Friday, April 26, 2013

Christian Inc. Revisited

So, my church, the church I really like, is putting together a picture directory.  I totally support that, especially since I'm so bad at names but not faces.  I actually headed a movement to create a photo directory in my old church, until some ladies got mad because my photo made them look fat and old so I had to cancel my plans.

But I had this funny feeling that I would meet some type of conflict in the matter this week, and I did.

I think my uneasiness stems from a church in Minnesota where I was a deacon. We had a "Christian photography group" come in and say that they had a ministry of taking free photos of church members in order to create a church directory.  They wore their evangelicalism on their sleeves.  The deacon board was grateful for them coming and speaking to us and it seemed like a win-win situation. We would get a free directory out the kindness of their hearts and their call from God.  My cynical self knew better. 

Sure enough this "Christian ministry" came in with their cameras and beautiful back drops. They scheduled each family for about 45 minutes. It takes about 1 minute to take a photo.  But they took a series of photos over 6 minutes. They spent the other 39 minutes with extreme manipulation and coercion to get each member to buy $300 photo albums for their families. It pissed me off.

So, when I heard that we were being scheduled for photos, I just knew what to expect.  This time the group never pretended to be evangelicals . . . just a photo company doing a favor for a church.  My wife came with me. We sat for our photo for the directory. Then we were taken to table where the photography started his very emotional and manipulative sales pitch.  One thing that struck me odd was that he could digitally remove our wrinkles and fat (which reminded me of the trouble that I got into when I was trying to take unadulterated photos at my old evangelical church).  But the thing that really pissed me off is, as we were resisting his sales pitch, turned it into a spiritual issue.  He reasoned that if we didn't buy hundreds of dollars of his photos for ourselves  that we would be hurting the fine ministry of the church.

It takes me back to two other events.  One was when a Presbyterian pastor (PCA) friend of mine from college told his friends and church members that God wanted them to buy nutritional supplements from him and that the Bible calls (western medicine) witchcraft and it is from Satan.  I was really pissed because I, a practitioner of western medicine, am then a warlock.  I kept it to myself until he told a lady with breast cancer to stop her chemotherapy and start his crappy vitamins  which he sold thought a "Christian" MLM scheme. When I confronted him his come back was that he had just as much right to make a living selling his vitamins as I did in western medicine.  My point was that he was a liar, a cheat and he was doing it in the name of Jesus. I would never, ever tell someone that God wanted them to see me as their health care provider or that by not seeing me they were in sin.  This is crazy stuff.

I will not tell my last story because this is getting long and I have to go.

I will just conclude that I contemplated complaining to my church about this photographer.  But I've been through this before and I know how this will end. I will go in smelling like a rose (in my eyes) and come out smelling like horse shit.  No one else would see the problem. They would think I'm over reacting.  They would say, as this pastor friend said, that the photographer deserved selling some photos to support his family. That's not the point!  All professional photographer deserve to make a living just like me. But the problem is using spiritual manipulation to get money.  This is an abomination. But it was such part of the Church (big C) in the middle ages and the TV evangelists and the pastors . . . that it is so natural. But manipulation is always bad even it is raises money for a good cause.

I remember sitting through long brainwashing sessions with the Navigators when I was in college. It was incredible the pressure they put on you to give money to their staff and missionaries.  I once had money saved up to get new tires (as mine were as bald as bald could be) and the speaker made me feel like a satanic jerk. So I gave them the money. Then the speaker drives away in his brand new car.  Why didn't the same rules apply to him?

I digress. But I dream of honesty. Where you say, "Give to this missionary couple because they are in full time ministry and can't work at a job to earn a living. They would be very grateful for your help."  Instead of "God is looking for that one person who really loves Him enough to step out in faith to give that $800 you had saved for rent to Him, knowing that He will pay your rent for you. Who in this room really loves God?"

Or . . . "I can take a few wrinkle off your face, remove that spare tire, create that perfect smile on your face as a testimony of the Lord . . . and by buying these digitally remastered you . . . you show that you love God."  Does anyone else here see the absurdity here?


Mule Chewing Briars said...

Alas -

The huckster seems to be part of the American DNA. That and Mainicheanism, for which refer to Melville's Moby Dick.

Jamestown and Plymouth were the 17th Century predecessors to the MLM. Commercial hyperbole clings to us from the stench of the diaper to the shroud of the grave.

Commercial hyperbole will never announce itself. No one will ever come up to you and say 'I am trying to bypass your critical thinking centers to establish my enterprise on a more primitive, more dependable part of your brain.'

Renaissance Italy is known for its frescoes. We are known by the quality and effectiveness of our advertising.

Yeah, it can be kind of disheartening to see that there is no escape from it even in the sacred precincts. Maybe this is why our Lord got so pissed at the moneychangers.

Steve Martin said...

Whenever I'm looking for goods or services and I see Christian fish symbol in the ad...I run.

Steve Martin said...

'away' (I might add)

Anonymous said...

The next time, suggest something like what our church recently did, all in house.

Two people who are good amateur photographers took B&W digital photos of everyone in church, after Sunday liturgy, for several weeks. This was announced well in advance.

Another person took those photos and arranged them into a directory, with names and contact information, all in alphabetical order. This was a .pdf file that was emailed to everyone who had email, with the suggestion that we save it to desktop. It's constructed so that it can be changed, and a new .pdf file can be sent with changes, so you can just over-write the old one. If someone doesn't have email, they can have a printed copy from the church office.

The only thing it cost was the time it took to put it together.

If someone wants a "portrait" they can seek out a commercial photographer. That's not what this project was about. The church has done it the other way in the past. I haven't heard any complaints about the new format (that doesn't mean that no one has them, only that I've not heard them :) )


Anonymous said...

"Whenever I'm looking for goods or services and I see Christian fish symbol in the ad...I run.A'

me too. I happen to know that many folks join a certain mega for business reasons. It makes me ill.


jmj said...

Dana, this is what is bizarre. I actually tried doing that myself in my old church. I have a decent camera although I'm no photographer. But I actually made some people really mad when I showed them the photo I took, because I didn't know how to air-brush it and it was very realistic looking. So I gave up. I think that church did eventually get a member who is a professional photographer to do it. I do know him and I can't imagine him being hard sell or manipulative . . . although my wife did buy several photos from him during the session.

Anonymous said...

Go figure.


Eagle said...


You might be interested in this. They are discussing neurotic counseling. Oops Nouthetic counseling at Wartburg Watch.

jmj said...

I saw that and left a comment the other day. I also saw my old friends like you and HUG.