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“The President has put an actual heretic in charge of faith outreach.” — Erick Erickson
“Her role will be to advise the administration’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, which Mr. Trump established last year by executive order and which aims to give religious groups more of a voice in government programs devoted to issues like defending religious liberty and fighting poverty.”
What happens when you plant a church only for Walt Disney World employees?
Walt Disney World has almost 70,000 employees—a population about the size of Canton, Ohio. It’s the largest single-site employer in the country. At 40 square miles, it’s about as big as Miami or San Francisco. So Cast Member Church is fishing in a massive lake.
Cast Member Church is truly a church for Disney Cast Members. It’s not a church to attend on vacation. It’s not a church for Disney fans in Central Florida. It’s a church for a certain kind of employee from one company.
At a church leaders’ meeting at the Disney Springs Starbucks, Barr is sketching out his evangelistic methodology (literally sketching it: He carries a yellow legal pad and is constantly drawing diagrams to illustrate his points.). He talks about getting people to understand that they are a “child of the king, which means we are princes and princesses. We should glory in that identity.” He talks about Disneyland artist Charles Boyer’s famous riff on Norman Rockwell self-portrait, where Mickey Mouse looks into the mirror and sees Walt Disney. “Mickey sees his creator in the mirror: God’s desire is that when people look at you, they see him.” Don’t debate people if they’re skeptical, he says. “If they say, ‘I don’t believe that,’ just respond, ‘That’s okay, just imagine with me for a minute that it’s true.’ Disney [Cast Members] love imagination.” One of the biggest challenges in people understanding the gospel, Barr says, is the challenge in many Disney movies: the absence of a loving father.
Cast Member Church meets in a rented hotel space the first Friday of each a month for its “praise and wonder,” where it makes sure it hits those “irreducible marks of a church” Schreiber mentioned: communion, baptisms, a period of extended worship, a sermon based on Scripture. But more frequently, the church gathers in small groups at Starbucks or Disney lodges at 10 p.m., after shifts end. The church calls these “CommuniDs”—the “D” stands for “discipleship,” Barr tells me with a wink.
[O]ne of the only times Barr has had to exercise church discipline—one of those “irreducible marks of a church”—was over syncretism. A CommuniD, he says, ended up becoming just a Star Wars fan club. (Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise in 2012 and opened a Star Wars-themed section at Disney World in August.) “They stopped talking about the lessons and just started talking about similarities between Jedi religion and Christianity and stuff like that,” he says. After trying to get the group back on track a few times, he gave them an ultimatum. “Guys, this is about becoming disciples of Jesus, not about becoming Jedis.” The leader, he said, responded that he’d rather talk about Star Wars. “I said they’d have to stop being part of our church to do that. So they left and started down … a thing,” he says, cautiously. “It just fell apart.” He pauses. “I’m accountable for that. I’m the one leading in a context where the Disney influence is always turned up to 11. I’m trying to help [Cast Members] learn to turn down the noise. It’s the same way you learn to hear the Father’s voice.”