East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 9, No. 4, Fall 2001, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

Faith American Style: Goods to Export

Deacon Andrei Kuraev

Editor's Note: Deacon Kuraev draws inspiration for his comments from George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society; An Investigation into the Changing Character of Contemporary Social Life (London:  Pine Forge Press, 1993).  While the editor takes strong exception to Kuraev's overarching condemnation of Western missions, evangelicals will be well served to read firsthand an Orthodox caricature of Protestant ministry.  And as Don Fairbairn notes in his response, Kuraev does deserve a hearing to the extent that evangelical ministry in the East consists of an assembly line, "output" mentality.  See also Dennis W. Hiebert, "The McDonaldization of Protestant Organizations," Christian Scholar's Review 29 (Winter 1999), 261-79.

The dollar, the hamburger, and the gospel from Billy Graham pass from hand to hand.  In his latest book American sociologist George Ritzer presents his version of the rationalization of American society by calling it McDonaldization. He has in mind various forms of such industries that serve Americans in their everyday lives:  fast food, quick service of automobiles, quick purchases in stores, and convenient healthcare.  These types of everyday services function also as iron cages of bureaucratization and rationalization.

McDonaldization has four main aspects:

Marketing Faith and Marketing Hamburgers
Evangelistic campaigns directed today at Eastern Europe have, in my opinion, a resemblance to fast-food restaurants, which now are opening in this part of the world.  These and others fancy themselves as symbols of the ideological ruin of socialism and, as such, are enthusiastically welcomed by those who in this ideological system were the most cheated.  It is easy to welcome a restaurant of the McDonald's empire in Moscow as a condemnation of the previous methods of enterprise.

The marketing of the evangelistic "product" in Eastern Europe resembles the marketing of hamburgers.

  1. Support of an evangelistic campaign has a product for the individual, a one-time consumption in contrast to the gospel presentation of the state or national churches, which is indissolubly connected with culture and traditions and cannot be reduced to individual or one-time use.

  2. An evangelistic campaign looks at the spiritual need as any other human need, that is, as a clearly human phenomenon. Since these needs are common to a large number of people, it is possible to analyze and satisfy them using rational economic means.

  3. The campaign meeting offers a product that can be perceived by the specific person as satisfying his individual need.

  4. Presence at the campaign meeting is the effective means for satisfying the individual spiritual need.  If you go to it, you are completely assured that you will experience a feeling that can be interpreted as satisfaction.

  5. The specific person can make a determination to go to any organized campaign for a long time or for a short time, depending on how strong the need or how much time he has.  The person can participate more actively or less actively, based on how strongly his feelings are manipulated.

  6. The impression of the specific person can be predicted and controlled.  You know exactly what you feel and can yourself control several aspects of your impression.

  7. The organization of the evangelistic campaign resembles the prescribed system of an enterprise like McDonald's.  Most often there is a center and there are clients who have decided to associate with the center.

The "Irrationality" of Rationalized Religion
I will conclude with a set of thoughts indicating the "irrationality" of rationalized spiritual products, such as East Europe evangelistic campaigns.

  1. The attractiveness of mass evangelistic campaigns depends on large-scale measures, but the size prevents face-to-face meetings.  This is one of the symptoms—the necessity to set up enormous audio and video systems at the meeting site in order for everyone to see the preacher.  The size leads to the opposite result.

  2. The strong spiritual impression "created" by the meeting is patently dissimilar to any other.  Ritzer describes this precisely as the taste of fast food, but he says nothing in regard to whether this experience is really deep, favorable, or true.

  3. This raises the question: Is it really possible to satisfy spiritual need with an evangelistic service or are there aspects of faith that can never be satisfied by such a line of spiritual goods.

  4. In an individualistic milieu religious content is not studied, but is personified in culture and traditions.

The entrance of the fast-food industry into Eastern Europe will scarcely help the prosperity of the local foodstuffs industry.  There is a big risk that new enterprises will destroy old local enterprises.  In the same way, rationalized religious "goods" probably will destroy old, more traditional forms of religiosity.

Andrei Kuraev is professor and director of the Department of Theology and Apologetics at St. Tikhon Orthodox Theological Institute, Moscow, and deacon at the Church of St. John the Forerunner 'na Presne.'

Excerpt translated from Deacon Andrei Kuraev, Protestantam o Pravoslavii (Moscow:  Izdatel'stvo Podvor'e Sviato-Troitskoi Sergievoi Lavry, 1997).  The entire book is available in Russian on the Internet at http://kuraev.vinchi.ru/books2.html.

Deacon Andrei Kuraev, "Faith American Style: Goods to Export," East-West Church & Ministry Report 9 (Fall 2001), 4-5.

A Response to Andrei Kuraev:
Control Tactics Also Employed by the Orthodox Church

Don Fairbairn

American missionaries in Eastern Europe certainly need to pay attention to Andrei Kuraev's comparison of American-style evangelism to "McDonaldization."  It is true that large-scale evangelistic rallies can degenerate into purely sociological events. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves constantly whether our methods are actually the most appropriate ones in the East, or, for that matter, in the West.

However, Kuraev's article seems to be based on two assumptions that are open to question.  First, he implies that Russian spirituality, as practiced by the Orthodox Church, is free from the control-oriented tactics of American Christianity.  On the contrary, the Orthodox Church cannot possibly pretend that it has never used control tactics and, in fact, a good case could be made that the Orthodox Church helped to create the climate that led to Communist totalitarianism.  Second, Kuraev assumes that the primary concern in Eastern Europe should be the preservation of national churches.  But one could claim that the very popularity of Western-style evangelistic events in Eastern Europe is due in part to the failure of the national churches to meet the spiritual hunger of their people.  Until such a time as substantial revival comes to Orthodoxy in the East, there is a great need for other forms of Christian spirituality.

In short, although Kuraev should be heeded when he criticizes Westerners for Americanizing the gospel, he also needs to look long and hard at the influences (negative as well as positive) of his own heritage on the form of Christianity he advocates.

Don Fairbairn is professor of theology at Erskine Seminary, Due West, SC.

Don Fairbairn, "Control Tactics Also Employed by the Orthodox Church," East-West Church & Ministry Report 9 (Fall 2001), 6.

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2001 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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