Christian Media

Jesus Junk Continues

After reading my blog yesterday on “Jesus Junk,” you should see the recent Los Angeles Times report from the Christian Bookseller’s Convention in Denver this year:

Christian Retailers Put Their Print on Products

Christian perfume’s not your thing? Try golf balls. Or candy. This booming market has piles of products and a single message.

By Stephanie Simon -Times Staff Writer
July 21, 2006

DENVER — The fake rose petals strewn across the tablecloth gave Milton Hobbs’ booth a romantic aura. He stacked crystal-cut perfume flasks in a pyramid and set out pink candles tied with ribbon. The effect was almost sexy — at least compared with the other booths at the International Christian Retail Show.

Hobbs liked it. He needed a striking display to call attention to his most unusual product.

“Christian perfume,” he said. “It’s a really, really new genre. We’re the first!”

Virtuous Woman perfume comes packaged with a passage from Proverbs. But what makes the floral fragrance distinctly Christian, Hobbs said, is that it’s supposed to be a tool for evangelism.

“It should be enticing enough to provoke questions: ‘What’s that you’re wearing?’ ” Hobbs said. “Then you take that opportunity to speak of your faith. They’ve opened the door, and now they’re going to get it.”

More than 400 vendors packed the Colorado Convention Center last week to showcase the latest accessories for the Christian lifestyle. There were acres of the predictable: books, CDs, greeting cards, inspirational artwork, stuffed animals wearing “Jesus Loves You” T-shirts. Many of the newest items, however, put a religious twist on unexpected products — marketed as a means to reach the unsuspecting and unsaved.

Christian Outdoorsman was taking orders for a camouflage baseball cap with a red cross. In Booth 235, Revelation Products of St. Louis was pitching golf balls and flip-flops. Follow the Son flip-flops have patterned soles that leave the message “Follow Jesus” in the sand.

Gospel Golf Balls are touted as “a great golf ball with a greater purpose.” Manufactured by Top-Flite, the golf balls are printed with well-known verses from the Bible, such as John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…. “). Dave Kruse, president of Revelation, said they were meant as “conversation starters,” to help men share their faith while teeing up.

An added bonus: Duffers need no longer feel bad about losing a ball in the rough. “If you’re playing great, good,” Kruse said. “If you’re spraying the ball, well … lose a golf ball, share the gospel.”

After years of steady growth, the Christian retail market notched $4.3 billion in sales in 2004, the latest year for which figures are available. Sales of Christian books, in particular, are booming, outpacing most sectors of the publishing industry.

But except for a handful of top-selling books and albums, Christian merchandise is marketed almost exclusively by believers for believers, through Christian stores, trade shows and websites.

There are Christian health clubs, Christian insurance agencies and Christian tree trimmers (who advertise in Christian business directories). There are Christian alternatives for the most unlikely mainstream products: gangsta rap, shoot-’em-up video games, sweatbands, playing cards, scrapbook supplies, children’s pajamas.

Even the popular American Girl doll collection — long a favorite of Christian families because it’s so wholesome — has inspired an overtly Christian knockoff.

A Life of Faith, like American Girl, publishes historical novels featuring spunky girl characters, then turns the heroines into $100 dolls with lavish wardrobes. In the Christian version, the dolls come clutching Bibles; their stories, sprinkled with Scripture, describe how the girls find sustenance in their faith.

“It looks like a bunch of pretty, frilly stuff, but … it will get those Biblical values deep into the girls’ hearts. Our culture is a river of mud, and we don’t want girls to be swept up in it,” said Sandi Shelton, president of Mission City Press in Franklin, Tenn., which produces the Life of Faith line.

The effect of such products, according to political scientist Alan Wolfe, is to create almost a parallel universe, one that allows Christians to withdraw from the world instead of engaging it as Christ commanded.

“It’s as if they’re saying the task of bringing people to Jesus is too hard, so let’s retreat into a fortress,” said Wolfe, who directs the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College.

“Evangelism is about reaching out and converting the unsaved,” Wolfe said. “This is about putting a fence around people who are already saved. It strikes me as if they’re giving up.”

Over at Booth 266, Michael McCarron has no time to contemplate capitulation.

Wearing a Stars-and-Stripes shirt and a harried look, the owner of Scripture Candy rushed about one afternoon last week filling plates with samples of Christian chocolate for the 9,000 vendors and retailers who visited the five-day trade show. His company, based in Birmingham, Ala., sells an extensive line of candy packaged in little bags printed with Bible verses.

The candy is all top-quality, he said: “You can’t put the word of God on something that someone will taste and go ‘Blech!’ and throw away.”

McCarron absolutely believes his sweets can and do save souls. He once received a letter from a man who came across a Bible verse on a packet of candy corn while going through his son’s trick-or-treat loot. “The verse touched him, and he decided right there to stop drinking and go back to Christ,” McCarron said.

Most merchandise missionaries say they don’t expect such miracles. They hope instead that their products will light a spark. When a co-worker helps herself to a fish-shaped mint, maybe she’ll remember she hasn’t been to church in years. When a hunter sees the crucifix on his buddy’s cap, perhaps he’ll feel comfortable asking about Jesus.

“It’s about picking people up at their level of interest,” said Bill Anderson, president of CBA, a national trade organization representing more than 2,000 Christian stores.

The retail show offered Christians plenty of ways to provoke such discussions.

