Does Jesus Really Want A $750,000 Church Marketing Campaign?

I am loathe to write another religion post, seeing how swimmingly it went the last time (/sarcasm) but this story was plastered all over the front of my daily fishwrap today, and I just had to say something.

For those of you who can’t get past the firewall, the story is about I Am Second Nashville, a marketing campaign featuring Nashville celebrities in slick, stylized videos talking candidly (“giving their testimony” in Christianese) about how their faith in God helped them overcome big challenges. It’s an offshoot of the I Am Second campaign launched in Dallas last year by Norman Miller, chairman of Interstate Batteries.

The Nashville campaign, the story says, will launch next year and cost a whopping $750,000. It will include billboards, radio and TV ads, and — of course! — there are companion books published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. Because there’s always a companion book, amiright? So, it’s sorta like those “Pass It On” ads by the Foundation For A Better Life, but with more Jesus, more consumerism, a bigger production budget, and a heckuva lot hipper.

And after reading about it and watching some of the videos I just think .. aagh. Here we go again. You know what? This kind of media-genic, cross-platform, consumer-oriented marketing campaign is exactly the kind of stuff that turns me off about the contemporary church. It made me sick to my stomach in my brief foray in Christian music, and it’s a huge turnoff to me now. The professional Christian media loves this stuff, though: I suspect because it makes them feel “hip” and “relevant” and shows they can “tackle the tough issues” and “be relatable.” But it all just seems a tad too contrived for me.

Long ago the contemporary church adopted the value set of secular pop culture; there seems to be this belief that if they just modeled themselves after that, they can stop the bloodletting in their congregations, change lives, make everything hunky dory, etc. etc.

I’ve watched a few of these videos (you can see some here), they’re well done and some of the stories are quite compelling, don’t get me wrong. But for my money, hearing people talk about their faith isn’t nearly as effective as seeing them act on it. I got more fuzzy-warm “God-is-good” feelings from that picture of NYPD Officer Larry DePrimo giving a homeless man a $75 pair of boots than I do from a $750,000 mega ad campaign for God. I have no idea what DePrimo’s faith is — he could be a Buddhist, atheist, or fundie Christian for all I know. But I don’t need to know.

And I guess that’s the nut of it. I’m okay with people having whatever kind of spirituality they want. I read that story about formerly homeless Iraq veteran Curtis Butler paying the utility bills of the other people in line with him at the Georgia Power office and I don’t need to know that God told him to do it (though for the record, Butler does credit his church with helping him overcome PTSD). I just like knowing there are good people out there in the world helping their neighbors. I kind of think that’s how God works in the world, an eternal, powerful energy flow of good, unbounded by time or space, that is a part of us and also separate from us. You can call it Jesus or your Guardian Angel or Karma or Yahweh or a Flying Spaghetti Monster of a lamp post: it doesn’t matter because it’s so much bigger than us, that what we call it is a mere human construct, and I sure don’t need crosses and swelling hymns and “Touched By An Angel” backlighting all around it. But I know it when I see it, I think we all do.

And by the way, I sure don’t want to be told I’m going to hell for thinking this way. A big part of this campaign is getting people eager to “learn more” and then bringing them into “small groups” for further indoctrination discussion. I wonder how that’s going to work. If you’re struggling with your gender identity, what is your small group going to do? That will be interesting.

Like the Republican Party, Evangelicals need to understand that the problem isn’t the medium, it’s the message. Stop hating on gay people. Stop telling people who don’t believe the same as you that they’re “not saved” and are outside God’s family. Stop telling women that if you have an abortion you will live a lifetime of searing emotional pain, but somehow carrying a fetus to term and giving up a baby for adoption leaves no psychic scars whatsoever. Stop telling people that all they have to do is accept Jesus and all of their problems go away, and any new problems that may arise are wonderful blessings, all part of His glorious plan to share your testimony in a glitzy $750,000 marketing campaign.

You know what? I think maybe my biggest problem with Evangelical Christianity is the “evangelism” part. Seriously, y’all? A $750,000 campaign? This is what Jesus wants for Christmas? It just doesn’t sit right with me.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Does Jesus Really Want A $750,000 Church Marketing Campaign?

  1. Ann

    Very well said.

  2. Jim from Memphis

    If the foundation of one’s faith is a belief that they are called to spread the word of God to all nations and make believers of all people, then they probably do think God would want them to spend their money on a media campaign like this.

    • And here I thought the foundation of the evangelical faith was salvation in Jesus. Spreading the word is ancillary.

      But hey, you didn’t get embargoed in WordPress Comment Purgatory, Jim. You must be doing something right!

      • Jim from Memphis

        We changed internet providers…. must have done the trick.

