The Religious Pace-Setters of California
Disney has understood that much of the contemporary Church Growth Movement is about entertainment. Why support an entire church building with a not-so-good praise band and food court when customers can have great Gospel entertainment and food for the commitment of a $30.00 ticket
Southern California religion is as diverse as its population. The Catholic Church, Robert Schuller, and Walt Disney have each staked out their own emblematic approach to Christianity. Their goal is survival and growth. If you get to Los Angeles, a trip to the new Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral is worth the $12.00 fee in their multi-level underground parking structure. It may be the largest parking garage owned and operated by a church in the world.
The golden limestone Cathedral courtyard with gardens, shops, stonework, and fountains is about the size of 3 football fields. The contemporary nave is 333 feet long and 132 feet high. The Cathedral has 25 enormous 47-foot long tapestries with depicting 135 almost photographic figures of the saints.
While standing in the back of the cathedral next to a massive eight-sided granite baptismal fount filled with running ‘holy’ water, we listened to the lunch hour mass. The fount is about 20 feet across. I watched a small Mexican girl run up and take a drink. The Wednesday lunchtime mass featured chanting, responsive liturgy, hymns, prayers, readings from the Epistle and Gospel lessons, and a brief homily. There were 400 or 500 people present in a facility that seats 3000. During his address, the priest escorted four children out of 150-200 school children attending the Mass to one of the tapestries in the nave. He encouraged them to work so they too could be saints. At least 90% of the children were Mexican. As of July 4 2001, statistics show that more than 50% of all births in California are Latino.
We walked down into a subterranean marble maze, housing a mausoleum that extends under most of the Cathedral. It contains approximately 1900 crypts and 5000 niches for cremains. One of the Cathedral security staff told us it will be a major source of revenue. The entire cost of the Cathedral was more than $160,000,000 dollars.
The Cathedral has a selection of ecclesiastical art and wines for sale. The Cathedral sells its own brand of sherry wine jelly. Sherry wine jelly is designed for whole wheat toast at breakfast. It gives new meaning to the traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
South of Los Angels, in Garden Grove, we watched Robert Schuller through the glass of the Crystal Cathedral seated in front of TV cameras, giving a Tuesday evening interview. His limousine was parked on the other side of the building. For all of the grandeur of Our Lady of the Angels, the Crystal Cathedral, with its accompanying buildings, glass tower, walkways, fountains, statues, gardens, and outdoor mausoleum may still be the more impressive of the two structures. Schuller is the consummate showman and one of the most well-known religious entrepreneurs of the 20th century.
The new 30-40 million dollar Robert Schuller Center For Possibility Thinking is near completion. The motto is, "If you can dream it, you can do it." Schuller quotes: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" as support for all of his endeavours. On the following Sunday, a televised service from the Crystal Cathedral featured Schuller’s son, in his grey Genevan gown with black chevrons, interviewing Ron Maxwell the director of a civil war epoch (it lasts 3 hours and 49 minutes) "Gods and Generals." The film focuses on religion as a motivational factor in the war.
Not far from Garden Grove we toured Down Town Disney in Anaheim, California. They built a miniature down town business district next to Disney Land with streets, shops, restaurants etc. Around one cobble stone street we find The House of Blues, a large two-story New Orleans style restaurant, bar, and theatre featuring musical acts. Every Sunday morning they feature a Gospel review and brunch for $30 dollars a ticket. Leave it to Disney to make religion a commercial venture. More are soon to follow.
Each of these successful and diverse endeavours to advance twenty-first century Christianity shares a common, underlying theme. Each one is intensely focused on its own market niche. The Cathedral is focused on the exponential growth of Mexican Catholics. Illegal Mexican aliens average seven children per family and don’t believe in abortion. Angry American Europeans are heard on the radio talk shows saying, "If you can’t feed them, don’t breed them." However, with approximately one in four California births being Caucasian, the Catholic Church is staking its claim on the future of California.
Schuller’s new building is intended to be an inspiration for future centuries on the importance of possibility thinking. Today’s religious airwaves are filled with radio and televangelists preaching the gospel of success. However, no one is more effective at inspiring earthly success by associating with his preaching and church than Robert Schuller. The Crystal Cathedral is the church where the big dogs run.
Disney has understood that much of the contemporary Church Growth Movement is about entertainment. Why support an entire church building with a not-so-good praise band and food court when customers can have great Gospel entertainment and food for the commitment of a $30.00 ticket?
Show me where they put their money and I’ll show you where the religious entrepreneurs focus their energy and target their market.
Jack Cascione, Redeemer Lutheran Church, St Clair Shores, Michigan.
Christian News March 3, 2003
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