Public response to loss of iconic figures prompts some religious leaders to ask ...


By LaReeca Rucker

They were American idols whose mortality shocked their fans.

Thirty-one million U.S. viewers watched Michael Jackson's televised funeral days after media outlets reported his death had led to suicide attempts among some fans.

The murder-suicide of football hero and Mount Olive native Steve McNair, a married man with four children, by his girlfriend prompted the public to question the contrasting characteristics of a hometown hero.

Burying celebrities elevated to iconic superstar status has become a sad theme lately, influencing a number of religious and spirituality articles about idolatry. It's also a topic Nashville resident Kelly Minter addressed in her book No Other gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols, a subject she will discuss at Tupelo's Harrisburg Baptist Church fall women's conference Aug. 20.

"The difficulty about the Michael Jackson issue is that we tend to put the blame on him, when rather, it has so much to do with us," said Minter, who is also a singer and songwriter. "We, at large, are often responsible for exalting people and lifting them up to godlike status. This is destructive for the people who are being idolized. We see it on a large scale in the media with celebrities, but this happens all the time on smaller scales, like in our work places, among friends, within families."

Minter said we tend to think of idols as false gods and things relegated to distant lands and age-old centuries, but we face as much idolatry in our current culture with addiction, dependency, career worship, shopping and food.

Jamie Kyker, director of Harrisburg's women's ministry, is participating in a Bible study based on Minter's book.

"We have offered the No Other god's Bible study several times for the ladies at our church, and they loved it," she said. "For me, fear can be an idol. Anything that you put above God or don't trust in him can be an idol in your life."

Steve Jussely, senior pastor of Lakeland Presbyterian Church, describes an idol as any part of creation that becomes the focus of trust and hope.

"In the Bible, as far as their function was concerned, idols influenced, controlled, directed, and shaped the life of those who worshiped them," he said. For example, he explained, "the Greeks worshiped idols that represented reason, science, education, beauty, love, money, the government and whatever else it was that would give their lives meaning, value and hope."

Questions to ask

Jussely said it's helpful to ask the following questions to discern what idols are:

* Who or what defines for me what the "good life" is?

* Who or what do I look to for blessings in this life?

* Who or what guides my decisions?

* To whom or what do I look for security and significance?

Jussely said anything can become an idol - power, approval, comfort, image, control, social groups, achievement, work, government, religion, race, culture and family.

"We will sacrifice our families (or morals)to the god of financial success. Remember (the 1974 song) Cat's In the Cradle?" he said, referring to the folk song by Harry Chapin about a father too busy to spend time with his son. "Or we will sacrifice our marriage to the god of sensual pleasure found outside the God-given boundaries of marriage ... Idols end up causing us
much hardship and heartache."

David McNair, 70, says computers and televisions can become idols.

"We can sit there and watch it until we are brain dead every night and do nothing,"said McNair, a member of Northminster Baptist Church and president of the Lord's Day Alliance. The alliance focuses on the fourth commandment, encouraging Christians to reclaim the Sabbath as a day of spiritual and personal renewal. "The danger is our time and our money is not used the way God would have us use it for his kingdom's growth," McNair says. "Even our leaders in our churches can kind of get a little egotistical, and if they look in the mirror long enough, they will see that they, themselves, have become an idol."


Are modern day idols dangerous?

"I think anything taken to an extreme is dangerous," said Jim Becker, president of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jackson. "The far left is dangerous, and the far right is dangerous."

Joseph Martin, chairman of Belhaven College's Biblical Studies and Ministry Department, said any person, institution, organization or political entity exalted to the position of supreme authority is an idol.

"Every human will have some central focal part in their life that they believe is the ultimate reality that they base all decisions on," Martin said.

"What the Bible says is the only focal point that should be the center of life is God himself