Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Corporate influence - should we be afraid (and I don't mean in campaign finance.)

As many of you know, I was irrationally sad at the Vikings' loss last week. Thank you for your sympathy. My oldest brother wrote a hilarious blog post about it. Might give you some insight as to why I took the loss so hard. Read his post, "Purple, Like a Bruise".

But moving onto the Superbowl...

It's old hat to try to draw comparisons between the two competitors for an American church-goer's Sunday attention: Football and Church. But there's a new twist. A mega church in LA, Mosaic, is trying to go where the people are next Sunday by competing in a Superbowl ad contest sponsored by Doritos.

As you can imagine, this has sparked a variety of comments, from "Praise be to the God of Israel, I know this commercial will be shown on Superbowl Sunday, All Glory and Honor to God our Father" to "I hope there aren't any Christians voting for this tasteless kind of humor. It's very sad that a priest was actually behind the making of this." (These and over a thousand other comments are on the Doritos Crash the Superbowl website).

The negative comments generally focused on the tastefulness of making a commercial starring a man faking his own death. For me, the interesting question isn't whether the content of the commercial is immoral, but what's it mean for a church to advertise something that's not overtly their own product?

This commercial advertises Doritos. The church doesn't pretend otherwise. There are no hints of God, grace, community nor any of the things our typical outreach/witness/evangelism (church advertising) campaigns do. This is a totally different thing than the Catholic posters in the DC metro telling you to get to church and find forgiveness.

So why'd they do it?

According to their website, Mosaic (the church) "welcomes people from all walks of life, regardless of where they are in their spiritual journey." No mention of Doritos as part of the church's mission. But wait..

Yes, the explicit message in the ad is that you should eat Doritos.

But implicit in the ad is that church-goers are just like you, they watch football, have a sense of humor, and even think it would be a cool idea to dream up an advertisement to play during the Superbowl. Re: the Mosaic mission this ad says that if your spiritual journey includes a nearly idolatrous love of football (guilty) or an appreciation for witty commercial entertainment (I love the Superbowl commercials), this is the church for you. As the Sr. Pastor, Edwin McManus said in a Yahoo article,

We're not trying to use Doritos to propagate a message, but I think we want
people to know that we have a sense of humor, that it's OK to laugh. So much of
what comes out of the faith community seems so dour and somber and we want to say, 'Hey, we're real people. You can be a person of faith and really enjoy life
and laugh."

Ok. Here's the sticky part: if they win, they could get up to $1 million from Doritos. And now we've got corporate sponsorship of a church. Should we be afraid?

Our congregation recently decided not to take the kick-backs offered by a clean energy company (they'd give 10$ for every household who switched energy providers to wind) even though this company's product was clearly in line with our mission. Something about taking money from a for-profit corporation bothered us, though I'm not sure we ever clarified exactly what it was. We still promoted the wind energy program, just didn't take the money.

So what do you think? About the Doritos ad or about taking a finders fee for wind energy customers. Is it OK for churches to take money (which can help mission) from corporations who are clearly looking to promote their own products?

Curious to hear some responses. You can bet I'll be watching the Superbowl commercials, and it breaks my heart to say, rooting for the Saints in between.

-Peace and joy - Sarah


  1. well i would just like to say that whatever young man who showed you this in an email is very bright and should be re-elected for church council!
    just kidding. Great post. It really gave some pastoral insight to the article, which is actually what i was looking for when I sent you the email!

  2. Hi Sarah. Interesting post! A couple points:

    1) You described my post-Vikings blog post as "hilarious." I think you missed my point completely, as it was was meant to be profoundly sorrowful.

    2) On the mosaic church entering the doritos video contest: an interesting world we live in, isnt' it?

    Do we know what the church would do if they in fact won this prize? Would they accept the $1 million prize? Would they donate it to a suitable charity? Practically: How would any of that affect their non-profit status?

    On your question about the church taking money from corporations -- are churches expected to rule on the suitability of their funding sources? What about a church that takes money from individual contribotrs who are shareholding board members of tobacco companies, or companies that make trigger mechanisms for weapons?

    Just some questions. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  3. Jason - 1) that I emphasized the humor in your blog only shows how much I've progressed in my grief process.

    2) I don't know what Mosaic would do if they won the prize, but I don't think it would affect their non-profit status.

    I also don't thank that legally, churches have many guidelines on the suitablitiy of funding sources as long as the money isn't tied to a political campaign. But I could be wrong. Probably should find out.

    We certainly theoretically could rule on suitability of gifts as congregations, though I don't know of many cases where people have actually done that. (BTW, as a pastor of a congregation with more than one employee of a defense contractor not to mention a number of military families, trigger mechanisms for weapons probably wouldn't be a filter).

    There was an interesting case 20 yrs back where Lutherans disagreed about divesting their money from companies located in South Africa. I just met with a church leader who led his church in protest against Taco Bell years back (don't quite know why). The Catholic Institutions of Higher Ed have gotten craploads of money from Ray Kroc of McDonalds fame, thought they've gotten in personally, not from McDonalds.

    I'll be curious to see if the supreme ct ruling on the legal status of corportations re: campaign finance has any bearing on these kinds of issues. I have no idea why or how it would...maybe a question for brother #2 (or dad or sis-in-law.).

    Thanks for responding.


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