False Advertising

There it is again. I’m reading the newsreader, and there’s a picture of a very fluffy, cute small dog gazing at the sky. What’s wrong with this picture? It is placed above the story about relieving your cat’s anxiety. Some dogs and cats get along famously, but this picture feels like false advertising.

Again, there’s a picture of the Princess of Wales in one of her gorgeous outfits. It’s lovely, but the story is about Prince Harry or Princess Anne. Honestly, if I wanted to read the whole story to find out what or who it is about, I’d be glad to do that. Usually, though, I use pictures to catch my interest. I am irritated when I feel misled by articles that include a picture of something but don’t talk about it. Fifty-seven images and blurbs later, and the picture is never mentioned.  

Nothing new about false advertising – or misleading advertising – it has been going on for ages. How many restaurants claim to be the best at something like fried chicken, steak, or even milkshakes? Are they honestly the best? It seems one would have to walk in and try whatever it is. Then, make the rounds of all the other restaurants offering similar fare and trying their victuals. At that point, a judgment could be rendered that, yes, restaurant #1 did indeed have the best whatever, or that it was simply hopeful (if not not-quite-honest) in its advertising. 

I wonder about churches and their advertising. Some of them have cute or funny little sayings on their letter board outside the church extolling something about God or Jesus or even about what it is they preach. I certainly question a statement such as “If Jesus walked the earth today, here’s where he would worship!” What about churches that profess to welcome everybody? Are they honest, or would the welcome last until someone was asked to do something they were reluctant to take on or didn’t feel called to do? 

One church I went to proclaimed to welcome everybody. When an openly gay couple came to worship, they were made part of the altar party within a month. Many thought this was a great idea, but others experienced discomfort. It wasn’t that gay men were serving at the altar; they were promoted so quickly as if advertising to prove how “welcoming” the church really was. The men were friendly men, but the congregation wanted to get to know them better before taking communion from them. It was rushed, this appointment to the altar, or so it seemed. After all, other people had attended the same church for months without being asked to read or serve the cup. 

Maybe I’m just being too judgmental, but I think churches have to operate at a high level of transparency regarding how they present themselves. It is one thing to put a slogan on the letter board outside the church door, but it’s what’s inside that counts, as well as what those attending that church show the world when they come out the door. Do they immediately form little groups of people who know each other well but ignore others standing alone or with perhaps a spouse or single friend? Do the greeters acknowledge newcomers and then offer them an opportunity to serve on a committee or a ministry before the newcomers have even had a chance to see whether the church feels right to them? 

Jesus preached to and taught many people throughout his life and ministry. People heard about him through word-of-mouth from neighbors or others who had heard him or at least of him. They came to listen to him for themselves and make their own decisions about his message and meaning. There probably weren’t greeters at the entrance, offering name tags, possible ministry interests, or invitations to stay for coffee hour. Jesus offered a simple but understandable message and didn’t sugar-coat it or offer something for nothing. His was a stern message, but one true to Torah’s teachings and prophets’ words. He lived simply, demonstrating how God wanted the people to live. Not everybody accepted that, but many did. 

The media probably will never match pictures and content accurately more than half the time. Still, as Christians, we must make sure we do much better at demonstrating just what Jesus taught us. We are Jesus’s media team so let’s make sure the message we speak matches the one we want people to see and respond to.

Image: Turn or Burn, Little Rock, AR, 2004. Author: Kurt Nordstrom. Found at Wikimedia Commons.

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.

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