PEORIA, Ariz. — Last Sunday, pastor Irwin Alton, 62, preached against several specific sins during his sermon. Some people in the audience gasped with recognition.Lark News is sort of a Christian copy of "The Onion." What makes their stuff so funny is that it is close enough to reality that you can almost recognize yourself and your church friends in so much of their material - to the point of "ouch!" I've never faked a prophecy, but the temptation to put on airs to look good in front of a congregation is a problem for anyone in church leadership. Ouch, indeed.
"When he talked about skipping mid-week service to go to the lake, and buying a new boat when you haven’t tithed, I felt nailed to my pew," said one man. "It was like the Holy Spirit was speaking right to me."
But it wasn’t the Holy Spirit — it was the man’s own blog where he had posted photos of himself and his buddies on his new boat on a Wednesday evening.
Pastor Alton, who cultivates a reputation as a computer illiterate techno-phobe, is actually an avid reader of MySpace pages, blogs and personal websites of the people in his congregation. "I appear, shall we say, un-hip," he says. "Therein lies my advantage."
Though he publicly refers to the Worldwide Web as the "Worldwide Waste" and e-mail as "sin-mail," in his home office is a bank of computer screens with more than 170 bookmarked sites — personal web pages, blogs, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, Flickr and more. Each week Alton surfs the sites for hours to find evidence of questionable behavior by people in his church. He jots offenses down and incorporates them into his Sunday sermons.
He even checks the blogs of friends of people in his church. That’s where he found photos of Emily Dotson, 31, at a local sports bar. During the service last week Alton paused mid-sermon to say, "Some of you have been visiting places you shouldn’t be seen in as a Christian, drinking establishments and the like." Emily was taken aback.
"He was speaking right to me," she says.
She came forward and repented for being at the sports bar, even though she’d been celebrating a girlfriend’s birthday.
"I knew I shouldn’t have lingered in that environment," Emily says. "I could have gone in, said hi and left."
When mentioning sinful behavior Alton sometimes intentionally gets small details wrong, or remains vague. "If I bat a thousand they might get suspicious," he says.
He never claims his messages are Holy Spirit-inspired, but many in the church believe they are.
"He’s right so often, it has to be God," says one man. "We all come to church because God is using Pastor Alton to address our particular situations. It’s phenomenal."
One family, the Bixbys, was tolerating their daughter’s college partying. Alton watched the girl’s MySpace for weeks before mentioning from the pulpit that "some parents need to get a lasso around their college-age children — and fast, before they do some real damage."
That week, the Bixbys called their daughter home to "re-establish patterns of good behavior." "We felt that if God was merciful enough to speak prophetically through our pastor like that, we should take action," says the father.
For his part, Alton has no problem not revealing his sources. "If they can’t make the connection between what I’m saying and what they’re putting on the Internet, then maybe God really is speaking to them," he says. "And they sure treat me with a lot more respect now."
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
From the Christian comedy/spoof site LarkNews.com comes this gem: "MySpace gives pastor ‘prophetic’ edge" It's a joke, but I almost wonder how close to reality this is in some places and ministries.