Are Passover Pete, lattes and other marketing techniques good for denominations?

Flickr Photo
Flickr Photo

The day after Easter, Jon Stewart had an absolutely hilarious segment on the Daily Show about the difference between Easter and Passover. Both holidays were observed at the White House last weekend. His point was the Easter celebration was far more fun than the Seder. He was worried that kids, given the choice between Easter baskets filled with chocolate bunnies, Easter eggs and all sorts of goodies, and the traditional Seder plate of bitter herbs, lamb bone and hard boiled egg, would choose Easter. He demanded a marketing revolution for his Jewish faith represented by Passover Pete, a guitar-playing and pizza-eating cartoon lion. Like all good social comedic commentary, he pointed to the greatest temptation all faiths in a consumer culture are faced with: the use of marketing to sell religion.

In the 1970s there was a movement within the American church called the Church Growth movement. The idea was to use modern marketing techniques like consumer surveys, advertising and adjusting worship to give people what they wanted out of church. It would fill the pews and problem solved. Like Passover Pete, the church was made friendlier. Down went the cross, and up went the PowerPoint presentations. Music mimicked the beats and lyrical simplicity of pop music. The church stopped using theological language and turned to topical sermons about how to improve your marriage. The marketing worked, the churches became mega, though few of the attendees (the word 'member' did market well) now know what Paul meant by sanctification. Has this been good for Christianity? So few who bought into this can tell you the basic beliefs of the church they attend, though they like the music and church is really cool with its lattes.

Jon Steward’s parody starts with a look at all the cartoon characters at the White House Easter celebration. Then he cuts in with a visual joke of all these cartoon characters at the Last Supper. Is Jesus' death on a cross and resurrection really about chocolate, fun and cartoon characters? Jon Steward’s Passover Pete is holding a pepperoni pizza. Pepperoni is made of pork. It is sitting on a sea of cheese. What would the rabbis who wrote the Talmud think of Passover Pete? What does marketing of the faith do to the faith?

Dire Straits, indeed, for the faiths, “money for nothing and attendees for free.”

About Ernesto Tinajero

Art, says Ernesto Tinajero, comes from the border of what has come before and what is coming next. Tinajero uses his experience studying poetry and theology to write about the intersecting borders of art, poetry and religion.

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  1. Excellent article Ernesto! So happy to see you here!

  2. This is the reason why we have so many falling for modern fundamentalism, such as opposition to evolution and anti-science theology. How many attendees today know what Augustine said about the cooperation between reason and faith? How many know how the church has traditionally interpreted Genesis down through the ages? I attended a local mega church recently where the pastor shouted, “Evolution says there’s no God.” Evolution says no such thing, but not one of the thousands of attendees seemed to know the difference.

  3. Bruce, what IS important today, is that we have choices. There are many paths to the top of the mountain. What we hope (and pray for) is that somewhere, sometime on their path, each person will hear the call of “something more” – stop buying the Latte and get on their knees. It is all a process – who are we to judge that chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs are not the bridge that take us home. We should stop trying to “be RIGHT” and just love. I think this is what this site is all about. Chocolate bunnies can be sacred!

  4. Diana- Yes, but when are they going to get “home”? The anti-evolution and anti-science stance of so many fundamentalist congregations today is evidence that chocolate bunnies aren’t doing it. Fundamentalism itself is evidence that the process isn’t working. Instead of getting substance, people are falling for emotion, and emotion is leading them to wrong conclusions about God and about the world in which they live.

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