Weird Weather and Biblical Floods: The Inundation of the American Megachurch

Kate Pickering

Fig. 1: Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas (2013). © ToBeDaniel, source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38716905.

The sub-tropical climate of Houston in hurricane season is an enveloping weight, a soft wall that seeps into the skin. We are slowed and placated in its embrace. Let us join a surge of people moving from the concrete multi-storey car park toward Lakewood’s eight sets of glass double doors. Despite the oppressive humidity, the air inside is clinically crisp and dry. Stepping out from the coruscating sun, skin prickles with the chill of an air-conditioned atmosphere. The vents are giant pores cooling the body of the building. They are also gullets through which profane whispers will drift. Friendly stewards welcome the crowd with smiles, greetings and hand-shakes. Within the glass-fronted, double-storey reception area a wide staircase leads up to a mezzanine floor, beyond which are more stairs to the main worship space known as the Sanctuary. Leaving behind the light, glass-fronted hallway, we move toward the arena doors. We pass through the hard exoskeleton, moving into soft, fleshy interior, a gestational space, and enter inside the Sanctuary.

The scale of the space registers in the body as a visceral shock. It is capacious, artificially bright, spectacular. Rows upon rows of upholstered seating laid out in huge grids encircle the crowd in a bowl-like structure. Giant high definition screens hang above a wide luminous stage, bracketed by choir stalls to the left and right, big enough to house 250 singers. A giant multi-cultural, multi-generational family assembles in the space below. The lights above shine through a vast expanse of undulating nylon fishing nets hung from the ceiling to form rippling clouds. The colours resemble a magnificent sky. They soften from deep red to orange and now to pale yellow. Above the choir stalls are midnight blue screens punctuated with an array of tiny lights, simulating a celestial realm.

The lights suddenly plunge the congregation into semi-darkness as the stage is brilliantly lit up. Sixteen white spotlights search across the sea of bodies. At the same moment, a tsunami of noise hits us as the worship band starts up with its opening song. The auditory oversaturation is unprecedented. We feel the heavy thud of the bass vibrating up from the floor into our feet and legs and up through the chest. We look towards the stage. A smoke machine is sending out white drifts around the legs of the performers. The high definition screens are relaying song lyrics set against sublime images of the natural world, filtered to maximize effect. The lyrics repeatedly tells us that we are not adrift, we are anchored, we are safe. An image of an eye in a storm is overlaid with the words:

CHRIST ALONE
CORNERSTONE

 

The atmospherics of the megachurch worship service produce what might be conceptualised as a climate of belief, a weather front contained within and produced by the actants in a space charged with affect. The congregants experience liquid waves of sound, colour, repetitious words, images and metaphors that create deep wells of feeling. Within this fluid atmosphere, song lyrics and sermons frequently refer to God as a rock, as solid and stable, offering divine protection from the watery unpredictability of storms and seas. This produces a collective imaginary of territorial rescue, of orientation amidst life’s uncertainties.

For Eva Horn, author of The Future As Catastrophe, a collective imaginary refers to the ways that communities understand themselves and the world around them, not only in the past and present but also in relation to the future. For Horn, this imaginary might consist of: ‘shared conceptions, attributions, narratives, images, and metaphors’.1 These provide multiple forms through which we navigate and interpret the ‘reality’ we perceive. Collective imaginaries, whilst abstract, have material ramifications – they draw on the past, materialize in the present and shape our futures. At Lakewood in Houston, Texas, an evangelical church and the United States’ largest megachurch, an imaginary of orientation arises, generated from congregants’ sensory perception of the site, both inside and out. Within the church, a collective imaginary is formed through a shared narrative, communicated via a range of visual and material texts. Its overarching message is that God saves: if we can have faith, all will be well. This orienting construction is communicated in disorienting ways during worship, leading to a dynamically affective atmosphere in which embodied response leads to belief formation. However, this stabilising and consoling narrative occludes the more complex reality of a climate crisis that has already reportedly breached the bounds of the building during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Studies of white evangelical attitudes in the US to the apocalyptic scenarios of climate crisis, of intensifying floods, wildfires, hurricanes and tsunamis, have consistently shown a lack of concern, mistrust or outright rejection of the science on climate change. Several reasons have been posited for this seeming reticence and rejection, from end-times theology (eschatology) creating apathy due to the belief that we are experiencing the earth’s last days as ordained by God, to a concerted effort by right-wing Christian leadership to frame climate crisis as an attempt by left-leaning secularists to discredit Christianity. However in Houston, the threat of extreme weather events, flooding and subsidence pose an ever greater threat to a city located on the gulf coast.

This paper will address how the affective space of Lakewood’s worship service — in which a narrative of redemption, dominion over climatological forces and material success is communicated through a range of visual and material forms — both occludes and invokes the more-than-human world outside of its confines. I consider why this might be important within a wider context of a white evangelicalism that foregrounds the apocalypse as part of God’s plan for humanity alongside intensifying climate crisis. As an ‘Exvangelical’ (ex-evangelical) artist and writer, I outline how my experimental, speculative writing practice re-thinks the denials and exclusions of the church space by bringing the more-than-human generatively into the site.2 Through my long-form prose text, There is a Miracle in Your Mouth — extracts of which are interspersed throughout this chapter ­— I revisualize the sacred space of the megachurch as having its boundaries breached by a flood and entering a transformative oceanic submersion. I imagine the site as a more-than-human entity, serving to undo the nature/ culture binaries within the site, and birthing it into a new form of hybrid, connected existence. In this I avert a destructive apocalypse, instead reorienting the site within a new imaginary. This speculative writing creates an experiential, performative space based on embodied research, alongside my theoretical analysis, enabling the reader to experience the site in both current and possible forms.

Fig. 2: Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas (2019). © Photo: the author.

The Evangelical Megachurch

Lakewood is a non-denominational Charismatic evangelical church. Charismatic Christianity is defined as a trans-denominational movement that can intersect with evangelicalism. It is typified by a belief in the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit or God’s power to perform miracles in the here and now.3 One of the central tenets of evangelicalism (meaning ‘good news’), a worldwide, rapidly spreading trans-denominational form of Protestant Christianity, is conversionism, a fundamental belief in the spreading of the gospel to the ends of the earth through telling others the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ.4 From 1970 to 2021, the global growth of the number of evangelicals increased at a faster rate than global population growth of 119% at 180%. Along with Pentecostals5 and Charismatics (often overlapping with evangelicalism), this is the fastest-growing religious group, apart from Islam, at 192%.6 There are approximately 600 million evangelicals represented by the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of churches across 129 nations.7 The United States has the largest concentration of evangelicals, mostly based in the Bible Belt in which Lakewood is situated.

Evangelicalism is also the dominant form of religious expression in the United States with estimates ranging between 25.4% (2014 Pew Religious Landscape survey) and 37% (2019 Gallup survey) of the population identifying as evangelical or ‘born again’ Christians.8 9 As a result, evangelicals form a significant voting block and wield considerable political and socio-cultural power.

The standard definition of the megachurch is typically a Protestant Christian church with 2,000 or more congregants in weekly attendance although in the US there are currently approximately ninety ‘gigachurches’ that exceed 10,000 congregants per week.10 11 In the US, megachurches are undergoing a rapid increase in size.12 Up to 52,000 people attend Lakewood every week and millions more access the services via TV broadcast, online and podcasts from around the world.13 Beyond its’ own particularities of history and culture, in its scale and reach it visualises and materialises the global evangelical movement in its idealised form. Whilst not all megachurches are evangelical—the vast majority of protestant mainline denominations have at least one megachurch—many megachurches, both denominational and non-denominational hold beliefs consistent with evangelicalism.

