“The Netflix for the Church” Just Called My Orthodox Church

schism
Since we do not have a parish secretary, I just fielded a marketing call from an online service that is billing itself as the “Netflix for the church.” (“Are you familiar with Netflix, sir?”)

I asked who generates the media that they sell. A list of names was rattled off (Matt Chandler, Dave Ramsey, Andy Stanley, etc.), kind of a who’s who in popular Evangelical media whose content I could point my church members toward.

I spent a couple minutes trying to explain why there is a strong likelihood that none of their content would be remotely useful to us, explaining that Orthodox teachings are very different from probably almost everything they have on offer. The nice young lady on the other end of the phone assured me that I could customize what church members would have access to, asking which of the Christian leaders she mentioned I liked to listen to myself and could approve for church members.

To explain why that really would not work, I suggested the analogy of trying to sell specifically Catholic media content to a Baptist church: “Which of these Catholic teachers would work best for your Baptist congregation?” She mentioned something about having some Baptist clients. I responded with some brief comments about Christian history and where that leaves us.

I don’t think I successfully communicated before the phone call got cut off by some technical problem.

This conversation just underlines for me how radically differently ecclesiology works in the religious world that generates businesses like that one. Their business is of course to sell their licensed content, but they didn’t seem equipped to handle the idea that they literally had almost nothing on offer that would relate to what we’re doing. We’re a church, so of course we must be an appropriate market for their content. The idea that we would really be something so wholly other such that their service would be useless to us just doesn’t occur to them.

Denominationalism—the idea that all (mostly Protestant) churches are more or less equivalent and therefore authentically Christian, despite some variety and even contradiction in teachings and practices—is what made that sales pitch possible. Heresy and schism, the things that separate Christians and make their spiritual lives incompatible (including what teachings they read and watch), really just do not seem to exist in denominationalism.

Heresy is a word that gets used sometimes, of course, but without an ecclesiology to back it up, it really just means “I think your Biblical hermeneutics is wrong.” And I don’t think schism really means anything at all in denominationalism. How do you protect people from false teachings that are foreign to the Church when the Church doesn’t have discernible boundaries in any meaningful and applicable sense?

The Orthodox remain largely unknown in American culture. A look at this service’s website and a list of testimonials from various churches includes no non-Protestant churches. They literally do not understand that we’re not just some variation on the same things that they’re used to.

We have a lot of work to do.

Part of that work is to continue to develop authentically Orthodox media. We have to do that at least partly to compete with stuff like this—many Orthodox people uncritically consume content that is contrary to the faith. They largely just don’t know any better.

But we also have to reach people better with the message of what the Orthodox Church is, what it teaches, how it’s different from everything else out there, and how Jesus Christ shines through most clearly and truly in the Church that He Himself founded.

14 comments:

  1. So true, Father!

    And a somewhat hilarious illustration of it as well. I don’t know that I would have been nearly as “conversational” as you….

  2. The Orthodox Church is doing a good job using technology to evangelize. Ancient Faith radio and podcasts is what you find being recommended even in Anglican circles (I am Anglican). I lose heart when I see fellow congregants chasing televangelists (who are quiet hostile towards anything that smells catholic). You should have recommended that the lady listens to AFR so as to understand how her offer is irrelevant to Orthodoxy.

  3. I have had nearly identical conversations with Sunday School curriculum salespeople. They just don’t get it, and it’s impossible to explain when their motivation is not to understand and absorb but to make the sale. Instead of hearing that there is a totally Other way of being Church, their minds are racing for the product that’s going to work for you. Amusing, really, and as you say, a good indicator that Americans have no idea who we are.

  4. Good points here. I’ve never found a complete listing of Orthodox Media.
    I’m an old woman with some health issues. I use Pinterest to organize favorite Orthodox topics including a board called Orthodox Media. This board continues to grow as new films are produced.
    Over time, so many people from around the World started following my boards…and many non-Orthodox,(Bio- Orthodoxy, Lenten Food, Icons etc) that I added a board called What is Orthodox Christianity?
    I would love to see a documentary film about Orthodoxy in the America’s that stretches North (Alaska), South (Guatamala and Mexico), through the ethnic and convert communities of the West, South, East, North and Canada. Including Monasteries. Epic!!!

