Selling God Out… One Pearl At A Time

Christian phrases are everywhere these days.  You can find them on cars, clothing, jewelry, and a myriad of other places.  You might even sport a sticker yourself, as they are often provocative, prophetic, and most certainly pervasive (at least in the United States).  My own background is filled with “Trust in God” sweatshirts, “Not of This World” hats, and “Jesus Rocks” stencils.  They serve as avenues to express faith for many believers and companies are eager to support such endeavors with clever products. They sell their merchandise in Christian bookstores and festivals (see Spirit West Coast); where encounters with the divine often translate into spiritual purchases.

Religious retail is big business.

We don’t question our consumer mentality any more than our need for air and Christianity has played along.  The message has been branded on polyester and forged in plastic in an effort to publicize the gospel and secure a profit.

[Please Note: I don’t believe that all Christian merchandise is bad, or that all people buy/sell it for wrong motives, I’m simply inviting Christians to consider the ramifications of the path that our Christian culture is on]

(W)HAT (W)OULD (J)ESUS (D)O?

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Jesus [Matthew 7:6]

When we market the mysterious, powerful, precious concepts of our faith, we actively cast pearls before a culture that has no care for them; a culture that often despises them… and who wouldn’t after a while?

When we slap stickers on our vehicles, could we be cheapening the richness of our theology?  When we define God with our clothing, could we be profaning what is holy?  Our forefathers in the faith refused to create images of our God, even refusing to write God’s name.  What are we doing when we put Jesus on mint candy and trite statements about the Bible on t-shirts for our pets?

BUT IT SPREADS THE GOOD NEWS, RIGHT?!

Is the current trend of marketing theology really a legitimate form of evangelism?

Jesus bequeathed the pearls of the kingdom to his disciples along with the commandment to bring them to the ends of the earth; a mission they pursued with the creation of believing communities, demonstrations of divine power, and teaching – a mission that has been handed down to us throughout history.

We are invited into this process of spreading the knowledge of God, but planting churches and printing Christian t-shirts are two very different things.

What is the actual product of this process anyway?  Are we bringing people into closer communion with God?  Often times I witness just the opposite; when we sport the merchandise we come off as prideful, narrow-minded, offensive, and judgmental (the context of Jesus’ teaching on casting pearls is a warning against judging others… go figure).

Christians! Let us stop painting the kingdom with kitschy strokes, rather “in [our] hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us]; yet do it with gentleness and respect… [1 Peter 3:15].

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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