Non-denominational evangelical megachurches such as Lakewood tend to present low tension with the surrounding secular culture, enabling the unchurched and religious seekers to feel at ease once inside the bounds of the site and the ever-growing embrace of global evangelicalism. The communication of the Biblical redemption narrative through the visual, material and auditory immersion of the evangelical megachurch creates a sense of orientation for the congregant. The authorised narrative of the good news story creates a perception of being grounded or stabilised. On conversion, life stories become held within the structure of the redemption story. Within the church, architecture, stage and interior design, projected imagery, music lyrics, preaching and teaching, intensified by the visual spectacle of crowd, lighting and scale, all repeatedly reinforce the evangelical narrative creating an intense embodied experience.14 In this dynamically affective, occasionally disorienting experience the orienting narrative of the good news story is foregrounded as a solid foundation. Bodily and cognitive responses to spectacle, music and persuasive rhetoric comingle to create positive feelings of hope, comfort, consolation and a sense of belonging. Megachurches frequently adopt an appealing sheen of contemporary culture, for example utilising cutting-edge audio-visual technologies to communicate and disseminate practical and therapeutic preaching centring on self-actualisation and positive thinking rather than Biblical exegesis.15 16 The preacher’s therapeutic, quasi-religious narrative provides a means to cement a new identity as an individual within a global crowd, offsetting the disorientation of rapid social and political change in contemporary culture.

The US megachurch further replicates its socio-political context by prioritizing the comfort and choice of consumer capitalism.17 A significant proportion are led by wealthy entrepreneurial pastors (‘pastorpreneurs’) employing business and marketing strategies to enable their churches to grow in members, wealth and influence.18 The Christian marketplace for books, music, conferences and training, and other products has expanded, alongside the preaching of the ‘prosperity gospel’—the supposed Biblical basis for health and wealth—creating an emphasis on success, wellbeing and positive thinking. Joel Osteen for example, senior pastor of Lakewood Church and America’s leading Christian minister according to Luke Phillip Sinitiere, is a best-selling author, celebrity and multi-millionaire.19

Whilst many megachurches are monoracial and 90% of US evangelicals are white,20 Lakewood is notable for its’ racial diversity. Non-denominational evangelical megachurches like Lakewood are more likely to be diverse than mainline congregations, reflecting their urban/exurban locations,21 yet structural racism is yet to be adequately addressed from the pulpit by white church leaders22 and racism is unwittingly perpetuated by well-meaning white evangelicals.23 Despite racial diversity (also reflecting its Pentecostal heritage) and black, Latinx and female speakers and worship leaders frequently appearing on stage, there remains within Lakewood a theological conservativism. As a legacy church handed down through the family from father to son, the male heir is still the head of the church and it is still largely men who preach. Heterosexual marriage and the family are promoted, reflecting evangelical conservative values. Whilst Osteen is famed for his refusal to be drawn on political issues, political scientists Wald, Owen and Hill found that even without including overt political content in sermons, churches still conveyed political attitudes to members, creating a convergence in congregants’ beliefs and attitudes over time.24

Fig. 3: Joel Osteen, ‘Call it in’, Lakewood Church (28 July 2019). © Photo: the author.

Within the body building, Joel Osteen, son of Lakewood founder John Osteen and now Senior Pastor, takes the stage. He is smartly dressed in a dark blue suit, his diminutive stature offset by an expansive Texan warmth and a beguiling charisma. His voice, rehearsed to perfection, is familiar but carries a gentle authority. He settles the congregation into the message with humorous anecdotes, but this playful introduction is set aside to begin the serious business of reinforcing the shared foundations of the community once again. Lakewood’s interpretation of the evangelical narrative is inherited from the Word of Faith movement: positive thinking to acquire an abundant life. Osteen thoughtfully paces the stage, opens his arms wide, brings his hands together under his chin. He occasionally punches the air, constantly underlining his words with his gestures. At times he abruptly pauses, his cadence increasingly inflected with passionate emphasis. Congregants respond by murmuring approval, calling out, clapping. Today’s message is ‘Call it in’, focussing on the power of words to affect positive material change: “Call in health, abundance. Call in promotion, opportunity. Say what you want, not what you have. It is already happening. Don’t call in the negative.” He wants us to be financially blessed, to have a breakthrough, to be healthy and have all that we desire. He wants this for us because this is what God wants. Through using a rhetorical repetition of the same persuasive phrases over and over again he embeds these truths into the bodies in the crowd. His voice is pure affect for both speaker and listener, summoned from veins, muscles and organs, an embodied will to communicate. Towards the end of his preach Joel’s voice breaks with emotion, his chin folds up towards a mouth that contorts with the effort of holding back tears. Here is a man deeply invested in the significance of the telling. His body carries the weight of it.

Whilst evangelicalism is a broad, heterogeneous group consisting of various traditions and not all evangelicals are conservative, white traditionalist evangelicalism25 (also referred to as the Christian Right although this can also include non-evangelicals) is both socially and politically conservative and is historically entangled with Republicanism.26 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump as president,27 proving decisive in his success, and creating an exodus of people of colour from predominantly white, Republican supporting evangelical congregations.28 White traditionalist evangelicals account for approximately half of evangelicals in the US. They are from historically white denominations who are politically engaged, take the Bible literally, and hope to restore Christian values in American law and culture. The Christian Right are vocal and influential, acting to influence politics on the basis that Anglo-Christian identity is under threat from several enemies including progressive secularism.29 Evangelicals have therefore developed an ‘embattled’ mentality: a perception of being culturally under attack and that they must fight for the Christian soul of the nation. One significant aspect of this confluence of politics and theology is the issue of climate crisis. Robin Globus Veldman has highlighted how Christian Right leadership has deployed a large-scale campaign in the evangelical mass media to suggest that the crisis is nothing more than a liberal hoax. This message reaches millions of global evangelical Christians daily. The attitudes, beliefs and imaginaries of this heterogeneous but sizeable group are formed through an entanglement of theological, local and national contexts.

Apocalypticism in Evangelicalism

The warm, moist air above the Atlantic, significantly warmer than historical averages for this time of year, is unstable. Cumulonimbus or ‘thunderhead’ clouds begin to form and grow, heavy topped and anvil-shaped, a dark shadow that looms, blocking out the sun. A large wave to the east of the Lesser Antilles builds and grows, drawing water up into its’ peak. On satellite imagery the tropical depression appears as several areas of cloud expanding, dispersing and then expanding again, a cloudy milk swirling into the blue. The white blooms and intensifies, one area in particular grows into a large and defined vortex spinning relentlessly around a central black eye. Body building senses its movement as a quietening, a waiting in the ether.

In the Biblical book of Revelations, the end times are described as a time of tribulation including wars and natural disasters to be followed by Christ’s return when a new heaven and earth will be instated.30 58% of white evangelicals in America believe that Jesus will return before 2050 and 41% of Americans as a whole believe that Jesus Christ definitely (23%) or probably (18%) will have returned to earth by 2050.31 The particularities of Lakewood’s relationship to the more-than-human world are enclosed within a broader evangelical context in which an apocalyptic imaginary has a significant impact on belief and culture. This imaginary, based on Revelations, is shaped by historical forces.

