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God 4 Sale
Announcing our Money Changer of the Week Award

Though almost everyone has heard of that dramatic scene when Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, his disciples have not always heeded his warning, "You cannot serve both God and Mammon."  Indeed there are many Christians who have substituted a gospel of wealth for the good news of God's grace. It is, in fact, rather astounding, that many disciples of Jesus Christ, far from heeding his words -- "Go, sell all that you possess, and give it to the poor!" -- do exactly the opposite, amassing great wealth on the backs of the poor. This is disturbing enough when it is done in corporate board rooms, suburban shopping malls, or inner city bodegas, where the profit motive plays a legitimate role, but when the profiteering is done in the name and under the banner of the Prince of Peace; when keeping the faith is seen as far less important than making a fast buck, then God has been replaced by Mammon. 

As the Internet becomes a marketplace as much as a medium of communication, such contradictions are becoming more and more evident within the temples of cyberspace. Promoters of every stripe are putting the gospel on sale in the form of jewelry, T-shirts, and trinkets of every kind. In these so-called Christian websites the faith is packaged, promoted, and sold like any other product. A whole new category of sites promotes "Christian businesses" and the notion that somehow there is a Christian way to get rich quick. At home. Without actually doing much of anything. By way of illustration, let's take a look at a website that advertises under the title: Christian Millionaires. I love it when "work at home" schemers imply that you can make millions of dollars, but don't tell you what you will actually be doing to make all this money. This website tells you a lot about what you won't be doing, but nothing about what you will be expected to do to earn $7,000 over and over again. I don't know about you, but there is something deeply reprehensible about using deceptive advertising to sell a product or service that is described as being "Christian." When does an object or activity become "Christian" anyway? Does a T-shirt become "Christian" simply because it has a picture of Jesus on it?  What if it's a tasteless rendering of our Lord? What if the product was manufactured in a sweat shop somewhere in Asia by workers being exploited in unsafe working conditions, paid less than subsistence wages? Does your Mercedes become a "Christian car" if you replace the Mercedes emblem with a cross?

Another example....  Chick publications wins my award for "Money Changer of the Week."  

Many Christians are familiar with Chick Publications, owned and operated by Jack T. Chick; his comic book style publications have been around for more than thirty years. From the statement of purpose clearly set forth at his website, Mr. Chick clearly has a high calling: to convert as many people as possible to his dour version of the Christian faith, and warn them of the dire consequences of choosing any other way.  His tracts systematically attack Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and most especially, Catholics, whom Mr. Chick believes are particularly beyond the pale. Why spend so much time and effort proving others wrong?   True to form, Chick has a simple answer:

God has only one Truth. If something is not the Truth, it is false, and must be revealed as such. How tragic it would be to just stand idly by and let people go to hell, without so much as a word of warning.

Of course, Mr. Chick does not hesitate to bend the truth rather blatantly if it serves his purpose of warning Catholics that they are likely to end up in hell. He uses his cartoons, for example, to make the Catholic view of Holy Communion look like idol worship. As a Presbyterian minister, I'm not defensive about Roman Catholic doctrine or tradition. But I can say one thing quite forthrightly. I have never met a single Catholic who would defend what Mr. Chick puts forward as typical of  Catholic thought or teaching. Whatever the differences that separate Catholics and Protestants, none of them are so serious that one group can be assured of going to heaven while the other is consigned to hell. What Mr. Chick has to say about Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and other Christians represents a violation of the commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."  Spreading false and malicious lies about one's neighbors is a sin identified by the Bible as equivalent to theft, adultery, or murder.  And this is a sin Mr. Chick has been repeating in print without a word of apology for nearly 40 years!   And he is turning a nice profit while doing so.

At the other end of the spectrum are those promoters who attempt to sell their products by appealing to the public's spirituality. In a surprising number of advertisements an aura of the "spiritual" is invoked in the selling of watches, home appliances, vacation packages, or whatever.  In fact, some advertisers spend fortunes on research to probe our minds so they can pitch their products to our deepest longings. Today "spirituality is in," says Sam Keen, author of Hymns to an Unknown God. Apparently, it has become profitable to exploit Americans' growing spiritual hunger.

In a recent commercial for IBM's "Solutions for a Small Planet," Catholic nuns were shown talking about surfing the Net as they walked to vespers. A Gatorade ad featured Michael Jordan running in Tibet and meeting an Eastern holy man who intones, "Life is a sport; drink it up." Snickers showed a football team inviting a Catholic priest to bless the team, followed by a rabbi, a Native American, a Buddhist, and a long line of other spiritual leaders. The tag line: "Not going anywhere for awhile? Grab a Snickers." And most recently General Motors paid for a series of concerts linking Chevrolet with evangelical Christianity. These "Chevrolet Presents: Come Together and Worship" stage shows sparked both outrage and praise.

Phyllis Tickle, an expert on religious marketing for Publishers Weekly magazine, said, "This is surprising -- a real blurring of the lines between the commercial and the sacred. And it's unfortunate, because it compromises both sides. We know that church and state are never supposed to meet, and I think it's also a bad idea for church and Wall Street to be meeting like this."

Fortunately, most internet money changers are neither as misguided as Jack T. Chick or as deceptive as blatant in exploiting religious consumers as Chevrolet in the example just cited. Many websites that put themselves forward as selling "Christian" products more closely resemble your MOM and POP enterprise, marketing homemade T-shirts, or other hastily assembled products, apparently in an attempt to make an honest living from all that cybercash. Judging from the hit counts visible at many of these sites, MOM and POP are probably not changing very much money after all.  Some of these business have already gone broke, just like the giant companies that collapsed so dramatically when the cyber bubble burst. I suspect that most of the Internet money changers will discover on their own, without a word of warning from me or anyone else, that trying to serve God by trading in Mammon is a hopeless and self-defeating enterprise. For "where your treasure is there will your heart be also." 

Charles Henderson
Web GodWeb

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