Pop culture has given us plenty of things to bemoan. From Miley Cyrus twerking to catchphrases like "makes the baby Jesus cry," the opportunities to be bothered by something are seemingly endless. The thing is, it would seem, for every person who is bothered by them, there is a group of people who love them. From Miley's "smilers" to the myriad of Simpson's fan pages (the show that is the origins of the baby Jesus quote), there seems to be fandoms for just about everything.
Unfortunately, it seems to be true of religion as well.
More specifically, the Church has turned into the fandom of God when we were supposed to be ushering the kingdom of God -- and it is slowly killing the Church.
For those who are less than familiar with the term "fandom," Wikipedia defines it as "a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of sympathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest." And therein lays our problem. While the fandom of God is, likewise, characterized by people who share a feeling of sympathy with those who share similar beliefs but the kingdom of God is supposed to be characterized by people who share a feeling of sympathy for those who are hurt, are marginalized and are in need.
Frankly, the difference isn't even subtle but we've managed to replace one with the other without as much as the batting of an eye from the average churchgoer.
It should be said that this is clearly not universally true. There are churches and even denominations that manage to navigate this perilous space well. In a society where pop culture constantly suggests that devotion to a particular thing is best played out in the us-against-the-world, blind, obsessive allegiance of fandoms, I am sometimes surprised that any Christians escape the gravitational pull of the fandom of God.
Here's the thing, pop culture fandoms? They are mostly harmless. In fact, they can be a lot of fun; a free-time obsession at worst or a distraction for passing time at best. Sure, even then there are those who take it too far, but they tend to be a minority. But in the Church? Well, when it happens in the Church we have a habit of turning "fan" into "fanatical."
When the Church's focus is on fandom practices rather than on kingdom practices it tends to become not only self-centered and self-serving but self-selecting as well. When we are fans of Jesus rather than followers of Jesus, our focus is inward turned, like in fandoms, concerned with and finding full satisfaction in what we think and feel and believe. We are more interested in who gets to be labeled insiders, who are "real/true" fans of God, than we are with following the sometimes difficult teachings of Jesus when it comes to those we see as different. Our world shrinks. It becomes far too easy to worry about those we claim as our "own" and to forget that there is a world of hurting people who we are not only called to stand with but who we are to recognize as equally created in the image of God.
The ultimate downfall of the fandom of God is that it creates a self-appointed, elitist community too concerned with regulating, disciplining and congratulating itself to invest the appropriate amount of time outside of its physical and self-imposed walls to indicate in any way that it truly grasps the example and call of Jesus to minister with "the least of these". It is the downfall of the Church because some of those inside the Church and many of those outside the Church see clearly the hypocrisy it creates and they want nothing to do with it.
It is killing the Church.
The numbers back me up on the slow demise of the Church but the death of the Institutionalized Church is not really the problem here. The bigger problem is the death of what should be the Church's purpose: helping those who wish to follow Jesus to do it in an authentic way and making a difference in the lives of those in need. For me, those happen to be two of the most important pieces in re-creating what the world is intended to be which, in part, is my understanding of the kingdom of God.
The fandom of God is killing the coming of the kingdom of God.
And frankly, it makes the baby Jesus cry.