The Christian Right rose in influence from the late 1970s, forming partisan organisations such as The Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council to promote conservative moral reform in response to the perceived secularisation of culture. A sense of moral outrage at progressive cultural and political shifts combined with the Republican recognition that evangelicals formed a significant voting bloc created an ongoing entanglement between Church and state. Evangelicalism, rather than fragmenting in response to the shifts of modernity, became a mass movement that defined itself in a fight with pluralism in a series of ‘culture wars,’32 causing it to thrive in its sense of embattlement. In the drive to define itself in relation to a perceived enemy, evangelical defence of white traditional America became conflated with the Christian position. The perception that a war against anti-Christian forces is required is made urgent by the belief that pluralism has been prophesied in Revelations as a sign of the ‘end times’.

American flag at the back of the Sanctuary, Lakewood’s main worship auditorium
Fig. 4: American flag at the back of the Sanctuary, Lakewood’s main worship auditorium (July 2019). © Photo: the author.

This sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’, of inclusion and exclusion, materialises repeatedly within evangelical culture. Late Southern Baptist pastor and one of the most powerful propagandists of the Christian Right Tim LaHaye has opined: ‘It is no overstatement to declare that most of today’s evils can be traced to secular humanism.’33 Along with prolific author Jerry Jenkins, LaHaye authored a best-selling series of sixteen novels titled Left Behind.34 The series is the most popular Christian fiction of the past fifty years, selling an estimated eighty million copies with seven books taking the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list. The novels were also turned into a film Left Behind (2000) and a violent video game series beginning with Left Behind: Eternal Forces (2006) in which gamers kill the unsaved and the army of the Antichrist on the streets of New York.35 LaHaye and Jenkins took details of the rapture from Revelations (where true believers are taken up into heaven, leaving behind nominal Christians and unbelievers) and extrapolated them into a gruesome and visceral imagining of the last days. In the ‘Left Behind’ novels, the antichrist is in league with the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, Iraq, all Muslims, the media, liberals, freethinkers and international bankers. America is viewed as overtaken by secretive and immoral forces behind organisations that seem democratic. This enacts a reversal in which ‘others’ are seen to be intent on world domination and then creates a logic for militant repression.

The perceived destabilisation of the ‘Christian’ American way of life produces a sense of threat and a fear of the other, creating both a collective nationalistic identity and increasingly militant behaviour. Andrew Whitehead and S.L. Perry write that Christian nationalism is: ‘a cultural framework – a collection of myths, traditions, symbols, narratives, and value systems – that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life’.36 They further define Christian nationalism as different from white conservative Protestantism, instead: ‘it includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious’.37 In a large-scale sociological study, Whitehead and Perry quantify American attitudes towards Christian nationalism into four categories: Rejecters, Resistors, Accommodators and Ambassadors. Ambassadors are categorised as being ‘wholly supportive’ of Christian nationalism and believe that Christians should urgently act to hasten the ‘glory’ of the new heaven and earth.38 According to the study they comprise 19.8% of the population.39 Whilst nationalistic views are not held by all evangelicals, Chris Hedges argues that conservative evangelical churches enable its growing influence in US politics by failing to call out what he terms an ‘American fascism’—the idea that ‘there is only one way to be a Christian and one way to be an American’40—and presents an ever-growing threat to democracy, freedom and tolerance. Hedge writes:

As long as scripture, blessed and accepted by the church, teaches that at the end of time there will be a Day of Wrath and Christians will control the shattered remnants of a world cleansed through violence and war, as long as it teaches that all nonbelievers will be tormented, destroyed and banished to hell, it will be hard to thwart the message of radical apocalyptic preachers.41

Unsurprisingly, polarised attitudes toward the apocalyptic scenarios of climate change have also formed, with scepticism, denial and apathy toward environmentalism largely comprising the evangelical response. A 2015 Pew Research Centre poll found that only 28% of white evangelicals believe the earth is warming due to human activity in comparison to 64% of the non-religiously affiliated.42 The Christian right’s theological framing of several political positions— including the idea that climate change is a hoax made up by liberals—has increased scepticism within American evangelicalism at large toward climate crisis.43 The Cornwall Alliance, for example, is a conservative Christian think tank that actively works to promote climate science scepticism and to lobby against Christian environmentalism. Their ‘Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming’— signed by 500 prominent evangelical leaders— frames global warming as part of naturally occurring cycles. The Alliance argues that to take steps to address this would increase poverty, a persuasive claim for Christians charged by the Bible to feed and clothe the poor. The Cornwall Alliance’s twelve-part film series featuring a number of influential evangelical leaders, titled Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to One of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day (2013), similarly frames climate activism as anti-Christian.44

In Globus Veldman’s study of traditionalist evangelical laity attitudes to climate change in Georgia, she largely dismisses the long-held view that evangelical rejection of climate change is due to what she terms the ‘end-time apathy hypothesis’: the idea that due to the imminent return of Christ and destruction of the world evangelicals care little about the environment.45 Some of her participants were convinced that apocalypse was nigh and readily viewed climate change as evidence of this fact. These ‘hot millenialists’ however were in the minority. The majority, ‘cool millenialists’, were predominantly climate sceptics who believed that the timing of the end could not be predicted. Highlighting climate change as another battleground in the war on secular culture, Globus Veldman writes:

For these individuals, climate change was … instead a hoax—a competing eschatology concocted by secularists who sought to scare people into turning to government instead of God … this sense of embattlement with secular culture explained why so many of my informants rejected climate change on religious grounds.46

Key to this scepticism is, for Globus Veldman, the outsize influence of Christian right leadership through the evangelical mass media, impacting millions of global evangelical Christians. In framing climate change theologically, they ‘helped transform climate skepticism and denial from a political opinion into an aspect of evangelical identity’.47

However, Sophie Bjork-James’ ethnographic study of evangelical attitudes in Colorado foregrounds how competing understandings of the end times produce different responses within evangelicalism and appears to back up the end-times apathy hypothesis. Bjork-James writes that:

In over a year of ethnographic research on evangelicalism … I found the future is ever-present in evangelical discourse. Believers regularly speculate and debate about the end of time—what it will entail, when it will occur, how to tell that it is coming. It is the subject of countless books, podcasts, radio broadcasts, sermons, Bible study groups, and informal conjecture.48

Bjork-James outlines two distinct approaches amongst the evangelicals she researched in Colorado, one she frames as ‘lifeboat’ theology – the idea that God will completely destroy the earth and usher in a new heaven. This predominating viewpoint of a ‘redundant earth’ was more focussed on individual salvation and might be compared with Globus Veldman’s ‘hot millenialist’ group in their excitement at the prospect of an imminent new beginning. Bjork-James writes about the exceptionalism of this group:

In this view, God is the ultimate agent (see Bjork-James 2018), and humans are seen as occupying a privileged position vis-à-vis God. This understanding is central to evangelical views on the environment, for human life is always the foreground in this ethical order, everything else is background. Human life is the important cargo on this sinking ship of a planet, not the quality of life, but the fact of life. The environment here remains the unmarked background.49

Furthermore, the idea that humans have the power to disrupt the environment was seen as arrogant (an idea echoed in Globus Veldman’s study), a denial of God’s omnipotence and therefore challenging the authority of evangelicalism.50

Secondly, a different interpretation of the Biblical text led to the belief that an apocalypse will remake the earth rather than destroy it. This minority view, more common amongst younger evangelicals, produced a greater likelihood of adherents’ involvement in environmental causes.51

Within an evangelicalism that takes the Bible literally, the end of the world as we know it is conceived of as a reality to come. I posit that despite varying Biblical interpretations and political influences, the evangelical imaginary of life as a temporary and shadowy version of a more glorious world in waiting, and the human as exceptional over other forms of life impacts on engagement with climate crisis. Furthermore, in the sense of a clear-cut division between the sacred world of evangelical church culture and the profane world outside, anything that escapes the bounds of evangelicalism, including the surrounding animate landscape, is viewed as a potential threat to God’s sovereignty.

