The curious case of Matt Pitt

I ran across a two-part series Blurred Lines: The Basement and Evangelical History   (Part II)) by Charity Carney about the troubled and acclaimed youth preacher Matt Pitt.   Pitt is one of those people that hold your attention.  From my Mormon perspective Matt Pitt is a fascinating phenomenon that gives some insight into the some of the dynamics of Evangelical Christianity.

Pitt found God and Christ in his basement in the cathartic moment when his father told him he had to leave home if he continued to do drugs.  The transforming feeling led him to start the religious-entertainment ministry.  Cultivating a dance club atmosphere, the Basement appeals to those who affiliate with popular hip-hop culture.  Here is a taste of his ministry:

Carney compares Pitt to the nineteenth century revivalist preachers who claimed authority over worldly affairs. Here is how Carney explains Pitt’s ministry in the context of other Evangelical church dynamics:

When Willow Creek introduced the seeker-sensitive model in the 1970s, the Basement could not have been what it had in mind. The Basement is the ultimate example of seeker-driven services targeted at a very particular audience with an emphasis on the commercialization and commodification of religious practices. As a youth ministry run by a younger preacher, the Basement may signal the next step in the megachurch, seeker-sensitive movement. Combined with new reality TV programs and internet ministries (see Kate Bowler’s post), popular religion is adopting more secular tools to reach larger audiences—and it’s working. Perhaps a better signifier would be plastic religion (rather than seeker-sensitive) for what’s going on at the Basement. In Chidester’s Authentic Fakes, he describes plastic religion as a commodified and flexible, a way to think about popular culture that is “biodegradable” and “shape shifting.” The Basement is unabashedly plastic while also claiming authenticity, which is a cunning way to reconcile the conflict inherent in its MTV/tent revival meetings. Drawing on the televangelist trends described by Bowler in Blessed, with emotional pleas that “ebb and flow” throughout the meeting, Pitt’s ministry takes the appeal one step further and amps up the revival atmosphere with smoke, lights, loud music, hip videos, and a liturgical call and answer that sounds more like a club chant.

Pitt was arrested and charged with impersonating a police officer when he showed his honorary badge to a neighbor to avoid explaining why he was tearing around on four-wheelers in the middle of the night with a rifle.  He was granted probation and released. Unfortunately he did not have the good sense to refrain from such behavior so he was arrested again after authorities discovered that he routinely used police lights installed in his vehicle to get around traffic.  He was arrested after a wild chase where he ran from police and was apprehended after sliding down a 25 foot cliff.

From the criminal lawyer’s, Pitt’s case is understandable. Authorities gave him a chance to fly right and dropped the hammer when he blatantly didn’t.  I don’t see his criminality as particularly dangerous, just juvenile.  He appeals to youth because he thinks like one.  I don’t think his criminality disqualifies him as an authentic believer.  The governmental establishment is a great foil for the rebellious preacher who is crusading for God.  Pitt’s incarceration has produced more devotion and created a cause for the thousands who flocked to Pitt’s religious entertainment.   My guess is that when Shelby County releases Pitt several months from now, he will again draw crowds across the country with his performances.

Among the fascinating elements to the story is the “Free Pitt” movement perpetuated by the staff of the Basement.  The Basement is attempting to maintain momentum until Pitt returns.  This, no doubt, raises cultist alarms among Evangelicals who seem to perpetually strike an uneasy balance between veneration of the authentic preacher and affiliation with celebrity.

From a Mormon perspective Pitt’s ministry is alien to our religious culture. I agree with Carney, Pitt seems a lot like the flamboyant preachers that vied for followers in Joseph Smith’s time. In some ways Pitt may be the refracted mirror image of Joseph.  Pitt believes he has the authority to reject secular authority infuse Christian worship with MTV-like entertainment. Joseph was very similar, rejecting all previous authority from religion or the world.  I think the phenomenon raises all kinds of interesting questions about religion, Christianity, and social dynamics. It will be interesting to see how the Pitt phenomenon plays out.  Pitt certainly leaves us with lot to think about.


48 thoughts on “The curious case of Matt Pitt

  1. Yeah, I don’t think this has anything to do with Mormonism or Joseph Smith, except inasmuch as both are part of the big landscape of American religion.

  2. Right, its about Evangelicalism and how charismatic characters like Joseph Smith fit in their religion. Pitt’s rebellious stance against established order is interestingly similar to Smith’s.

    The contrast with standard Mormon religious practice is also pretty stark. Stuff like this makes most Mormons roll their eyes at Evangelicalism. From a Mormon perspective, its worth understanding better.

  3. “Those are not evangelicals”

    Right, Evangelicals use coffee to attract people to church.

    Mormons know their Church is true because they attract converts with complete abstinence!

  4. Right, Evangelicals use coffee to attract people to church.

    Mainline liberal Christians–like the ones in Eric’s link–also frequently use coffee to attract people to church.

  5. Ah! Another clear evidence of the apostasy. Rap Music, Christian Death Metal, coffee, beer, what’s next?

    Until traditional Christian churches can bring in converts within no other attraction than three straight hours of manual reading and mumbled hymns, I will be less than impressed with their theology.

