Christianity for Sale

We discussed a bit about the quality or lack thereof of many Christian products. But another major reason is market economics. The main outlet for Christian products of any kind is the Christian bookstore. A nd these are commercial enterprises. They are consumer supported, fed by distributors who are distributing content for the publishers/labels/studios. Most Christian “art” will be supplied through this commercial enterprise.

I am sure that the owners of these knowledge boutiques feel that they are providing a great service to the body of Christ. Where else can you go to get the “oil of gladness” that anointed Jesus but HolyMart Booksellers (I kid you not, I dont need the Holy Spirit to give me gladness, I can buy it in a store). We live in a post information age. Information is everywhere and the downfall is that we know more about things than ever before but act on less knowledge than ever. I suppose this means we never really know what we know. When asked, Jesus said that the sum of all the law, all the books in the world is this “Love God, love your neighbor.” I imagine that if we just did this, we wouldnt need Christian books at all.

Dont get me wrong, I love books. Love them. Can’t get enough of them. But if they do not produce fruit, or just serve to puff me up (as knowledge can do) then they are worthless.

Christian music is the cash cow of the recording industry. Nowhere else do people gobble up anything they throw out, but their secret weapon is that we feel more spiritual when we do. So we feel like we are doing something right by buying Christian music and that buying secular music is doing something wrong. Its almost part of those hidden commandments that include don’t drink, dont smoke, dont dance.

So we buy and buy and buy and feel good about it. We feel like we have made ourselves better, more like Jesus for reading or listening to Christian books/music. We feel like we have supported a Christian organization and thus been good stewards of our money. We feel like we are supporting the arts, and the Christians who do them. In fact, some people feel that buying Christian art and trinkets is actually exercising their faith and flexing their evangelistic muscles.

I was recently looking at a major distribution company of Christian books and music’s mission statement. In it they said they provided “Christ centered products” to the world. What exactly is a Christ centered product? You and I can have Christ at the center of our lives but a product cannot. This is obviously a statement made to make products sound like they are something that Christ Himself would approve. Any product or item that has a god in the center of it is what the Bible calls an idol.

As humans, any behavior we get praise for, or reinforced for doing will cause us to do the same act for more praise/props. The free market is based on that same concept. When we buy stuff, regardless of its worth, it sends a message of its worth. When we pay $5 a gallon for gasoline, we signal the gas companies and OPEC that we are willing to pay up to $5 for gas. When we buy art that is not good, we signify the producers that we find value in their proposition.

And lets face it, Christians are ridiculously easy to market to, especially if you have no scruples as a marketer. For those of you that dont know, marketing is my day job. I am a global marketer for a leading healthcare company. It’s my job to know how to sell people on something, need it or not. If they need it, we have to tell them why and how they will use it. If they dont need it, we have to figure out how to get them to think the cant live without it. And Christians are the easiest prey to a savvy marketer because marketers know that we dont have to try hard. We can take something that has passed its commercial value in the world and repackage it to sell to Christians. We dont have to take risks because we can see what is working in the secular and carbon copy it some fancy Christianese.

Here is the rub. Christians are supposed to be in the world, not of the world, right? So instead of Lord of the Rings, we sell Lord of the Kings. Instead of Livestrong bracelets, we sell Jesus Saves bracelets. We feel that we are being counter culture, not engaging the world in its corrupt practices. Companies marketing to Christians look at trends that have passed or are peaking and copy them with a Christian message. What we miss is that Jesus would consider our need to buy stuff, to have stuff as being of the world. Yet we have convinced ourselves that we are NOT of the world because we moved a letter around on a T-shirt.

What would Jesus do (sorry had to throw it in)? If Jesus were here, playing guitar and asked you for a pick, and you reach in your pocket and pull out a pick that says Jesus in the Fender font and hand it to Him, what does He do? My Jesus looks back at me and says “Really?”

Ok, so Jesus calls me up to heaven and standing next to me in line is a guy with a Lord of the Rings shirt, while mine says Lord of the Kings. What does Jesus say? My Jesus says “Lord of the Rings, awesome movie. I love how Aragorn represented Me,” and then look over at my shirt and says “Is this the way you represent me?”

When we really get down to it, how much are we changed by listening to Christian music? Granted, a steady diet of secular may not be the best, but then a steady diet of music without silence, prayer, and reading thrown in isnt the best either. Some of us are changed for a time from a book. I dont recall ever being changed by a church dance or a stand up Christian comic. I do remember feeling a bit sick though.

Because we buy Christian music, Warner Bros is getting rich on our need to be spiritual.  And then they run out and find new bands for us to buy. Which we do, and then they go get more. And they dont care if the band is actually good. They certainly dont care if the band has integrity. They just want the scrilla.

I have another friend (for those keeping count, this makes 2) who wrote a book and was required by the publisher to add content to get to a certain page count. This person commented that he had said all he needs to say, to which the publisher responded, say it again. Apparently there is research that says 100 pages is not worth $29.95 but 150 pages is, regardless of the value of the content.

So the industry itself is a commercial enterprise and self serving. This is reason alone to be purposeful and thoughtful in purchasing. What about those practicing the arts?

Mark Solomon wrote a book explaining what his life was like when he was in The Crucified, the leading Christian Hardcore band of the day. And it wasnt pretty. Integrity took a hit. The goal was fame.

I have met a few bands back in the 90’s and you would recognize the names. I saw them party hard, sleep around, and then do an altar call at a show. Integrity or fame?

Again, in our need to be not of the world, we would NEVER, no no no, idolize a star. Thats idol worship. But what if they are Christian? Then it all changes. I saw a full length poster of the lead singer of a popular Christian worship band at a recent trip to my local Christian purveyor.  What does that say? Who authorizes that? And who buys it? Someone does. But does it glorify God? No. It only glorifies the artist.

We have our Christian celebrities and we haul them to festivals, to seminars, to conferences. We ask for autographs, we take their pictures. How is this not being in the world? Its the same thing with different celebs. Its our Christian fame culture, and we LOVE it. So much for only wanting to make Jesus’ name famous.

Money makes the world go round. Well, it makes the Christian world go round too. We need to be purposeful and thoughtful where we spend our money. There are certain Christians who I support in the arts. And I try to buy directly from them if I can. I would prefer that they get the money directly. I am purposeful about where I spend and how.

It has to be restated, there is nothing wrong with making money from art. But your intention is key. If you make art for the intention of making money and do so in the secular world, great. If you can compete with the world, go for it.

It has to be noted too what happens when people, even those with a solid faith start to buy their own press and take glory and fame to themselves instead of directing it to God. Look at Prince, Beyonce, even Britney and Jessica Simpson… What happened along the road? When did fame become the object instead of God. Perhaps God never was the object, perhaps fame was always the goal, even if/when they believed in Jesus. But then, how are they different from our Christian Fame culture?

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