The black eye, surrounded by a whirling field of white, moves westward on an erratic course. It increases to a category 4 hurricane moving toward the south coast of North America, approaching the Texan coastline. Satellite technology tracks its progress, the hurricane appearing as like a swirl of white mycelium, silken fingers drawing energy inwards, mushrooming up into a fluffy domed cap.

muddy bank onto a wide river lined with trees
Fig. 5: Buffalo Bayou, Houston (July 2019). © Photo: the author.

The Dis/Orientations of Lakewood’s Ecological Imaginary

Lakewood’s iteration of the evangelical narrative — a narrative that I consider to be an orienting construction visualised and materialised in dis/orienting ways — impacts on belief and behaviour within a locality that is increasingly impacted by severe weather events. Rather than an eschatological narrative, Lakewood adopts a prosperity gospel narrative. I propose that this is a linear teleology of success and progress, one in which both an individual and a global body of believers will overcome and predominate against a world that needs divine help and power.

Encircling Lakewood are commercial office buildings housing petroleum distributors, drilling contractors, petrochemical manufacturers, energy and health insurance companies and real estate trusts. The ten office towers of Greenway Plaza, where Lakewood resides, are connected by an extensive system of air-conditioned skyways, tunnels, and underground parking garages. Greenway Plaza overlays the grasslands that extend beyond the Buffalo Bayou. The topography is wide and flat, a sprawling web of roads bracketed by super-sized buildings, behind which central Houston’s skyscrapers reach heavenward, colonising the blue.

Lakewood is anchored into grassland that tops sand, silts and clay loams deposited by waterways over the last 35,000 years, and the remains of a river delta from the last ice age. Much further below are the salt layers that occasionally rise to the surface to form anticlines, or salt domes. The Harris-Galveston region, in which Houston is located and through which the Buffalo Bayou snakes, lies to the north of the Gulf Coast and the west of Galveston and Trinity Bays. Beneath most of Harris County lies an immense saturated zone formed of aquifers. Aquifers are porous rock from which water can be readily extracted. The surface of the land has been slowly deforming and subsiding as the aquifers compact due to over-extraction of groundwater for domestic, commercial and industrial consumption, altering the flows of the creeks and bayous and creating an increased likelihood of severe flooding. 190 billion gallons of water from industrial and municipal wells are drawn annually. However, the water is an essential part of the clay and sand structure under the ground, and the inability of annual rainfall to replace the ever-diminishing water supplies has led to areas of Houston sinking almost two feet in the last decade alone. Parts of Harris County have sunk ten to twelve feet in the last century. Over 20,000 acres of land in the Houston-Galveston region has been lost to the encroaching shorelines of Galveston Bay and its tributaries as the land has sunk, and flash flooding has increased as a threat due to the impact on drainage. Houston is not built on a solid foundation of bedrock but is instead floating on an unsteady scaffold of fine-grained Beaumont clay. Locating a populous city and the plants and industries of the world’s largest petrochemical complex upon this shifting, watery platform has triggered the natural instability of a land which is the coastal equivalent of earthquake country.52 The depleting aquifers are called Chicot, Jasper and Evangeline.

Worship Service
Fig. 6: Worship Service, Lakewood Church, Houston (28 July 2019). © Photo: the author.

The space of the Sanctuary, during a worship service, is temporarily closed off from the landscape in which the building is situated. The land has been slowly subsiding along with an increase in the likelihood of severe flooding in a region that has grown wealthy as a result of the extraction of fossil fuels.53 Traditionalist evangelical imaginaries of endless extraction of resources and wealth generation, the world as merely a backdrop for the perfection of believers, appear tenuous within an increasingly perilous climate. As I will outline, Lakewood performs a simplified and unproblematic version of this landscape, comforting believers, consoling them with a message that through trusting in God he will deliver them through the storms, both metaphorical and literal. Contrasting with the sub-tropical humidity of Houston snaked through with the swampy bayou, is the vast air-conditioned, artificially lit space of the Sanctuary, a site of orienting repetitions, but also frequently awash with atmospheric emotion across the thousands of bodies.

Surrounded by the dark bowl of the room, the brightness, movement and noise from the front begin to kaleidoscope towards us. Despite our distance from the stage, the sound and the dazzling light seem closely intimate. The illusion that we are rational, detached outsiders rapidly dissolves. We are no longer spectators, but instead, we experience a revelation, it stirs deep within, we are helpless to resist. It produces a stinging in our eyes, a tight constriction within our chest. Behind the sternum, a contraction of feeling forms a dark spot. Tears sting at the back of eyelids and if we don’t let them out they will burst through the pores in our cheeks. As we sing simple but laden lyrics, the waves of sound translate into a wash of emotion. The words repeat and repeat in various configurations, puncturing any resistance within us, opening up a breach within the wall of disbelief. We sing that the God of breakthrough is on our side. The lyrics, carrying profound meaning, flow and settle, becoming word-concretions within us:

You are the solid ground;

Firm through the flood of uncertainty;

You are a fearless hope;

Holding my future;

You won’t let go…

 

When the earth gives way;

When foundations shake;

My hope stands on Your promises;

There’s no fear I face;

That could break my faith;

My soul stands on Your promises

I propose that the repeated narrative of the ‘solid ground’ of God creates a form of embodied orientation in the believer. To convert is literally to do an about-turn, to turn to face the other way (the Latin term conversio means ’turned about’), enacting a spatial and embodied metaphor towards the ‘nomos’, a meaningful, orienting construction of reality.54 Religious culture, built on the foundations of a shared language through which we interpret the world, forms an orientation that creates an embodied perception of a stable ground in a world in flux. For religious sociologist Peter Berger, ‘nomos’ is the social construction of reality through the collective world-building of a meaningful order of experience. This ordering is conceived of by Berger as a fundamentally orienting construction. Religion is the ultimate form of this orientation, a turning away from the chaos of meaninglessness.55

Jesus Christ, the ‘Corner Stone’56 and central figure around whom the narrative of creation, fall, resurrection, and second coming configures, provides a foundation upon which a religious worldview is built. Within the US framing of evangelicalism, the foundational texts of the Bible, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, create a seemingly solid base on which collective identities are formed. For the evangelical white majority, tradition and religious belief combine to create a powerful set of ideas. Historian James Davison Hunter’s asserts that:

The evangelical heritage has long identified itself with the hopes and promises of America. Evangelicals view themselves as having helped to create and sustain all that is good in America: its traditions of moral virtue; its ethic of work, commitment, and achievement; and its political and economic institutions.57