  6. Until traditional Christian Churches can bring in converts within no other attraction than three straight hours of manual reading and mumbled hymns, I will be less than impressed with their theology.

    I see you have been to the Church of Christ, Scientist!

  7. I stand corrected. The ELCA is not an evangelical denomination. That church is evangelical only in the sense that it is reaching out to attract nonbelievers, something mainline Protestants generally aren’t known for.

  8. I think it’s interesting that the Washington Post chose to do a story about this pastor instead of Matt Pitt. If getting 180 middle-aged people into a Methodist church is a sign of church growth things are going worse in the mainline denominations than I thought.

  9. Nadia Bolz-Weber is in love with the culture (look at her).

    That is why she is a sin-affirming ELCA pastor. (and I am in the ELCA)

    She is an embarrassment.

    Big deal if she can pack ’em in (or just bring in more).

    That is more of a sign that she is doing something wrong. Death to life (theology of the Cross) Christianity has never really been all that popular.

  10. OldAdam, I am wondering why she’s an embarrassment to you given that she is preaching your Gospel. Who is not an embarrassment to God? Right?

  11. Theold adam, how is the gospel of grace and completed work on the cross for real sinners that Bolz-Weber preaches any different from the gospel of grace and completed work on the cross for real sinners that your pastor preaches? Or are you just bothered that she preaches it to druggies and fags?

  12. She doesn’t preach the law. She’s thrown (as has much of the ELCA) God’s law overboard in favor of more generous words. More tolerant words.

    What she has done (as do many others – she just gets the attention because of her foul mouth and comic book skin coverings ) is turn the gospel into a social works program of saving the world from injustice.

    I don’t care who she preached to. We ALL need God’s law (not in watered down form)…and then we need the gospel, free of social works goading.

  13. That she flaunts them shows how much she is in love with the culture which increasingly values such forms of self-attention. They, to her and her admirers, are a badge of coolness and relevance.

    If she didn’t have, or show off her tattoos, she’d be just another liberal, mainline pastor.

  14. I have 4. Or 5, depending on how you count them. Odin riding Sleipnir is on my right calf, a skull with grapes and grapevines coming out of it is on my left thigh, my wife’s first name with a peacock feather behind it is on the outside of my left arm, below the shoulder (that’s the 1 or 2–I got the name and the feather at different times), and Stonewall Jackson’s last words are on the inside of my left arm.

  15. @ James Moran,

    I actually think the video of his arrest shows he is going to go far in the ministry.

    If believing delusional bullsh!t disqualified a person from being a preacher, there wouldn’t be too many left would there?

    If the Evangelical church was run more like the NFL, rather than pro boxing, Pitt would not be in jail, and would be filling stadiums now.

  16. That she flaunts them shows how much she is in love with the culture which increasingly values such forms of self-attention. They, to her and her admirers, are a badge of coolness and relevance.

    Hmm, I guess OldAdam is Amish now.

  17. Works?


    What does anything that I have said here have to do with works… vs, faith?

    We aren’t even talking about that, but a liberal, tattooed, foul mouthed preacher who cozys up to the culture at the expense of God’s Word.

    I’m not against tattoos per se…just using them as an attention getter and badge of honor amongst ‘the cool’. I’d be all for her if she covered them up when she presides over worship services or when she’s officially preaching or teaching…AND if she preached the full council of God and didn’t affirm and excuse sin.

  18. It’s always works versus grace, and absent a category of holiness subsumed by grace your left with self justification.

  19. Liberal preachers use the law, so that we will go out and fix the injustices of the world.

    A proper preaching of the law is to expose us… and our great need of a Savior.

  20. If the law does not reveal God’s eternal and objective will, you are left without a clear criterion to say even that.

  21. Kullervo,

    We preach and teach God’s Word…of law (to expose and kill off) and the gospel, to make alive again. That is the full council of God.

    Liberals have replaced God’s law, for more generous and tolerant words. That is how they can affirm homosexuality and all manner of other sin.

  22. Something that has puzzled me about “conservatives” in the Main Line is where they decide to draw the line.

    Redefine creation. OK
    Redefine sin. OK
    Redefine the atonement or justification. That’s fine too.

    Homosexuality, now that is another story.

  23. We, conservative (centrist is much more accurate) confessional Lutherans haven’t accepted any redefinitions of those things you’ve mentioned.

  24. You’re welcome. I think it might make sense for you to be sure about what her theology is before you start blasting away at her for her bad theology.

    And despite everything (including your protests), I actually think that Lutheranism is probably the best theological fit for a lot of people in the emergent movement.

  25. I have heard, and read, many of her sermons.

    It’s typical liberal, pro gay, social gospel. It’s turns the whole thing into another law…what ‘we do’ to fix the injustices of the world. Yes, she knows the gospel…but she rips it away when she starts down that road (social gospel).

  26. Pingback: More Matt Pitt Weirdness (and Trust Me, It is WEIRD.) | Roll to Disbelieve

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