Monday, October 15, 2007

"Christian Mercenaries", Consumerism, and Peet's Coffee

I was reading through an online advertisement for family-oriented, Christian DVD’s for sale through a Christian retailer. Just in time for Christmas you can buy a heart-warming DVD called The Christmas Blessing. The artwork for the DVD had a picture of Rob Lowe on it. This caught my attention as Rob Lowe isn’t someone I would normally associate with Christian themed movies. I decided to read more about the movie and was a little shocked to read that the main character, who has his belief in God and his faith renewed by Christmas miracles, is played by Neil Patrick Harris. I find this a little disturbing since Neil Patrick Harris is currently living with his boyfriend and last year was quoted as saying, “I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love."

The most disturbing part about this is not the actor’s lifestyle, since he is free to live and die as he chooses, but the fact that he would be cast in the role of a Christian in a family-oriented movie. Of course other Christian produced movies have used unsaved actors to promote Christian based entertainment, but not in this manner. The movie The Visitation is a good example. Edward Furlong (not a Christian) was cast as the villain in the movie. A lot of the cast and crew were Christians. Christians portrayed Christians for the most part and according to someone who was on the set, Edward Furlong was a little strange, but he would patiently listen to other Christians who shared their faith with him.

It just seems wrong to me that in the case of The Christmas Blessing, we as Christians would be served up a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It seems to me that the aim of a family-oriented, Christian movie should be to inspire people and give impressionable young children suitable, Christ-centered role models on and off screen.

It makes me exam my own role in all of this as a Christian consumer. I have the (buying) power to reject the use of what I call “Christian Mercenaries” in media intended for a Christian target market. Can you imagine Marilyn Manson cast as John the Apostle in The Passion of the Christ? Or how about as the host of a Children’s Bible Stories TV show? I’m sure if the money was right he’d become a Christian Mercenary.

How much responsibility do we have as Christians to behave as Christians when we act as consumers? What I mean is, do we make consumer choices like the rest of the world or should we make choices based on what the Bible teaches us? An example of this could be your choice of coffee. If you can choose a Fair Trade coffee over a non-Fair Trade coffee, then why not choose a coffee that promotes better health and education for the impoverished people who grow it? Love your neighbor as yourself.

I would also apply this to avoiding a consumer choice that promotes something very unbiblical. Someone told me of an encounter they had with a person from the corporate office of Peet’s Coffee and Tea who was responsible for community outreach programs and donations of coffee products. The company representative was contacted to see if they would be willing to donate coffee for an event that was being held to benefit the homeless and local needy families. She was interested in donating coffee until she found out that the people volunteering to host the event were affiliated with a Christian organization. She was very rude and stated that Peet’s wanted nothing to do with Christians. (Except maybe as customers?) In contrast the same request was made to Starbuck’s who were happy to donate coffee as long as the event being held was not used to promote any specific doctrine. Fair enough.

I decided to check this out for myself by going to both companies’ websites. In regards to donations, Peet’s states, “Please note: Peet's does not donate to political or religious organizations.” Starbuck’s policy states that they will donate to religious organizations as long as it is not “for the purpose of promoting religious doctrine.” These policies of themselves would not necessarily make me choose one over the other, but what they support would. I looked into what both of these two coffee giants claim to support and was a little disgusted with what Peet’s says they proudly support in regards to the arts in the community.

“Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Berkeley Rep (Berkeley Repertory Theatre) have enjoyed a growing partnership over the last decade. Our two companies have a shared history in Berkeley since our beginnings in the 60s.” “We are delighted to continue our mutually beneficial relationship for another exciting season.”

I read further into a couple of the plays that were listed on Peet’s website and copied some exerts from their reviews.

Secret in the Wings

“The play is spattered with age-old horrors that appear repeatedly in mythology and folklore: cannibalism, beheadings, live burials, incest, children chopped up and replaced with changelings, gruesome metamorphoses that stem from a thoughtless curse. The suggested connection between pedophilia and fairy tales, often sexual in nature, is an unsettling overture.”

Fêtes de la Nuit

“Be forewarned: Fêtes de la Nuit is a naughty valentine. It contains strong language, adult themes and nudity. It’ll be irresistible to mature audiences!”

I understand that we’re talking about the city of Berkeley, but my point is that given a choice, this isn’t what I want to support through my purchases of Peet’s coffee. I guess what I’m trying to say through all this ranting is that we as Christians have the consumer power (and biblical responsibility) to make a difference in this world. We can’t be overcomers in this world if we avoid worldly things, but we can display Christ in how we act as consumers. When we accept a movie like The Christmas Blessing because we have rationalized that it brings about a greater good or knowingly make poor consumer choices, we begin to chip away at the Cross. We start to turn the Cross into just another piece of jewelry that everyone wears around their neck. We cheapen what Jesus did for us.

I usually avoid these types of topics, but with retailers gearing up for Christmas, I thought it was a good time to vent my concerns. I’d be happy to hear any of your thoughts on the subject.

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16


Danny and Liese said...

Did you know that the guy who played Eric Liddel in Chariots of Fire was gay? As was the guy who played Nate Saint in End of the Spear?

Many Christians have been outraged by these things. . .the question we have to ask is not why are these people in "our" movies, but why are we outraged, and why do we consider them "our" movies?


Danny and Liese said...

another quick thought: great ending paragraph. Have you ever read "Addicted to Mediocrity" by Franky Schaeffer? It is a great book that talks about what you were saying in your last paragraph.

Do we accept "christian" movies and music because they are made by christians or because they are good quality products that promote the glory of our God? Too often we accept them simply because they are made by christians. Sad.

I'd keep going, but I need to get to bed. Talk to you guys later.


Greg & Edna Silva said...

I didn't know that about the guy who played Nate Saint, but I guess I'm not as bothered by that because he is portraying a real person. People can look at Nate Saint for who he is in real life, but what bothers me is the commercialism of Christianity these days. "Buy this because it's Christian" kind of thing. It reminds me of a story someone told me about meeting a guy at a bible college who was an atheist. When asked why he wanted to become a pastor, he said that he was good at preaching and thought he could make a good life for himself even though he didn't believe in God. I find the whole thing a little disturbing.

I have been meaning to read that book actually. I'd love to borrow it if you have a copy.


Katie Mitchell said...

awesome... with good conscience i'll keep giving starbucks my money twice a week.

Greg & Edna Silva said...

I'd give my money to Starbucks too, if I could find one. :(

Greg & Edna Silva said...

Ok, I found some interesting viewpoints concerning End of the Spear including that of Steve Saint. It puts a whole new light on this subject.