The Lakewood narrative of God as a solid ground is communicated as universally significant through design mimicking natural phenomena, often to hypernatural effect. This mimicry seems to suggest a world within the Sanctuary, highlighting the world-building at work. Within the darkened space of the Sanctuary, the congregants’ eye is deliberately drawn down through sightlines designed to focus on a brightly lit stage foregrounding emotively performed music and visual effects. Previous iterations of the stage design include a rock and water feature bracketing the stage that appears to reduce the world to its’ essential parts of land, sky and water. In this former design craggy brown rocks are dotted with plant life, a small stream works its way down the façade. High-definition screens raised high above the stage relay images of white cumulus clouds scudding across a blue sky. In the current iteration, a dazzling array of lights against a dark background brackets the stage, conjuring a brilliant cosmological display. Above the Sanctuary coloured lights shift through a series of undulating wire mesh screens made from fishing nets, a construction which alternatively suggests a sea and a rippling sunset, further intensifying the feeling of being enclosed in a simplified, (hyper) natural world.58

Worship Service, Lakewood Church
Fig. 7: Worship Service, Lakewood Church, Houston (28 July 2019). © Photo: the author.

Repetition in real life and through a mise en abyme effect on screens above the congregation images a seemingly limitless number of bodies, an expanding global crowd. A slowly rotating eleven-foot-wide bronze globe sculpture, located centrally on the stage behind the preacher, images a map and orientation device. Despite its rotation, it depicts a stable ground from which the preacher re-tells a redemption and rescue narrative, speaking the world as an enduring and unassailable truth. The oration of the preacher and the performance of worship leaders create a vocal and gestural animacy. As the preacher re-tells the redemption narrative it materialises as a foundational stratum. He channels, through performative vocalisation and gesture, a seemingly global message. Simple phrases encouraging belief in divine intervention despite life’s uncertainties and victory through faith are repeatedly reinforced through multiple texts of teaching, preaching, authoring, song lyrics, social media, radio transmissions, podcasts and interviews.

A Lecture happening at Lakewood Church
Fig. 8: Phil Munsey, ‘Practice Makes Imperfect’, Lakewood Church (31 July 2019). © Photo: the author.

Whilst climate change is not addressed, watery, oceanic metaphors in the song lyrics underline the historical symbol of the church as a ship navigating the shifting, dangerous waters of life: ‘Let faith be the song that overcomes the raging sea, let faith be the song that calms the storm inside of me’, and: ‘You call me out upon the waters…In oceans deep, My faith will stand…’59 The church is an ark, a place of sanctuary and survival. Furthermore — echoing the beliefs of Globus Veldman and Bjork-James’ participants — the ecological imaginary at Lakewood reflects the evangelical belief in the omnipotence of God. To doubt this or to worry is to demonstrate a lack of faith. Osteen has stated: ‘It is easy to get into agreement with the negative, with what the experts say. “They’ve given me the facts”, “They have a lot of experience”,…God can do the impossible’.60 Believers are encouraged not to surrender to fear despite material realities.

This orienting narrative is however frequently communicated in disorienting forms. During worship, bodies are literally moved as the bass vibrates up from the floor. A flood of feeling is prompted by the massive visual and auditory overload of the worship spectacle that kaleidoscopes out from the stage. The shifts between an orienting story and a disorienting experience in the worship service create a dynamic tension in the individual and collective body. The sense of overwhelm highlights the solidity of the narrative, the collective affect appears to materialise as an unseen presence. An atmosphere, like a contained weather system arises, qualitatively different from that outside the bounds of the church. It reinforces binaries of inclusion/ exclusion, sacred/ profane and saved/ unsaved.

The approaching hurricane, designated at category four with winds between 130 and 156 miles per hour, prompts hurricane, extreme wind and storm surge watches in Texas. As the storm bears down, a state of emergency is declared along with mandatory evacuation for many residents. People leave work early, board up windows and sandbag doors. Queues begin to form at gas stations to leave the state, but the oil refineries have closed in the advent of the storm, and there is not enough fuel for all the vehicles. Flights are cancelled. The airports close. As the storm approaches, small eddies of wind pick up on the ground, picking up leaves, dust and light rubbish. Some of these eddies dissipate, whilst others build, pulling upwards, stretching into mini tornadoes rotating within the larger cyclone. The roaring wind of the eyewall, ten miles wide, is moving towards Houston. Eyewall tornadoes twist and spin within the vortex, flattening and destroying sections of land, whilst others nearby are left unscathed.

As a church within Scott Thumma and Dave Travis’s ‘seeker’ category of megachurch,61 representing those tailored to the unchurched, especially those alienated by traditional organized religion, I propose that whilst Lakewood does not overtly embody a politicised nationalistic evangelicalism, it exists as a gateway into evangelical culture. It entangles with mainstream secular culture in numerous ways from its positive thinking, therapeutic ethos and its marketing and technological proficiency. It is the soft sell of evangelicalism, where dark messages such as the end of the world are, publicly, entirely avoided. Against the wider backdrop of white evangelical eschatological belief, climate change denial and Christian nationalism, there is not an overt eschatological focus at Lakewood in the manner of churches such as those outlined in Bjork-James’ study. However, in Lakewoods’ adherence to Biblical literalism, it is likely to include both hot and cool millennialists within its’ membership and leadership. Repeated allusions to God as a stable ground and a rescuer foreground the divine protection of the Sanctuary as a sacred lifeboat from the threat of stormy seas overlaps with Bjork-James’ lifeboat eschatology. God rescues both in this life and for those who believe in Christs’ imminent return, in the new world to come. Song lyrics, projected imagery and preaching soothingly narrate Godly intervention and protection in a hurricane and flooding vulnerable locality.

Whilst evangelicalism frames belief as arising from an individual response to the truth of Biblical texts, I contend that belief arises from a much wider set of influences, including the material-spatial-visual communication of the Lakewood narrative within the Sanctuary. David Abram distinguishes the constructed world of human design from the animate world, believing that the human-made world quickly loses its ability to speak and enchant.62 Contrary to Abrams suggestion, I would argue that Lakewood makes use of both designed and performative animacy to produce feelings of orientation and disorientation, creating affective atmospheres which speak to and enchant the body of believers in a powerful and sustained way. How Lakewood visualises and materialises God’s intervention in troubled times impacts belief formation in relation to the threat of climate crisis.

60 years of Lakewood display, first floor atrium, Lakewood Church
Fig. 9: 60 years of Lakewood display, first floor atrium, Lakewood Church (July 2019). © Photo: the author.

