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'Conspiracy' Resists Holiday Greed, Urges Giving

Imago Dei pastor develops a program for squelching overspending and busyness among church members.

Pastors' attempts to ward off the Christmas spirits of consumerism and busyness are so predictable, they're easy to ignore. So many churches are looking for creative ways to reinvigorate members to take the energy they usually put into holiday-season spending and convert it into compassionate giving.

Such is the Advent Conspiracy, a self-described "emerging international movement" began in 2006 by Rick McKinley, senior pastor of Imago Dei Community, a 1,500-member emergent church in Portland, Ore. Sick of the de-emphasis on Christ during the weeks leading up to Christmas, McKinley challenged his congregation to give like God does.

"It's called the Advent Conspiracy because Jesus' birth . . . was done in secret, almost hidden," said McKinley to Nancy Haught of The Oregonian. "He didn't come posturing for power. . . . He came giving himself away to others. Ultimately, he gave the greatest gift of all - his life for our life. We think Christmas should be celebrated the same way."

In response to McKinley's challenge, Imago Dei and four other congregations - Ecclesia in Houston, Windsor Crossings Community Church in Chesterfield, Mo., New Providence Community in Nassau, Bahamas, and Fellowship Church in Anthem, Ariz. - collected $430,000 last Christmas season. The majority of the collection was given to Living Water International, a nonprofit group working to dig clean wells in impoverished countries.

In the months following the conspiracy's first-year success, news of its efforts spread over the Internet. It received hearty praise from the likes of megachurch pastor Rick Warren and evangelical missions organization World Relief. This year, about 490 churches from 10 countries have joined the conspiracy, reports Jeanne McKinley, who directs the program with her husband, Rick. On its website, the conspiracy provides downloadable print materials and videos for use in church services and small groups.

World Relief has also volunteered another 500 churches to join the campaign, while 17,000 individuals have pledged online to put the campaign's credo - "Worship More, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All" - into practice this Christmas.

While believers can and should actively resist consumption and busyness for busyness's sake, especially at a time both are so pervasive, one wonders if the proper way for churches to help this resistance is to create a program to join, especially (and ironically) one rife with slogans and logos. The way Christians can really make their Advent celebration countercultural is not by aligning themselves with a movement, even one that may have godly intentions. In its press release, the conspiracy says it wants to restore the "scandal of Advent," by worshiping a God who calls us to constantly give away instead of hoard. Sure, that's a bit of a scandal for most of us. But if the conspiracy wants to be truly scandalous, it will have to call us back to put aside all our programs and movements and wait, with joy and terror, for the Christ child who is coming to reconcile the world to himself.

More coverage of the Advent Conspiracy:

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