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.