Whilst visiting Lakewood in July 2019 during the ‘60 years of Lakewood’ celebration, I asked Osteen what he envisioned the next sixty years of Lakewood might involve. Unsurprisingly for an evangelical, he replied he was excited about getting the message out to even more people via the use of new technological platforms. I then asked him to consider using his platform to address climate crisis, mentioning the vulnerability of Houston. Looking visibly uncomfortable he exited the conversation, stating that other people on his team deal with this area of responsibility. My suggestion of inviting in evangelical Christian and climate scientist/ educator Katherine Hayhoe from Texas Tech University was firmly but politely and prayerfully declined via email. Subsequent emails were not responded to. How long the Osteens can continue to overlook the more complex realities that surround Lakewood without losing their appeal remains to be seen. Metaphors of arks and oceanic rescue can be both productive, prompting believers to replicate Christ-like behaviour and lead to complacency concerning climate crisis. Despite often misinformed controversies over Lakewood’s response to the effects of severe weather, the church regularly offers its’ own rescue, assisting displaced and affected Houstonians, opening the building for shelter and providing beds, blankets, food and supplies.63 However, in failing to directly address the causes of and complicity in increasingly disastrous weather, Lakewood’s narrative only acts as a sticking plaster on an ever-growing wound for those most vulnerable, often demarcated by gender, race and ableism. In its’ focus on individual faith, it fails to address the wider structural causes of poverty and inequality. Feminist scholar Astrida Neimanis uses the term ‘weathering’ to conceptualize how body, site and the weather enmesh in a world threatened by climate change. She also considers weathering a strategy, a way to pay attention to how bodies and sites make and respond to weather and to consider how we might weather differently. Neimanis and Hamilton write:

Weather is pervasive in ways that makes distinctions between the meteorological and the social rather leaky, not unlike the much-critiqued nature/culture divide… weathering means learning to live with the changing conditions of rainfall, drought, heat, thaw and storm as never separable from the ‘total climate’ of social, political and cultural existence of bodies.64

The weather both inside and outside of Lakewood constitutes how bodies live, believe and behave. I would argue that the repeated metaphors, images and narratives of protection within Lakewood create a passivity, a sense that believers can rest easy knowing that whatever the instabilities of the more-than-human world, God is able to grant them victory, success and peace.

 

World Re-building Through Alternative Fictions

As our voices combine, led by powerful well-rehearsed vocalists who sing the same roster of songs known to charge the crowd, an urgency develops. Desire to bring down a divine presence begins to summon the weather inside. As our intonations produce an increase in the difference in atmospheric pressure, the air conditioning vents perform a reversal and the outside air begins to funnel inside. The chilled atmosphere begins to alter, but it is so subtle as to go unnoticed. A humid atmosphere begins to mingle with collective elation.

The Sanctuary is sweating, suffering from overexertion, vent-pores disgorging trickles of contaminated water from flood water run-off, leeched from industrial complexes and sewers. Droplets of water begin to bead on the ceiling and the lighting fixtures. The water begins to dribble down the walls and pools on the carpet. The small streams build into rivulets. As the worship band draws us through a choreographed arc of feeling, the heat continues to rise. The dampness is producing a fast-spreading mould. It shifts out from the vents across the ceiling and adjoining walls curling its way around the mesh fishing nets and lighting arrays. It spots and blooms in disturbing patterns, marking the fabric of the upholstered seating, and mottling the carpet with a dark tinge, as if a large purple bruise is spreading into the fibres. The seating and the mid-blue of the carpet now have a mottled pink tinge, not a consistent pink. In certain areas the pink form fine red tendrils and flourishes. The corporate polish of the Sanctuary is losing its sheen.

As an Exvangelical artist who writes experimentally, I creatively address the complexity of a site like Lakewood and how it intersects with a white evangelical apocalypticism. Within the space of speculative fiction, I can bring the more-than-human world into the consecrated space of a site that views this natural world as merely a backdrop for the prosperity gospel narrative and human exceptionalism. Due to Houston’s coastal location, without any attempt to address climate crisis and sea-level rise, it is plausible that large parts of Houston may one day be submerged. However, my aim is to re-think the site, not to annihilate it. Feminist multi-species theorist Donna Haraway, in Staying with the Trouble, her recent book on ways to think-with, live-with and be-with other inhabitants of the earth in troubling times, rejects the sublime and thrilling visions of destruction conjured by the apocalyptic imaginary – whether secular or religious.65 Instead of endings in which we refuse responsibility, she offers the provocation of staying with the damaged earth on which we reside, building messy, difficult but liveable futures through human non-human collaborations. Haraway dismisses both hope and despair: the hopeful faith in easy technofixes that will rescue us from ongoing climate crises, and also the destructive fatalism that these horrors are insurmountable and that there is no sense in working towards a resurgent world. Without glossing over the dire realities of population increase and its burdens, Haraway argues that we eschew an abstract futurism and stay with the trouble, working with the non-human to collaborate and co-create, making ‘oddkin’ through strange and risky action. Central to this effort for Haraway is imaginative, speculative fabulation that conjures potential futures.66

Speculative fictions create a space for new imaginaries to arise, challenging old, outmoded ways of thinking and being. Armen Avanessian and David Farrier consider the relation of poetics—language’s world-making potential—to the future. For both Avanessian and Farrier, speculation doesn’t just imply imagining the future, it also implies an alteration of that future. Avanessian contends that language, literature and thought aren’t abstract phenomena but are ontological – part of the world: ‘Speculative poetics is then, oriented toward the future, alters our view of the past, and interacts with the present … the literary takes on the task of creating a global, social and political present’.67 Language expressed in the literary becomes a kind of laboratory for growing new cultures.

The temperature now settles on an uncomfortable 98 degrees Fahrenheit. The cherry wood trim around the seating and the architraves warp and swell. The fire doors of the Sanctuary seal shut. What appear to be hairline cracks are fingering their way along the interior walls. They are a deep red in hue, a network of filigree thin branches, disrupting the smooth surface of the walls and spreading down into the flooring, seeming to inscribe the building with their own language. The walls appear to have taken on the tone of wet interior skin, through which a network of veins are visible.

David Farrier utilizes the term ‘Anthropocene Poetics’ to think through the potential of language within poetry to affect our relationship to deep geological time, enabling us to better comprehend our place in relation to the earth, through the thickening of time that occurs in poetic compression.68 The potential of the lyric within poetry to compress meaning and time, to hold multiple temporalities and scales within a single frame, produces uncanny and giddy affects but also acts as a prism through which to view climactic crisis.69 These approaches might be applied to a site where the more-than-human world—both its wonder and its precarity—is cut off from the divine space of worship. In my experimental writing practice, I take the material of the narrative foundations, site-based exclusions and collective imaginary of Lakewood and weirdly remake its space and time. As Nelson Goodman states: ‘Worldmaking as we know it always starts from worlds already on hand; the making is a remaking’.70

The many rows of seating seem more dense, as though both multiplying and shrinking into an infinite regress. Other bodies within the congregation kaleidoscope into two and three and four, birthing themselves over and over into refracting patterns, an endlessly morphing crowd. Within the fog, the song lyrics seem to distort. The words fruit and expand into weird assemblages. An outpouring of singing in tongues overlays song lyrics, unknown vocalisations congealing into brief pools of meaning, then dispersing.

Buffalo Bayou, Houston
Fig. 10: Buffalo Bayou, Houston (2019). During Hurricane Harvey, the bayou rose by thirty nine feet after fifty one inches of rain fell over parts of Houston. © Photo: the author.