  5. {But we also have to reach people better with the message of what the Orthodox Church is, what it teaches, how it’s different from everything else out there, and how Jesus Christ shines through most clearly and truly in the Church that He Himself founded.}

    I think that a good vehicle to do this is the video series and workbooks from “A Journey to Fullness” video series and workbooks.

  6. I find my own difficulties in facing things like this. “It’s so wonderful you’ve found where God wants you to be! Isn’t it amazing how he wants us to worship Him in a variety of ways?”

    And out of politeness, sometimes I can only smile. Because no one seems to understand that Orthodoxy is all encompassing to life, not a “worship choice.”

    1. Yes, in this case one cannot be honest AND polite. 🙂

      Even, “it’s nice that you think so” is a stretch.

  7. “Part of that work is to continue to develop authentically Orthodox media. We have to do that at least partly to compete with stuff like this—many Orthodox people uncritically consume content that is contrary to the faith.”

    Unfortunately an issue is that some of American Orthodox media can also be contrary to the faith, in the sense that, when fathers and saints get boiled down to caricatures for the sake of apologetical talking points, we end up with saints being described as the opposite of how they seem to have actually been in reality. For instance, you do not have to look hard to see St. Gregory Palamas described as an anti-rationalist who rebuked Rome’s heresies, when in truth Palamas used syllogisms and had good relationships with some Latins and it was in fact Barlaam who did not think reason produced knowledge of God and hated Aquinas. Something similar applies to Mark of Ephesus, who is often quoted solely from the Encyclical Letter: what he said during Florence, and his relationship to the Holy Synaxis in Constantinople upon return is left unmentioned.
    I might be exaggerating a bit, but in my view this can be just as damaging as secular/Protestant media. Not a few Orthodox have left the Church once they realized this picture which they received was misleading and in fact a distortion of tradition. I’ve seen some philosophically-minded Orthodox feel marginalized because of it. If we want to “compete” with non-Orthodox media, we should consider taking seriously, but not uncritically, what scholars say instead of just toeing the line.

    Anyway, these are just my concerns. Any thoughts or objections?

    1. I think what you are talking about is an over reliance on media, particularly the internet, to learn about Orthodoxy.

      Internet Orthodoxy is a very small percentage of worldwide Orthodoxy.

      Orthodoxy must be lived and experienced.

      It is naïve IMO to believe that everything is as neat and tidy and as black and white as it might be presented by a very few people who honestly, shouldn’t be talking about the Church anyways.

      That’s not a good enough reason to leave the Church. If one left because of that, then, I think there was a greater, underlying problem that was not detectable on the surface.

      1. Agreed. Taking the internet too seriously is a terrible habit. I myself spend way too much time on it, reading various Orthodox and Catholic blogs, etc. Sometimes I even seek out views that I know will anger me, and I end up with hateful thoughts, which has to be a special kind of vice.

        So thank you for the much-needed reminder.

      2. No problem. That’s a reminder I need as well.

        Another thing to think about, is that it is hard to answer questions about Orthodoxy in just a minute or two. That’s may be why we see these statements that although are true, may not fully express all the nuances involved.

        This is especially true with the media, you only have so much time and so much space to say something. A short response to a question about Orthodoxy can never fully express everything that needs to be said.

        It would do those who are seeking to remember this, and spend time at an Orthodox parish attending the services and developing relationships with real people in real time, attend catechism classes, and ask a lot of questions. I’ve seen catechumens who almost never ask any questions. They are sometimes the ones most likely to leave after becoming Orthodox.

        Our clergy need to be aware of this too and respond accordingly.

  8. AFR and its podcasts have really helped my faith, and I’m an Anglican. They provide great listening material whilst I drive 3.5 hours to larger urban centres from where we live.

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