Man of Steel in the Den of Thieves
Once again Hollywood is trying to leverage pulpits for marketing. This time let's stand up.

Back in 2005 I wrote a series of posts when I discovered the Disney Company was trying to market their Narnia films through pulpits. At the time, Disney was offering pastors a chance to win a vacation to London if they mentioned the films in a sermon. The idea to leverage sermons for movie marketing was the byproduct of Mel Gibson's successful plan to use churches to push The Passion of the Christ project after the usual Hollywood distributors bypassed it.

Since The Passion and Narnia, numerous other films with far less Christian content have tried to sneak into the pulpit including The Road and Evan Almighty. Marketers know that even an indirect endorsement of a movie by a pastor during a sermon can be one of the most effective means of motivating consumers–it's as close to God endorsing a film as they can get.

The latest attempt to put a cash register behind the pulpit is (tag line: "The stuff you use to fill the pews." I throw up a little bit in my mouth every time I read that.) They've contracted with Warner Brothers and DC Comics to create a ministry resource website for the upcoming Superman film Man of Steel.

Let me be transparent–I'm a big Superman fan (here's proof), and I'm really looking forward to Man of Steel. I also admit that the Superman mythology has always contained Christological themes. A celestial father sends his only son to earth to guide and save humanity–that sounds familiar. And apparently Man of Steel plays with biblical imagery, including a scene with a young Clark Kent talking to a priest with a stained glass image of Jesus positioned just over his shoulder.

But pastors can't be naive to think Warner Brothers/DC Comics is trying to aid the church with their Man of Steel Ministry Resource website. They've created Man of Steel sermon outlines, sermon video clips, and offered pastors advanced screening tickets for one reason–money. They're looking to hijack pulpits to push their film and boost box office receipts. On one level I can't fault them for trying. It is a savvy, if cynical, marketing tactic. What really bothers me, however, is that a decade after The Passion and Narnia, studios still see sermons as worthwhile product placement opportunities because apparently it works.

Last year Lifeway released some encouraging findings. 87 percent of Protestant pastors said they do not believe a pastor should endorse political candidates from the pulpit. Most realize preaching must remain free from political manipulation. They would never prostitute the pulpit or sully a sermon with blatant partisan hackery. Unfortunately, the evidence indicates some ministers don't feel as strongly about protecting the integrity of the pulpit when $200 million Hollywood blockbusters are involved.

June 11, 2013

Displaying 1–6 of 6 comments

cody whitmoyer

February 01, 2014  5:07pm

I cant say im a big superman fan. In fact, i dont know much at all. But i can completely grasp what is being stated. I can understand that marketing involves reaching out in as many different areas as possible to bring in the most. But also, trying to bribe pastors into referencing their movies is almost pathetic. I like a point that Scott Clevenger made. That their church is using "Man of Steel" to kick off a series. I believe that there is no wrong done here, but also, the intent is not to get a vacation, but to bring about a event that gives God the glory, not a movie producer. I have time before used movie clips for bible studies, but the intent was not to win a new car, but to use the clip to show others a idea. I am fine if a pastor references media, but not ok with company's bribing the pastors to use references.

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November 18, 2013  9:59am

The pulpit is the place where the word of God is supposed to be preached. God did not tell us to make sermons based on anything but His word. His word alone is to be preached and praised. It is in no way okay for pastors to give in to this bribe, just to be able to see a movie for free. God's word is sacred, and His Church is beloved. I believe that pastors need to check themselves when they are prepping a sermon. Are they conforming to the ways of the world, giving in to selfishness, partnering with a ministry that has a love for money? If they are not preaching out of a love for God's Church, and especially the local church God has given them to pastor and care for, than they are going to hurt the people whom Christ died for. I love movies. I really do. And I like to go to church and laugh. but I hate it when I go to church and don't feel filled by the end of the sermons. I want the word of God. I want meat. I want to leave feeling more connected to my local church and more encouraged to face the week ahead. That is what pastors should be giving us.

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nigel forsyth

July 02, 2013  11:50pm

Not about the church using the illustration , its about marketing hoollywood through the church , deliberately . Its them wanting to con,manipulate and market to our audience ,by promising a reward if we co-operate ..Bit like the big chemical companies and doctors , a relationship that has soured the trust of the folk who use doctors.

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June 15, 2013  8:03am

Motive v. End Result In the Bible, there are many times that God turns evil motives into something good. This movie is an opportunity to reach many new people and spread the Word of God, even though Warner Brothers motives have more to do with profit than evangelism. Regardless of motive, it would be wrong to deny the mission we as Christians are on... namely to spread the Word of God to all the ends of the Earth. This movie is a way to meet the general public with the message of Christianity in friendly territory. In this day and age, opportunities like this need to be taken advantage of. I don't think the church should shy away from using a major cultural icon blockbuster movie to further its purpose. If the movie is successful at generating more interest in Christianity, those who are reached successfully will be more critical of future movies that Warner Brothers puts out. Next topic... Can capitalism and evangelism work in harmony?

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pastor v

June 12, 2013  11:45am

Scott, I definitely get where you're coming from. But the difference between what you described and what Skye rightly critiques is that what you do at your church in connection with any movie is (presumably) done out of your own conviction of God's guidance, *not* as part of a marketing campaign whose purpose has nothing to do with Scripture nor with the Kingdom of God. So the problem Skye is addressing is not so much whether or not "Hollywood gets the benefit." That is an irrelevant question. The real problem is whether or not the Church should allow itself to be used by the kingdoms of this world to further their own agendas. When the Church does so, it loses its power. Certainly, people can be won to Christ using "wrong" methods. However, let us not comfort ourselves in that, so that we forget that there are grave consequences that result from a focus on "pragmatism" over obedience. When Moses struck a rock twice after being commanded by God to speak to it, God still provided water for the people. Moses' method, while disobedient, still "worked." It got the results. ...but... While the people were "saved," Moses was punished. He was not allowed to enter the promised land, because while his method "worked," it did *not* glorify God. Moses' experience should serve as a cautionary tale to any who would argue that simply because a "person is won to Christ" through a certain method, that method must be OK.

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Scott Clevenger

June 11, 2013  9:55pm

Personally, I get irked too when I see Hollywood profiting off of Christians. However, while I completely respect your perspective and philosophy, if only one person is won to Christ because of these methods, then I don't really care if they make $200+ million. We do a movie message series each summer and we always get tons of comments. We're kicking off the series again this Sunday with Man of Steel. Even having our own "Man of Steel" competition to honor dads on Father's Day. I understand that by simply focussing on the movie from the pulpit that more people might go see the movie and Hollywood gets the benefit from that. But, I believe there's a bigger picture. Again, I can see both sides and I mean my comments with all due respect. To me, it's just different philosophy and I'm convinced that God is big enough to use both views for His glory.

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