Re-imagining the Site of Lakewood: There Is a Miracle in Your Mouth

I reorient, through experimental writing, towards a story world in which metaphors of orientation and disorientation, enclosure and openness, liquidity and fixity shape form and content. In my writing, I combine mythic histories of Lakewood and the Osteen family within the context of Houstonian/ Texan history with an account of an oncoming tropical cyclone based on research into Hurricane Harvey. In the text, as Exvangelical, I identify with the site of the church. The building becomes my body. I write my faith loss into the body-building of Lakewood, which becomes a character that thinks and dreams, moving from rigidity to flux. The body-building’s heretical female voice becomes a foil to the dominating male voice of Lakewood’s patrilineal leadership. It is interred within the fixity of concrete building foundations, slowly becomes aware that a hurricane is bearing down upon it bringing with it the contamination of the profane outside. It enters an oceanic submersion, eventually transforming into ‘oddkin’.71 This troubles the narrative simplicity that creates such a solid bodily orientation within megachurch culture. For Mark Fisher, the weird connotes that ‘which does not belong’, bringing into the space of the familiar something which would ordinarily lie beyond it, the joining of two things that do not belong together.72 Through my writing I attempt to undo: ‘the solid, the fixed, the reliable, the static’ habits of evangelical storytelling.73 I overwrite both the eschatology of evangelicalism and the simple, teleological redemption narrative of Lakewood through a transgressive ‘letting in’ of the weather, bringing with it a weird bodily otherness. The inundation of the flood—a metaphor for a global crowd and the immersive space of the megachurch experience—serves to reorient both Lakewood and myself, breaking us out of our current impasse, our straightness and fixity. This new world created in my writing blurs the separations and displacements of insider/ outsider, holy/ unholy, nature/ culture, suggesting that there are no such easy distinctions. I align with Harraway to resist: ‘the sterilising narrative of wiping the world clean by apocalypse or salvation’.74

The Sanctuary is awash. The speakers relay distorted noise. Vowels elongate, the Texan accent protractions grow overlong and monotone. Time stalls. Water curls its way around the curves of the Sanctuary, echoing the yellow spirals in the carpet. The electrics spark and fizz, then cut out. The stage, streaked with water and with a sheen of pink, appears to shift, a giant tongue. The globe resembles an epiglottis behind which a hole has opened up, a fleshy maw. We can no longer distinguish between our bodies and the building, we feel ourselves to be both rooted into the ground and to contain a vast interior space of pure feeling, a climate that is charged with affect.

Body-building dreams:

I go fully into the water. I see underwater creatures that resemble those in the midnight zone. Transparent and tendrilly, otherworldly beings with strange protrusions and bulbous heads. I am becoming like one of them. I move back towards the steps and climb out. I have become rubbery and translucent. I am pale and have the texture and frill-like spine of a gyoza.

