ is a dirty word full of negative energy that fills people with guilt, when people already know their sins!” a disciple of Schuller’s might say.

         The response would be, “Of course people already know their sins, and its not God’s job to just appease your guilty conscience, but to actually get you to strive toward repentance.”

         “But people need to hear about grace!” says the disciple.

         “Of course they do,” replies the respondent, “but God’s grace is what can sustain a life of faith and repentance, not to do away with them!”

         See, Schuller’s legacy may have been pioneering televangelism and bringing pop-psychology into Evangelical churches across America, but for a young Canadian Evangelical man, having visited so many years ago, the legacy of Schuller is that his gospel of self-esteem appeases the consciences not only of individual Christians, who live in lands of poverty-ignorant opulence supported by gun-obsessed military violence, but also, the conscience of his nation at large. Lastly, one more image should suffice to show how the God-like character of the American flag in fact shaped, even in the most subtle of ways, the Crystal Cathedral’s view of Jesus. In the midst of its garden of statues, was a depiction of the holy family, and a Jesus, as platinum looking as the church he’s housed in.

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