“Shun, as you would the plague, a cleric who from being poor has become wealthy, or who, from being nobody has become a celebrity.”
I remember the first time I heard Ed talk at the Fellowship of Las Colinas (That was the previous name of Fellowship Church). He told a story that charmed me. He recounted the first time he stepped into the pulpit, as a new pastor, in his dad’s church Second Baptist Church, Houston). He was supposed to say the Lord’s Prayer. As he opened his mouth to lead the prayer, he was so nervous that he actually forgot it in the panic of the moment. He said that he never stepped into the pulpit without his copy of the Lord’s Prayer again.
I smiled and thought how I could have done something just like that. It demonstrated what I thought was a glimpse of transparent vulnerability which I thought spoke to a humility of spirit. He was one of us.
Soon after that, I took my two daughters out in our neighborhood for trick or treat. Yep, I am one of those “worldly” Christians who enjoy that tradition. I rarely told anyone that I did such a thing since I knew that some righteous person would lecture me. A block into the event, I bumped into Ed who was out with his daughter. He made me laugh when he told me he had hoped not to bump into anyone from the church for the same reason as me. Once again, I smiled at his easygoing humor and honesty.
I remembered that night because 11 days later my 3-year-old daughter would be diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. I was 7 months pregnant at the time and thus began the hardest journey of my life. Guess who showed up at the hospital? Ed and a church leader came by to show care and concern. The most important thing anyone can do in such a crisis is to be there and Ed did just that. I knew he was busy and his visit meant so much. Kudos to him.
The next months were a blur with surgeries, a new baby, and trying to survive. We would go to church when possible but very little sank in. We were living a nightmare and the outside world was a daze.
As my family began to emerge from the depths, we became more involved in church. I noticed a subtle change in Ed and it confused me. He began to talk a lot about money and focused more and more on the “famous” people who came to the church. I remember him harping about his truck always breaking down from the pulpit. Within a couple of weeks he was given a brand new Mitsubishi Diamante. He talked about how much he liked fishing and wished he could go fishing in Central America . Within a month of so, some wealthy businessmen took him on a trip to Costa Rica and the congregation, during a sermon, was treated to pictures of him fishing in an exotic clime. Ed seemed to be taken with the Dallas dazzle and it concerned me. The humble Ed made less and less of an appearance.
As time went on, plans were being made to build a church building. Until then the church met in rented digs. Dinners were held to get people to donate money. Extra special, fancy dinners were quietly thrown for the potential “big dog” donors. And the tithe lectures started in the Sunday school classes. I still remember a poor woman telling us that she and her children was about to get evicted from her apartment because she had lost her job and her husband walked out on them. The class teacher talked about how hard it was for him to tithe but he did it anyway. He implored even the poor to give their 10%.
I knew him. He was a wealthy man who lived in an expensive home and drove a new Mercedes Benz. After class, I went up to him and asked him why he would say how hard it was for him to tithe in front of a number of people who were struggling to make ends meet. He said, honest to gosh, that it was just as hard for him to tithe as it would be for the poor lady who was about to evicted. I told him that he could easily tithe if he didn’t by a new Benz every year. For this woman, it would mean she would go on food stamps. He said he totally disagreed with me but did not elaborate.
Church started to become more and more like a circus with Ed driving cars onto the stage, bringing on local celebrities who did not seem to profess any faith, and talking up the new building, which still is part of the Grapevine campus today. The old Ed was gone and was replaced by the new Ed. Even the woman’s ministry got goofy. I still remember the featured speaker at one event who spent most of her time talking about her frustration with her lack of muscle tone. She talked about exercising over one hour every day and how she was going to have to become more intensive. She weighed about 100 pounds and looked anorexic to me. I looked over at Lisa Young and she was smiling and nodding along. I felt like I had entered the Twilight Zone.
I remember the final conversation that I would have with Ed and Lisa. They would not let any questions be asked in any of the Sunday school classes. The teachers were handed a subject and a lecture ensued. I know that many people in those classes did not understand the basics of the faith and felt questions might clarify subjects. Lisa’s response was another slogan. They had lots of these sayings which seemed to be quoted as much as the Bible. “If you let people ask questions, you never know what questions they will ask,” she said. And then it dawned on me. They did not trust their teachers and I knew why. Many of them were clueless as well. I then asked if they believed that the Holy Spirit might guide the discussion. And they ended the conversation. That day, sadly, I knew we would leave the church.
So many years have passed. As I have followed the progress of Ed Young, Jr., I have often wondered what happened to that sweet, humble man I knew. Did the Dallas culture just suck him in as it does to so many others? We have heard from a number of people that Ed dove into the prosperity gospel nonsense a few years ago. He has allied himself with Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, Joyce Meyer, and Brian Houston, to name a few.
The Potential Problem: Cognitive Dissonance
I have a possible explanation as to what is happening. Ed may be seeking to justify his lifestyle choices because of “cognitive dissonance.”
About a year ago, TWW did an article on cognitive dissonance. It was called, “I’m Confused…Wait, Maybe I’m Not.” You may read the entire article here. Here is a sampling from the post. The summary comes to us from Wikipedia which I believe did a great job in boiling this issue down to a few salient points.
“Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Cognitive dissonance theory is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.
Dissonance normally occurs when a person perceives a logical inconsistency among his or her cognitions. This happens when one idea implies the opposite of another. For example, a belief in animal rights could be interpreted as inconsistent with eating meat or wearing fur. Noticing the contradiction would lead to dissonance, which could be experienced as anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, embarrassment, stress, and other negative emotional states. When people's ideas are consistent with each other, they are in a state of harmony, or consonance.
A powerful cause of dissonance is an idea in conflict with a fundamental element of the self-concept, such as "I am a good person" or "I made the right decision." The anxiety that comes with the possibility of having made a bad decision can lead to rationalization, the tendency to create additional reasons or justifications to support one's choices. A person who just spent too much money on a new car might decide that the new vehicle is much less likely to break down than his or her old car. This belief may or may not be true, but it would likely reduce dissonance and make the person feel better. “
Ed may be going down the wrong path because he is conflicted (or as we say in the South, “flicted.”) Ed went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and has been taught the concepts of pain, suffering and wealth from a Biblical viewpoint. Although I do not march lockstep with everything that comes out of that institution, I do believe that Ed knows the basic Scripture.
However, he likes the fame, he likes the wealth and he likes to feel important. Who doesn’t? He lives in the Dallas culture that, in this writer’s opinion, worships the external. Big houses, big hair and big cars are de rigueur. It takes a grounded, courageous person to fight such enticements.
Bottom line: Ed has succumbed to the pressure and finds he likes the lifestyle.
But, deep down inside, perhaps late at night, I believe that he has tension as he realizes that he is at odds with what he know to be true. He has read the Bible and he knows that there is little in Scripture that would justify his actions. So, he has cognitive dissonance and must resolve it. He wants wealth and fame but he knows that the Bible speaks against such a pursuit. What to do? What to do?
His Solution: The Prosperity Gospel
He aligns himself with successful people who have found ways to interpret the Bible as justifying the pursuit of wealth. Then he is able to dismiss all those who disagree with his new buddies as “legalists.” He has resolved his anxiety by rationalization. But, it takes a lot of justification to overcome the unease that I believe he feels every day.
His New Problem: People Are Leaving
His excesses have caused a large number of people to leave Fellowship Church. So he tries to keep up the image of success. He browbeats his flock to give him money. As he does this, more people leave. Even some of his staunchest supporters are beginning to question his path.
His Predicament: A Crossroads Of Sorts
In my opinion, Ed has reached a crossroads in his ministry. There is still time to turn this around if, and that is a big if, he has the courage to radically change. But, what is his perception of radical courage? I must admit that I have some doubts that he has the right stuff.
Years ago, when he was fundraising for his Grapevine building, he made a statement in church that went something like this. “Lisa and I have decided to do something crazy. We are giving 1/3 of our retirement fund to this cause. People tell us we are “out of our minds” to do such a thing. But, we are sold out to this cause.” Several people around me laughed and I think I know why. Ed got people to give him things: cars trips, down payments on houses, etc. Ed took care of Ed and would never feel that 1/3 donation. Most people did not have the luxury to whine in front of thousands of adoring people about cars, trips, etc. (Does anyone out there know if Ed tithed on the gifts of cars, trips, clothes, land and down payments? )
The Radical Solution: Give It Up
Recently, TWW did an article on both David Platt and Francis Chan.It is called David Platt and Francis Chan:Two Calvinista I Could Grow to Love. Here is the link.
We also plan to contrast Platt and Young tomorrow.
We challenge Ed and Lisa to do something totally, absolutely, and indubitably radical. This move would definitely fall under the category of “crazy” in direct contrast to his silly statement on his retirement fund. If they follow this lead, they will redeem their ministry and earn the admiration of many, many people.
We propose that they sell their Lake Grapevine house, Miami condo, expensive cars, fancy boots and luxury jet. Then, they give this money to a worthy Christian enterprise that serves the poor. Then, they unravel all of their business shells and give the money to the church.
Finally, they need to move to the inner city of Dallas (or anywhere else, for that matter) and begin to minister to the poor and letdown. These folks have nothing to give the Youngs in terms of expensive gifts. In other words, the Youngs would get no monetary gain out of these relationships. It would truly be a giving, sacrificial lifestyle with no material benefits.
David Platt has moved to the inner city of Birmingham with his family. Francis Chan has given up his massive church and will be ministering to sex slaves in Third World countries. They have earned widespread respect for their decision. These guys have rejected the typical ways of doing things. They are heroes and make good role models for the Youngs.
If the Youngs were to do such a thing, they would save their ministry and find widespread praise for their sacrifice. Much would be forgiven because people understand that God has the power to change lives. It would mean he has turned his back on the prosperity pimps .
However, if they continue on their present course, I believe they will move further and further away from the mainstream faith. They may become hardened to the dissonance in their lives. If so, they will go down in the history of the church as just another sell out or, as Ed used to say, “just another same ole, same ole.”
I leave you with a Bible verse sent to me by a friend this morning.
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 1 John 2:15-16 (NLT)