The influence of celebrity culture on the court, in the church and in journalism

This article originally appeared at Baptist News Global on June 22, 2023.

While the Denver Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat to win the NBA title for the first time in their 47-year history last week, Southern Baptist complementarians defeated the egalitarians to win the title of “pastor” exclusively for men for the first time in their 178-year history.

In each competition, only one team could come out on top. And the losing side never stood a chance.

But there’s more to this parallel between the NBA and the SBC than simply who ascended to the top last week. It’s a story about celebrity culture, how we handle our own success, what it means to be a team, and what kind of journalism we read and support.

Our culture’s obsession with celebrity

One of the most familiar patterns in sports media over the last century is marketing events with celebrity showdowns. When the NFL begins each fall, advertisements fill our screens featuring images of one star quarterback facing off against another.

In this year’s NBA Finals, it was the Denver Nuggets with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and his wingman Jamal Murray going against Jimmy Butler and his sidekick Bam Adebayo.

Al Mohler speaking against churches that ordain women and allow women to preach.

For the SBC, it was Al Mohler going head-to-head with Rick Warren and his fellow defendant Linda Barnes Popham.

Our culture’s obsession with celebrities can be traced at least as far back as the 18th century. Columbia University professor Sharon Marcus writes about how Jean-Jacques Rousseau published an autobiography in 1782 and then “complained that everyone was gossiping about him.” During the 18th century, she says, performers and authors began being approached by stalkers, groupies and people asking for autographs.

Marcus explains: “As literacy expanded dramatically among all classes in North America and Europe, so too did the number of those able to read about celebrities. As leisure time increased, people had more time to visit the theaters, opera houses and lecture halls where they saw celebrities in person. Even more fundamentally, democratic movements in England, France and the United States gave rise to a new emphasis on individuality.”

Individual vs. team

The tension between individualism and team is felt throughout the sports and religious worlds.

NBA games today often turn into one-on-one isolation matchups where one superstar dribbles around by himself and then shoots the ball as the shot clock runs out, while the rest of the team stands around the court and watches. It’s often referred to as “hero ball.” In the same way, churches can turn into single-person pastor performances, while the congregation looks on.

The benefit to these individualistic strategies is that the team or church can put on a great show and have astronomical success if they hire the right celebrity. Entire marketing campaigns can be built around these celebrities, which can lead to money streaming in.

But the Denver Nuggets decided to take a different approach. Rather than attempting to bring in flashy free agents, they built the team patiently over time.

Continue reading at Baptist News Global.

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