Citations

1 Eva Horn, The Future as Catastrophe: Imagining Disaster in the Modern Age (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), p. 27
2 See Bradley Onishi, ‘The Rise of #Exvangelical’ Religion and Politics, accessed 2nd March 2021, https://religionandpolitics.org/2019/04/09/the-rise-of-exvangelical/
Whilst Exvangelical suggests a rejection of Evangelical as an identity, it has permanently altered my sense of self, and therefore use the designation ‘dis/’ in dis/identity to describe the complexity and complicity of my position. Here I draw on Jose Esteban Muñoz’s conception of ‘disidentification’ in Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999). Whilst recognising my white and heteronormative privilege in relation to Muñoz’s minoritarian position, and also the fact that Evangelicalism in the UK has a markedly different claim on wider structures of power than it does in the US, I situate myself as neither accepting or rejecting, celebrating or denouncing the culture once held a sway over me. I may have physically left the church, but its influence still bears upon me.
See: ‘Charismatic Christians’ Christianity, accessed 11th November 2021, https://christianity.org.uk/article/charismatic-christians
See Bebbington’s quadrilateral definition of Evangelicalism: David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. (London: Routledge, 1995) pp. 2-17. Bebbington defines Evangelicals as believing in Biblicalism: the truth of the Bible; Crucicentrism: the need for the atonement of Christ; Conversionism: the need for all of humanity to be converted; and Activism: the need to act on the truth of the gospel.
Pentecostalism is part of the Charismatic movement, but specifically believes that baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues (glossolalia) are signs of an authentic conversion. See: J. Gordon Melton, ‘Pentecostalism’ Britannica, accessed 11th November 2021, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pentecostalism
See ‘Annual Statistics: Status of Global Christianity 2021’, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, accessed 3rd March 2021, https://www.gordonconwell.edu/center-for-global-christianity/resources/status-of-global-christianity/
‘Who We Are’ World Evangelical Alliance, accessed 16th September 2021, https://www.worldea.org/
‘America’s Changing Religious Landscape’, The Pew Research Centre, accessed 16th September 2021, https://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/
‘Religion’, Gallup, accessed 16th September 2021, https://news.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx
10 ‘The Definition of a Megachurch’ Hartford Institute for Religion Research, accessed 13th September, 2021http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/definition.html
11 ‘Megachurch database’ Hartford Institute for Religion Research, accessed 13th September 202, http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/database.html
12 Stephen Ellingson, ‘New Research on Megachurches: Non-denominationalism and Sectarianism’ in Bryan Turner New Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion, (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Incorporated, 2010), p. 248
13 Stoyan Zaimov, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church Ranked America’s Largest Megachurch With 52,000 Weekly Attendance’ The Christian Post, accessed: 25 September 2019, https://www.christianpost.com/news/joel-osteens-lakewood-church-ranked-americas-largest-megachurch-with-52k-in-attendance.html
14 See Susan Bratton, ChurchScape: Megachurches and the Iconography of Environment. (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2016); Jeanne Halgren Kilde, When Church Became Theatre: The Transformation of Evangelical Architecture and Worship in Nineteenth-Century America. (Oxford; Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2005); Anne C. Loveland, and Otis B. Wheeler, From Meetinghouse to Megachurch: A Material and Cultural History. (Columbia, Mo: University of Missouri Press, 2003).
15 See Miranda Klaver, ‘Media Technology Creating “Sermonic Events.” The Hillsong Megachurch Network’, CrossCurrents, 65: 4, (2015): pp. 422–433. doi: 10.1111/cros.12164; Matthew Wade, ‘Seeker-friendly: The Hillsong Megachurch as an Enchanting Total Institution’, Journal of Sociology, 52: 4, (2016): pp. 661–676. doi: 10.1177/1440783315575171. Whilst the Australian megachurch brand Hillsong embodies its’ own particular history and culture, there are a number of parallels with Lakewood. They are both charismatic evangelical non-denominational megachurches with a drive to globalize and deploy technology, social media and marketing strategies to do so.
16 See Katja Rakow, ‘Therapeutic Culture and Religion in America’, Religion Compass, 7(11), (2013): pp. 485–497;
Katja Rakow, ‘Religious Branding and the Quest to Meet Consumer Needs: Joel Osteen’s “Message of Hope”.’ in Jan Stievermann, Philip Goff, and Detlef Junker (eds.) Religion and the Marketplace in the United States. (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015)
17 See Kate Bowler, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015);
Marion Maddox, ‘Prosper, Consume and Be Saved’. Critical Research on Religion 1, no. 1 (April 2013): pp. 108–15. https://doi.org/10.1177/2050303213476108; George Sanders, ‘Religious Non-Places: Corporate Megachurches and Their Contributions to Consumer Capitalism’. Critical Sociology 42, no. 1 (January 2016): pp. 71–86. https://doi.org/10.1177/0896920514531605.
18 ‘‘Pastorpreneur’ coined by John Jackson in Pastorpreneur: Pastors and Entrepreneurs Answer the Call (Friendswood, Texas: Baxter Press, 2003), 2.’
19Phillip. L. Sinitiere, Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity (New York: New York University Press, 2015), p. 8
20 Michael O. Emerson, and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 3.
21 Kimberly Karnes, Wayne McIntosh, Irwin L. Morris, and Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz. ‘Mighty Fortresses: Explaining the Spatial Distribution of American Megachurches’. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 46, no. 2 (June 2007): pp. 261–68. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-5906.2007.00355.x.
22 Campbell Robertson, ‘A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshipers Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches’ New York Times, accessed 11th November 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/09/us/blacks-evangelical-churches.html
23 Emerson and Smith. Divided by Faith, p. 1. However, in the wake of police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd on 25th May 2020, Joel Osteen broke with his long standing refusal to engage with any issues that might be considered political, and joined Black Lives Matter protests in a march through Houston. Whilst this is a heartening step in the right direction, there remains much work to be done in order to decolonise Evangelical churches at large, and also within Lakewood.
24 Kenneth D. Wald, Dennis E. Owen and Samuel S. Hill Jr., ‘Churches as Political Communities’. American Political Science Review 82, no. 2 (June 1988): pp. 531–48. https://doi.org/10.2307/1957399.
25 Robin Globus Veldman, The Gospel of Climate Skepticism: Why Evangelical Christians Oppose Action on Climate Change. (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2019).
26 See William C. Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. (New York: Broadway Books, 1996)
Francis FitzGerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017);
Angela Denker, Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019);
James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. (New York: BasicBooks, 1991) et al.
27 Sarah Pulliam Bailey, ‘White evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, exit polls show’ Washington Post, accessed 7th March 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/09/exit-polls-show-white-evangelicals-voted-overwhelmingly-for-donald-trump/?utm_term=.0d2a0eb26cdb
28 Robertson ‘A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshipers Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches’
29 See Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. (London: Vintage, 2008); and Martin, With God on our Side et al.
30 Given the myriad ways Biblical texts can be construed, there is dispute amongst Evangelicals as to the exact order of these events. This leads to a number of opposing ideas termed premillennialism, postmillennialism and amillennialism.
31 ‘Public Sees a Future Full of Promise and Peril’, Pew Research Center, accessed 16th September 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/2010/06/22/public-sees-a-future-full-of-promise-and-peril/
32 ‘Culture war’ describes the institutional battle between the two cultures of progressive secularisation and ‘orthodoxy’ (the ideology of traditional American values) over debates such as abortion, education, gay rights, gun laws etc. See more in Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America.
33 Tim LaHaye and David Noebel, Mind Siege: The Battle for Truth in the New Millenium (Nashville, TN: Word, 2000), p.35
34 Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind (Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale House, 2011).
35 Vic Sarin, Left Behind: The Movie, Cloud Ten Pictures and Namesake Entertainment, 2000; Inspired Media Entertainment, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, Inspired Media Entertainment, Microsoft Windows, 2006
36 Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), p. 10
37 Whitehead and Perry, Taking America Back for God, p. 10
38 Whitehead and Perry, Taking America Back for God, p. 35.
39 Whitehead and Perry, Taking America Back for God, pp. 25-26.
40 Hedges, American Fascists, p. 6
41 Hedges, American Fascists, p. 7
42 “Religion and Views on Climate and Energy Issues” Pew Research Centre, accessed on 16th September 202, https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2015/10/22/religion-and-views-on-climate-and-energy-issues/
43 Globus Veldman, The Gospel of Climate Skepticism, p. 3
44 The Cornwall Alliance, Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to One of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day, Jax Distribution and CDR Communications, 2013
45 Globus Veldman, The Gospel of Climate Skepticism, p. 26
46 Globus Veldman, The Gospel of Climate Skepticism, p. 8
47 Globus Veldman, The Gospel of Climate Skepticism, p. 11
48 Sophie Bjork-James, ‘Lifeboat Theology: White Evangelicalism, Apocalyptic Chronotopes, and Environmental Politics’. Ethnos, (1 November 2020): pp. 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/00141844.2020.1839527.
49 Bjork-James, ‘Lifeboat Theology’, p. 17
50 Bjork-James, ‘Lifeboat Theology’, p. 18
51 Bjork-James, ‘Lifeboat Theology’, p. 16
52 John D. Harden, For years, the Houston area has been losing ground.” HoustonChronicle.com, accessed 26 Feb, 2021,https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/For-years-the-Houston-area-has-been-losing-ground-7951625.php
53 See Jill Trepanier and Clay Tucker, ‘Event-Based Climatology of Tropical Cyclone Rainfall in Houston, Texas and Miami, Florida’. Atmosphere 9, no. 5 (3 May 2018): p. 170. https://doi.org/10.3390/atmos9050170; Harden ‘For Years, the Houston Area Has Been Losing Ground’; and Tom Dart ‘Houston Fears Climate Change Will Cause Catastrophic Flooding: “It’s Not If, It’s When”’ The Guardian, accessed 16 September 2021. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/16/texas-flooding-houston-climate-change-disaster.
54 Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. (New York: Anchor Books 1990), pp. 5-6
55 Berger, The Sacred Canopy, p. 22
56 Holy Bible: New International Version (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2015), Ephesians 2:19-22
57 James Davison Hunter, “The Shaping of American Foreign Policy” in Evangelicals and Foreign Policy, ed Michael Cromartie (Washington, D.C: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1989), p. 72.
58 The nylon cord fishing nets were based on a design spotted at a cirque de soleil performance. The nets hanging high over the heads of the crowd reference, perhaps unwittingly, Jesus as a fisher of men.
59 Matt Redman, “We Praise You”, 2020, Track #2, Let There Be Wonder, Integrity Music, 2020; and Hillsong United, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”, 2013, Track #4, Zion, Hillsong, 2013
60 Joel Osteen @joelosteen, 2021. “The scripture says, “Two are better than one. When one falls, the other can lift him up.”, Instagram, 27th October 2021, accessed at: https://www.instagram.com/p/CVh5T7ctjtX/
61 Scott Thumma and Dave Travis, Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007), pp. 39-40.
62 David Abram. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), p. 64
63 Tom Dart. ‘Why Did America’s Biggest Megachurch Take so Long to Shelter Harvey Victims?’ The Guardian, accessed 11th November 2021, sec. US news. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/30/lakewood-church-joel-osteen-hurricane-harvey
64 Astrida Neimanis and Hamilton, Jennifer. M. ‘Weathering’, Feminist Review, 118(1), (2018): 80–84. doi: 10.1057/s41305-018-0097-8, p.83
65 Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, (Duke University Press, 2016), p. 3
66 Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, p. 2
67 Armen Avanessian in Christoph Cox, Jenny Jaskey and Suhail Malik, (eds.) Realism materialism art. (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2015), p. 353
68 See Astrida Neimanis and Rachel L. Walker, ‘Weathering: Climate Change and the “Thick Time” of Transcorporeality’, Hypatia, 29: 3, (2014): pp. 558–575 doi: 10.1111/hypa.12064.
69 David Farrier, Anthropocene Poetics: Deep Time, Sacrifice Zones, and Extinction. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019), pp. 5-9
70 Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking. (Harvester Studies in Philosophy. Hassocks: Harvester Press, 1978), p. 6
71 Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, p. 2
72 Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie. (London: Repeater Books, 2016), pp. 8-9
73 Melody Jue, Wild Blue Media: Thinking through Seawater. (Elements. Durham: Duke University Press, 2020), p. 14
74 Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, p. 150

DOI: 10.33999/2022.92

Citations