Skintight scoop-neck T-shirts for teenage girls bore slogans that practically begged those not in the know to ask questions. “Wood & nails — a powerful partnership,” one read. On another: “Life without you is not an option.”

Would-be evangelists can carry little plastic key chains printed with the slogan “Got Christ?” They can serve their child’s birthday cake on a paper tablecloth bearing the message “May God Bless You Today and Always.” And for rebels with a cause, Good Newz Temporary Tattooz lets kids stamp their love for “JC” on their arms — and rub it off the next time they shower.

“I know where you’re coming from if you think it looks like we’re merchandising or trivializing Christ, but this is a way to connect,” said David Lingner, who developed the Christian Outdoorsman line, including a camouflage-print Bible cover.

From his center at Boston College, Wolfe views such products with bemusement. Waiting for someone to remark on your gol
f ball or perfume, he said, is hardly a forceful way to fulfill the Great Commission, the Biblical command for Christians to spread their faith and anoint disciples. “I think they’re fooling themselves,” he said.

Sociologist Charles M. Brown is less harsh. “I doubt very seriously whether you have a lot of people converting” after they’re exposed to Christian products, “but it is a way of opening doors,” said Brown, who teaches at Albright College in Reading, Pa.

In recent years, Brown has interviewed dozens of Christian vendors and retailers; he’s concluded that many are motivated not by profit but by a genuine sense of calling. “They really do see what they’re doing as a form of ministry,” he said.

Though she doesn’t doubt the vendors’ sincerity, Ellie Cupps was taken aback to see booth after booth of Christian kitsch. She and her husband, Don, had come to the trade show seeking handcrafted gift items for their two Catholic bookstores in Albuquerque, N.M. They had to search for them amid Queen Esther action figures, Christian pirate decals, David and Goliath balloons, Armor of God pajamas and Bible-based cartoon greeting cards.

“It’s getting a little bit overboard,” Cupps said. “It’s faddish. If you can slap Jesus on it, it will sell.”

“Or they think it will sell,” her husband broke in, shaking his head. “A lot of it is just flash in the pan.”

Cupps lingered over an item she found more appropriate: Abaca Angels, made by women in the Philippines from the leaves of a tropical plant. She examined the delicate craftsmanship, then looked up.

“The Scripture Candy,” she said, “was kind of neat.”

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7 Comments

  1. It’s frightening to see what we’ve created. It always amazes me that we can’t see the huge difference between the life Jesus calls us to and the circus we’ve made it.

    How can these people not see the parallels between Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple and the kind of Jesus Junk that the modern money changes sell?

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more, Mr. Olsen. There HAS TO BE some sort of boundary, a moral compass if you will in regards to “marketing” faith. I also saw the direct correlation between these “victory vendors” at this particular show and the money changers out of the temple. It’s amazing to me how we (I include myself) justify our motives to simply sleep at night. I read a bumper sticker once that said, “Yes, Jesus is coming back. Boy is he pissed.” I thought, WOW!! That is a bumpersticker I would buy….yet, then again, it’s from a “victory vender”! Hmmmmm.

  3. I disagree with you.  I am a mother of 8 children and I am tired of everyone sitting quite while my children are  being bombarded with music that lyrics are so bad I am shocked then their are the shirts and tatoos that are so disgusting I cant believe they are even sold.  But no one says a thing about that.  They wear, sing, watch the most filthy things.  I think Christians should be outraged and stand firm in their faith to counter act this.  The video games and MTV are so horrible yet Christians are not out raged by such filth.  There are babies being killed all the way to time of thier delivery.  Yet no one is outrage especially the christians. we sit quietly thinking the Lord will stop it.  Jesus uses His followers to stand up and make a difference. 

    But let the Christians wear or use something where they can be a walking testimony and we are considered money changers.  When buying a christian product that causes someone to ask me about it which opens the door for me to share my faith with the them I think it is a blessing.

      My husband and sons love to play golf.  They might not bring up that they are a Christian when playing with other golfers.  But I found this company that put bible verses on Wilson golf balls called Gospel Golf and they are a wonderful tool for my husband and sons to share the Gospel.  When a golfer ask what ball they are playing with and they say Gospel Golf Balls. They ask what kind of ball is it and they are able to show them the bible verse on it and it allows them to share their faith.  My husband has had some great stories about sharing his faith with the other golfers because of the balls.  Even if they lose their balls they dont spend that much time looking for them because they  know if someone finds them they will be reading the Word. 

    I wish there were more Christian products that I could but instead of using the Lords money to buy secular products.  Why is it so bad when Christian care about the lost and want to take every opportunity to share the hope that is in them that they are consider mocking Jesus.  I welcome Christian company's to come our with better products than what the secular company's do.  I am sick of buying things from secular company's that support everything I know that Jesus would be against.  Yet I dont hear  you complaining about their products. 

     I know Jesus would want the Gospel to get out there anyway it can.  I feel we need more Christian movies, more Christian products for our kids besides pokeman or the other junk that destorts our kids thinking.  I think it is making the Lord a lot sadder to know that you are spending time critizing people who want to give Christian an alternative choice.  I pray that more Christain companys come out with more and more Christian products that I can use to help me share the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

    I want to thank Revelation Products for creating Gospel Golf Balls so that my family has a chance to share the Word of God while enjoying the game of golf with each other.  I pray that they  come out with more products that do the same thing which opens the door to start a conversation where we are able to share our faith with the lost.

    God Bless the Christian Company's and bookstores

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