Tuesday, March 28, 2006
United Church of Christ marketing 2.0.
Yesterday the United Church of Christ launched a new marketing initiative with enough verve (and, it appears, just enough resources) to serve as a test case for other liberal denominations who hope to advertise their way to relevance. (You can help them succeed by donating to the campaign.) The denomination's new "ejector seat" TV ad — rejected once again by the broadcast networks — is airing on cable TV and on the web. This time, the church is simultaneously placing ads on blogs, introducing an online ministry called Rejection Hurts, opening a web community called i.ucc.org, and — perhaps most significantly — setting up an advocacy effort aimed at pressuring TV's talking-head shows to start inviting the leaders of mainline denominations as guests.
They're all part of the denomination's overall "God is still speaking," campaign (gotta love that comma), discussed on this site at length this time last year and the year before, with additional linky goodness here (11.30.04), here (12.1.04), here (12.10.04), and here (12.16.04).
The Accessible Airwaves advocacy initiative is in some ways an odd tack. Talking-head TV is perhaps the stupidest part of mainstream political culture; much of it is broadcast while church-goers are in church; and the leaders of conservative denominations don't appear on the shows, either. But there are other ways in which it's brilliant and appropriate. For one thing, there's nothing like jumping into a fight to attract attention. For another, it really does seem odd that the leaders of the churches that have been most engaged in civic life in the last century are simply not seen on public affairs programs. Historically, the mainline Protestant denominations embraced a "social gospel" — seeing social and governmental policy reform as expressions of their Christian witness — and mainline denominations have pursued these reforms through their own denominational agencies. The fundamentalist or "individual gospel" churches that formed separate denominations avoided this kind of work for most of the 20th century. So it makes sense that the denominational leaders object when they see conservative religious activists like James Dobson popping up as "Christian" voices in the political arena with no prominent "social gospel" perspective offered on the other side.
But why is Dobson representing the conservative Christian perspective rather than, say, the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals? One reason is that fundamentalists and many Evangelicals have embraced political reform much more recently — and have largely adopted extra-denominational institutions to carry it out. Some emerging advocates of the "religious left" are trying to build extra-denominational social justice groups, like Jim Wallis's Call to Renewal or C. Welton Gaddy's Interfaith Alliance, but mainline churches continue to pass their government-focused resolutions and lobby Washington directly. They want to be noticed. That seems to explain why the UCC would want to challenge the political portrayal of Christianity on the talk shows by demanding that mainline denominational leaders serve as counterweights to the Christian right, even though denominational leaders from conservative traditions aren't on the shows.
On a much smaller point, where is the UCC blog ad showing up? I checked the top 20 blogs in the Blogging Ecosystem, and I found the ad on six of them: Daily Kos (3), Power Line (4), Talking Points Memo (8), Eschaton (aka Atrios, 10), The Washington Monthly (16), and Evangelical Outpost (20). Four of these are essentially liberal political sites (although the Washington Monthly has led efforts to encourage Democrats to reach out more effectively to Christians); Power Line is a politically conservative site; Evangelical Outpost is politically and theologically conservative. The ads are placed by BlogAds; only three sites in the Ecosystem Top 20 use the company's services but aren't featuring the UCC ad.
("UCC announces campaign to amplify mainline churches' public voice," J. Bennett Guess, United Church News 3.27.06; "Turning to mammon to spread the gospel," Stuart Elliott, New York Times 3.27.06, reg req'd)
Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 28 March 2006 at 7:01 PM