        Yes you are right that the foundation of the evangelical Christian religions is that salvation is only provided through an acceptance of Jesus as your Lord and Savior. To that extent, they all have a strong belief in spreading that message and getting people to accept salvation. Again, I don’t see how an evangelical would look at this media campaign as a waste of money or against the teachings of Jesus.

      • Jim from Memphis

        I meant to add that the spreading of the Gospel is the “Great Commissioning” given by Jesus in the Bible – “go forth and make believers of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or something close to that.

  3. I don’t know, but Evangelicals just scare the heck out of me.

  4. greennotGreen

    Oh, oh, oh, is this my chance to talk about the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Because I LOVE the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Not because I’m an atheist (though I suspect that many of FSM’s followers are) but because I’m a person of faith. For all we know, God or the Divine or the Consciousness of the Universe, whatever It is, might look exactly like the Flying Spaghetti Monster…and that wouldn’t change Its divinity or Its universality.

    S.B., if you, like me, were raised in the church, the behavior of so many of today’s evangelicals may grate on you because they seem to be missing most of Jesus’s message. Whether one believes Jesus was the Son of God, just a carpenter’s son, or not even a historical figure, the teachings ascribed to him are a guide for a pretty decent way to live. If more Christians actually followed those teachings, the churches might not be bleeding members.

    • “His noodly appendage be praised … ”

      I actually was NOT raised in the church. I was raised by conflicted heathens. Maybe that explains a lot. :-) My mother was raised by a pack of wild nuns and my father was raised by a pack of wild rabbis and by the time my sister and I came along I suspect they’d both had enough of the whole sordid religion business to say, “Screw it. Let the kids figure it out for themselves. We’re outta here.”

      But yes, it does seem like the biggest problem with Christianity is the public face of so many Christians. And maybe that’s the issue this Second To One campaign is trying to fix. But I just didn’t feel it.

  5. democommie

    Southern Beale:

    Second best thing would be for them to spend the money this way instead of on anti-the GAY marriage initiatives, Anti-choice ads and the like.

    Best thing would be for them to spend the money on feeding, clothing and healing the least of them–anonymously.

    As far as getting the word out about the “Good News” of christianity. It would help if they would stop their hatin’ on others as a first step.

    • Best thing would be for them to spend the money on feeding, clothing and healing the least of them–anonymously.

      As far as getting the word out about the “Good News” of christianity. It would help if they would stop their hatin’ on others as a first step.

      The gospel according to democommie. Jesus would have liked you.

  6. One of them selling all that they have and giving the money to the poor would be a far more impressive demonstration of their faith that Jesus, the guy who told people to do that, was right than any of this. If they really believed that Jesus was divine they’d take the harder road of following him than the cheap alternative of publicly praising him as part of a publicity campaign. I see their faces and names, I don’t see any evidence they’re intending to do what Jesus said they should do. It strikes me as being against the word of Jesus in Matthew 6 which condemned just this kind of public display.

  7. Mike G

    hearing people talk about their faith isn’t nearly as effective as seeing them act on it

    But badgering and bossing people around is much more ego-gratifying, for shallow people, than the unglamorous work of performing good acts.

    The whole ethos of evangelicals seems to be that you are bestowed with Goodness only because you Believe, because you join their Club, conform to the club rules and obey the club leaders.
    They seem to actively denigrate good works, which are threatening to authoritarians because they undermine the obedience culture that arises when they control access to the Club which bestows or witholds Goodness..

  8. brendanyc

    Many have made the point that acting as Jesus taught rather than talking about it would be a more convincing ‘testimony’ of their faith. but that is the underlying, and i think, permanent stain of evangelism, at least as practiced in our culture. It is based–it’s overt manifestation is almost entirely based=- on ‘witnessing’ as opposed to acting.
    i don’t need, the poor and sick and imprisoned don’t need, the homeless transgendered youth don’t need, and our political culture doesn’t need more ‘testimony,’ more evangelizing, more ad campaigns that amount to self-touting by celebs who are adding boasting about their religiosity and humility to their other grandiose public personas. we need people who ACT like Christ (give all you have away, turn the other cheek), or like Buddha (no killing, period), and like that. for those of us who can’t go all that far –i am one–we can at least try to spend the time and money and effort that went into making these videos helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy, or of malaria, or of crushing poverty in the third-world sweatshops that make our disgusting abundance of cheap clothing…….or like that.
    Evangelize my …….!. The whole approach is phony.

  9. Amanda Reed

    As as any writer knows, don’t tell the reader, show them and showing compassion is the primary mission of all human beings whether you are Christian, Sufi, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or any other faith or not.