Bumper Stickers, T Shirts, and Cross-Eyed Action Figures (a rant on Christian marketing)

Deluxe Jesus action figure, with loaves, fishes and glowing hands. Glowing hands?!?
I don't care if it rains or freezes
As long as I've got my plastic Jesus
Glued to the dashboard of my car
You can buy Him phosphorescent
Glows in the dark, He's pink and pleasant
Take Him with you when you're travelling far

-George Cromarty and Ed Rush song

I just came from Marcus Goodyear’s blog, where he has posted about Jesus branding (also check out Bobble Head Jesus at thoughts of a gyrovague.com.) This is a topic that has always been of interest to me. Is it wrong to want products that express your faith? To want toys for your children that encourage them to play out scenes from the Bible? Or to want DVDs and music for your family that don’t glorify a worldly viewpoint that disagrees with your beliefs? I don’t think so. However, there are (in my opinion) some major issues with Christian marketing.

My first problem with these products is that so many of them are just in bad taste. In fact, as I was surfing around the Web looking for Jesus products my nine-year-old came up behind me and watched for a moment. “Mom,” she said, “those products are in really bad taste.” If a nine-year-old can spot that, who do we think we’re fooling? Years ago my brother-in-law and I caught a relative putting a bumper sticker on her new BMW convertible. The sticker read “My car may be nice, but my real treasure is in Heaven!” We convinced her to remove the sticker, based on the fact that it was a screaming invitation for someone to key her car. I know the intent of the message was good…the things of the world will not last, and we should store our treasures up in Heaven. However, if you look at it from the point of view of someone who is not a Christian it basically reads “My car is better than yours, and I am also holier than you.” Is this the message we really want to be sending? And then there’s the Jesus figures.

Here we have a Jesus sculpture made of plastic that has eyes that “follow” you all around the room. Creepy. I personally would rather memorize a Bible verse (Colossians 2:5 comes to mind: “For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit….”) then have a plastic Jesus face sitting on my mantle, following me with vacant eyes. In my opinion, it sends the wrong message…Jesus is watching your every move, like a be-robed Big Brother, probably taking notes on your every sin and just waiting for an opportunity to smite you. And then there’s the “Shock” factor. Here I’m talking about T-shirts, tracts and bumper stickers that seem designed to shock a person into believing. I’m just not sure that works! I have a feeling that in many cases this approach might actually backfire and do more harm than good. Take for example the tracts that were popular not long ago, that look like money on one side. The idea is to leave them scattered on the sidewalk, and an unsuspecting heathen might pick one up thinking he’d hit the jackpot. On the reverse side of the tract is an abbreviated clip of the Good News. But put yourself in the reader’s shoes….is it really good news that what you just picked up won’t buy you a Big Mac after all? I think there’s a good chance that the person holding that phony bill will feel deceived and disappointed…which is not how I want someone to feel when he’s holding something with Scripture written on it. I am also not wild about certain shirts and bumper stickers bearing bloody, grotesque or shocking pictures. I think they are too easily misconstrued and can even be offensive. To a Christian, an image like the one below means one thing….to someone who isn’t a believer, what will it look like? What about to that person’s three year old?

Finally, there’s the fact that some of these products just seem cheaply made and a little ‘wrong’. Middle Child, watching the images of Jesus action figures on the screen, went on to say that she would feel sort of….”Blasphemous”….playing with some of the figures. I’m not sure that it’s blasphemous to play with a Jesus action figure, but really….we’re talking about a God who’s very name is too holy to be spoken. It does make me pause a moment and think about how we are portraying our Lord. Cheap, cheesy plastic just doesn’t seem like a great idea in that light. Why are so many of these products so badly made? If we’re going to market a talking Jesus action figure, could we please at least not make him cross-eyed? If we’re marketing cheap and badly made products, what message does that send? Christians will buy anything, as long as it has Jesus on it? Again, not the message I want to send.

Sorry about the rant...please know that I'm not judging you if you own
some of these
products and I don't claim to have the answers as far as
the best or the "only"
way to share our faith.
I just feel like it's important to make sure what we're buying is sending
the message we want to be sharing!



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10 thoughts on “Bumper Stickers, T Shirts, and Cross-Eyed Action Figures (a rant on Christian marketing)

  1. I totally agree with you. What if we Christians saved our money and sent it to missionaries instead. Thats what I’m saying.Great post/point, thanks.

  2. Ok i have to giggle Erica – the magic eyes Jesus is in The Creator’s Studio at Church 😉 or at least he was before the repaint – on the shelves in the back. hehe

  3. I think the idea of “Deluxe Jesus” action figure says it all. Is there a basic model available as well? One that perhaps has more limited miraculous powers?Chuckling and embarrassed, all at the same time. Simply put, we Christians can sure be dorks sometimes.And, sadly, completely miss what it is that He called us to be in our world. Great stuff, this post. A rant worth having.

  4. Yes, yes and yes. You might like to read a book I’m talking about tomorrow. It questions a lot of things that we in the Evangelical tradition have been doing in the last half of the 20th Century.

  5. You made me laugh. If you have that follow eyes Jesus on your mantle, I guarantee you dh won’t let us come visit:) And I am kind of bothered by crucifixes and the shirt like you showed. I can’t imagine wearing that. But, I do have to disagree with you on the tracks. I think they can be a good thing. It can open a door, and it is seed planting. The money thing is a great track to leave with a tip. After all, the message it shares is the greatest gift of all, right? So I don’t see the harm in it. It is also good to present as something “neat” like say, “here’s a million bucks.” The person knows it isn’t actually a million dollars, but generally think it is cool. I certainly don’t think this should be in place of witnessing. Passing out a track isn’t the same as sharing the gospel and witnessing to someone, but it starts the thought process and the conversation. It is a good conversation starter, a seed planted. We give out tracks with trick or treat candy, anywhere you can share, shouldn’t you? My sis has a shirt that says, “I’ll give you $10 if you can pass my good person test” If someone asks about it, she has the opportunity to share the word (we use the way of the master approach). While this may seem over the top, I’m ok with it. And it certainly isn’t the same as a glowing hands Jesus doll. Thought I’d share a different view, but I totally understand what you mean.

  6. Molly Beth…Thanks for your thoughtful response! I do agree that tracts have their place. I think that the major difference is how you use them…Personally, I would want to be there to hand it to someone and talk about it if they wanted. I like the idea of handing them out at Halloween, too. And one of my favorite ideas is paying for the person behind you at the fast food drive through and leaving a personal letter about what Jesus has done in your life. I guess I just bristle at some of the techniques that don’t leave room for personal explanation, kwim? I’m not against Christian T shirts or tracts or even action figures, I just would like to see a higher degree of quality and consideration with a lot of them! And I promise to get rid of my “magic eyes Jesus” if you guys come to visit ;o)

  7. Oh, and Dawn…yup, there’s a “magic eyes” at church! It was a white elephant gift during the band’s Christmas party, and somehow it made its way back to Children’s Ministry. I bet it re-surfaces at next year’s party!

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