Soul Saving Supersized

The traffic starts building by 8am, an orderly, mile-long procession of SUVs, minivans, American family cars, snaking their way into vast parking lots waved on by county sheriffs and security guards hired for the occasion. School buses ferry those from the remote edges of lots to the doors of the $78 million structure shrouded in dark glass and adorned with huge vertical columns befitting a corporate headquarters.  A small metal cross, barely visible on the center’s roof, seems an afterthought, a detail dropped in at the last moment, perhaps overlooked in the original architectural design.  

Ten thousand people arrive for the early Sunday morning service at Southeast Christian Church, a climate-controlled, escalator, elevator, gymnasium- equipped megachurch, rising off the highway in the Louisville, Kentucky exurbs.With a total membership of almost 25,000, Southeast Christian Church is one of the largest megachurches in America and part of a frenzied national trend to supersize soul saving. 

About 1000 megachurches, defined as a church that draws more than 2,500 congregants a week, are doing business in the USA. This is triple the number from 1990. Some, like Southeast Christian Church, are so large they are now called Giga churches.   All across the country, especially in the swath of southern, western and mainly red states, the megachurch beckons, transforming empty tracks of land into the equivalent of Christian town malls offering such non-traditional church services as health clubs, schools, hotels, job placement facilities, and even McDonald’s and Starbucks franchises.

Entire industries have been created to design, build, and supply these churches. Think tanks exist to plot their rise. Lighting and rigging companies are booming to supply the popular talking wall video screens and cat walks. Christian bands perform U-2 style music beneath strobe lights and fog machines. And publishing companies package Biblezines that are Christian magazines for teens. “It’s a universe where everything from the temperature to the theology is safely controlled,” Barnard College Religion professor. Dr. Randall Ballmer told the Washington Times. “They don’t have to worry about finding schools, social networks or a place to eat. It’s all prepackaged.”

The message booming from these super sized sanctuaries is a mix of prosperity through prayer tinged with radical right wing social politics. A healthy dose of Christian persecution is thrown in so that a visitor attending a typical megachurch sermon would find that the world today is a place where Christians are brutally and continually oppressed and to survive, they must fight back.  It was in these megachurches that George Bush won his elections. Supported by pastors who preached a daily drumbeat of invective against homosexuals, abortionists and liberals, the congregants rallied to the Republican ticket.  Every two days, a new megachurch emerges in America.

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