On December 1st, 2006 The United Church of Canada kicked off a controversial ad campaign in order to recruit new members. The ads include Jesus sitting in Santa’s village (complete with a child in his lap), the caption: Will you still come? Two grooms atop a wedding cake with the caption: Would you object?” Another features a can of whipped cream, which questions: when is sex a sin? The crowning glory of this $10.5 million campaign is Bobble-head Jesus. Which bears the question: “Funny – or ticket to hell?” The ads can be viewed and commented on at www.wondercafe.ca.
The United Church is Canada’s second largest church (Roman Catholic being the largest). Since it’s inception in 1925 the Church has maintained a liberal position. The organization has been a champion of women’s and minority rights, including homosexuals.
I’ve studied the ads myself and I’m unsure where I stand on the campaign. My indecision has prompted me to query a few of my fellow homosexuals. I posed two questions: Are you onside with the new campaign? Do you feel the campaign will lead gays to join the United Church’s congregation?
“I’m excited about the campaign. The ads are creative, engaging, and inclusive. The number one job of advertising is to get people talking.” Says L. Fornier, lesbian Copywriter and practicing member of The United Church. “This is a successful campaign in the sense that it’s already generating conversation,” Fornier added.
My inquiries have resulted in conflicting points of view. “When religion has to rely on advertising in order to gain followers that religion should be out of business and only read about in the history books.” Says Joey Wargachuk, gay marketing student, non-denominational (former Roman Catholic).
If the campaign seems familiar: in some ways it is. The satirical Kevin Smith film “Dogma”(1999) mocked the Catholic Church’s “Renew 2000”; a campaign that kicked off in October 1998 in effort to attract more parishioners (It was not considered a successful campaign). The film featured George Carlin as Cardinal Ignatius Glick. His main concern was marketing his “Buddy Christ” statue in order to make religion hip.
So is the notion of Bobble-head Jesus a joke that makes the church a laughing stock? Or is this a hip way to reach the public? “I like the ads, especially the two grooms on the wedding cake. I think Bobble-head Jesus is funny.” Says gay counter attendant Nicholas Detlor (former member of The United church). I like that the church is including everyone. You know… not saying I’m going to hell for being a fag.”
The notion that “God hates queers” has been a motivating factor prompting gays to leave religious organizations. Inclusion is an attractive feature of the campaign.
The ads pose questions that are important to some and offensive to others. Aside from the ads there’s a video titled “EZ Answer Squirrel”; wherein a squirrel runs back and forth in a box, answering “yes” or “no” religious questions by pulling a nut, which is attached to string. One nut lights the yes bulb the other lights up the no bulb. The video is ridiculous. I did laugh, wondering if this was the response the video was supposed to generate.
Regarding whether or not the ads will bring up the church’s dwindling attendance, opinion is also split. “I think the ads will get people in the door. Where they go from there is up to them.” Says Fornier. When questioned if the ad’s might inspire him to return to the church Detlor replied, “Yeah, totally. I’d feel welcome. I’m kind of interested in checking into going back.”
“It’s going to raise eyebrows and generate water cooler conversation. This doesn’t mean it will draw people into the church.” Says Wargachuk. “Most people in their 20’s – 40’s have already made up their minds where spirituality is concerned. This campaign will get some buzz and then fade away.” Mr. Wargachuk makes a valid observation. Most controversies are flavour of the day until upstaged by the next issue.
Whether or not the United Church’s ads will attract new parishioners remains to be seen. My final verdict: It’s important that people have beliefs that empower their lives. Be those beliefs spiritual, pagan, or religious. I have doubts that the campaign will bring up attendance numbers but anything that generates communication of substance is positive.
Perhaps the congregations won’t come in droves, filling the churches coffers. However, I predict many windshields just may feature the holy hipster, Bobble-head Jesus.
Who holds the royalties to Jesus merchandising anyway?
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