Friday, December 03, 2004

Cheap advantage

There's a new fuss over some expensive television advertising by the United Church of Christ (UCC). It seems that the UCC has noticed that people aren't exactly flocking into their churches these days, and they've set out to pull them in with a media campaign.

Now, if you were launching out to attract people to your church, what tack would you take? Would you appeal to their altruism: "You can save lives through the UCC!" Or would you lift up Jesus Christ: "The UCC, a place to meet the King of Kings!" Or would you go with your strengths: "The UCC: We believe the darndest things!" That's not what UCC has chosen.

UCC instead puts down other churches in order to look more appealing, and, what's more, they put down the other churches for something entirely untrue: excluding people for their race, their handicaps, and their sexuality.

It reminds me of my days in youth ministry, when some youth leaders, in a piteous attempt to be hip, decided to seek cheap advantage with church kids by putting down church or Sunday school: "We're not old and out of it like Sunday morning at church! No way! Here at Youth Mania we rock!"

But no one stands tall by knocking down those around them. That's a lesson most of us learned by junior high, but it appears the UCC still needs to figure that out. Their message seems to be, basically: "We don't turn people away, like all the rest of the mean, nasty churches. Come to us!"

Take a look at the 30-second advertisement, meant to be allegorical: click here.

The ad campaign has sparked a lot of response:

  • The Christianity Today Weblog by Ted Olsen has an in-depth report with links to numerous secular news articles and a lot more background that you don't generally see in the secular press.
  • A renewal group from within the UCC has a striking press release.
  • The Association for Church Renewal has come out with a statement advocating for the right of religious groups to advertise but strongly requesting the UCC to pull this particular ad because of the way it demeans fellow churches. They point out that evangelical churches are actually more inclusive in reality than churches like the UCC that talk so much about it: "only two or three percent of mainline church congregations (including the UCC) could be considered racially 'integrated' (defined as having at least 20 percent minority membership), compared to eight percent of conservative Protestant churches, and 20 percent of Roman Catholic parishes nationwide."

Surely cheap advantage is worse than no advantage for the declining UCC.


Blogger Dwight said...

I'm a bit confused about where the UCC errors in terms of its depiction of the church and sexuality? If one takes the trials of Jane Spahr and Beth Stroud as indicators, it's pretty clear that the church as a whole is *not* open.

Religion in much of the public imagination is taken to be defined by it's opposition to homosexuality. In such a religious context the UCC ad makes sense, it does outreach to a whole group of folks who are estranged from the church over such issues.

8:40 AM, December 06, 2004  
Blogger Jim said...

What Dwight appears to confuse is caring welcome versus blanket approval.

Any church I've ever known would be pleased to welcome Janie Spahr or Beth Stroud to come to worship services, hear God's Word, respond to it in humble repentance, seek God's forgiveness, and grow joyfully in discipleship. They would be overjoyed!

But no church should be expected to place into leadership positions those who advocate sinful behavior antithetical to God's will. Would we expect a church to annoint as leaders persons espousing racist ideas, or violent anger, or sly thievery? Of course not.

Homosexual practice is not an indifferent activity with no moral consequence. The most loving response possible is to embrace the person but also to point that beloved child of God toward God's will for his or her life. Blanket approval of sin leads to death, and that is anything but loving.

The UCC ad attacks a straw man. Very, very few churches actually bar homosexual persons from joining in worship. That's just not the case. And yet, from the advertisement, one would think that all other churches except the UCC do so.

9:06 AM, December 06, 2004  

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