Just when I thought commercialism in the church couldn't get any worse I read this from the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Attention, pastors: You have just four weeks remaining to work a lion, a witch or a wardrobe into your next sermon. Walt Disney Pictures is so eager for churches to turn out audiences for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which opens Friday, that it's offering a free trip to London - and $1,000 cash - to the winner of its big promotional sermon contest.
It seems Disney isn't content with having Narnia merchandise, posters, and books in the church–the Mouse wants a view from the pulpit too.
The article quoted above by David O'Reilly cites the financial success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ as key to Disney's decision to market its film adaptation of C.S. Lewis' book directly to churches. One can hardly fault Disney for making a savvy business decision–Gibson's movie raked in over $600 million worldwide.
Far more disturbing is the lack of outcry from the faithful at a blatant attempt by a secular power to manipulate the preaching ministry of the church. The Southern Baptist Convention voiced public disapproval of Disney's policy concerning homosexual couples back in 1997, but where are the cries for a boycott when the Mouse attempts to shape pastors' sermons with promises of free vacations and cash? Which is a greater threat to the ministry of the Gospel and the integrity of the church?
Isn't this why the framers of the Bill of Rights created the First Amendment–to keep the government from preventing (or manipulating) the free practice of religion? I would hope church leaders would not tolerate the federal government manipulating the pulpit ministry as was the case in Nazi Germany, but is welcoming the intrusion of a multi-national entertainment company any different?
Perhaps the closest thing to Disney's sermo-mercials in recent years has been the sponsoring of a worship concert by Chevrolet in 2002 that involved displaying trucks and SUVs in church foyers. Steve Bets, a marketing manager for the auto maker, explained Chevy's motivation:
"Sponsoring the Come Together and Worship Tour provides Chevrolet and local Chevy dealers an opportunity to reach our target consumers, particularly families....This is a ground-breaking marketing effort for Chevrolet. With Contemporary Christian Music growing exponentially compared to every other genre of music for the past two years, Chevrolet recognizes the marketing potential with this tour."
The obvious question is how far will it go? Where do we, as church leaders entrusted with the ministry of the Gospel, draw the line? When do we become guilty of serving both God and money (or the corporations seeking to make it)? Maybe your next baptism service could be sponsored by Evian? Perhaps Nintendo can take out advertising space in your children's ministry newsletter, or maybe you're content with just having a Mouse on your shoulder while you preach.
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