Sunday, July 11, 2010

Making Money Off Jesus

One of my pet peeves is the existence of the Christian bookstore. Family Christian Stores, Berean Christian Stores, etc. It bothers me that these places exist and are as prevalent as Hallmark or Barnes and Noble. Why do Christian bookstores bother me so much? They bother me because their primary reason for existence is to make money off Jesus.

The first I remember feeling such frustration with a Christian bookstore was the summer after my freshman year of college. My mother had asked me to pick up a book or cd or something for her from the store, so I swung by Family Christian after I got off work that day. Walking up to the store, I noticed a rack of shirts on sale outside the store. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the shirts all had a common theme: patriotic, God loves America themed shirts, complete with a matching Bible verse. Similar to this one. The message? America is better, and God loves us more. Oh, the theology.

According to Berean’s website, they stock over 170,000 products. Pardon my generality, but that is a ton of products, all targeted at the Christian community. All created in order to make a profit. A profit off the name of Jesus. Oh, the almighty dollar.

As a student and supporter of the free market, I understand that when a market exists untapped, someone will come along and fill that market segment. The Christian community is a huge segment of the market, and inevitably someone will begin to create products with the hopes that Christians will buy them. This is simple business, a fact that exists in every segment and within every community. But do Christians have to participate so willingly?

Let me step back once again and attempt full disclosure. Yes, I own Christian books and music. Some of my favorite authors are sold within Christian bookstores, such as Don Miller, Brennan Manning and others. Just yesterday I purchased four “Christian” books off the internet, and while two of them were authored by atheists, they were published by Christian publishers with the aim of selling them to Christians. Like me. And I bought them. Amazon is my friend.

I attempt full disclosure because I don’t want it to sound like I am condemning all Christian authors or Christian books. Not at all. Just parts of that culture. Like I said, I understand the need for the market to fill the Christian segment. If there is demand, supply will follow. Yet, I wish that people weren’t so eager and willing to make money off of Jesus.

It seems that within conversations like this, I always come back to a line from Saul Williams' poem The Sermon on the Mount of the Inevitable Progression from Saul to Saul; if you sense a bit of deja vu, it may be because I have cited this poem and line in a previous post. The poem reads: "how many tables and laptops and Cadillacs and pews and pulpits would be overturned in THIS day", and I wonder if Christian bookstores might be added to that list. When Jesus overturned the moneychangers' tables in the temple, it was (in part) because they were seeking to make a profit off God by charging Jews more than they should have been for temple money or sacrificial animals. Are Christian bookstores so different? Would Jesus walk into Berean and be pleased, or would he overturn tables? I wonder if his reaction would entail more of the latter than the former, and I wonder if anyone realizes it. (Certainly some do...check out this article for a unique perspective on the issue of making money off Jesus).

Thus, I have two requests. Not to anyone in particular; perhaps to those indefinable "powers that be". These are relatively minor; I would certainly not ask that these stores close and stop doing business.

First, stop making money off of The Good Message. If the goal of a Christian bookstore is to save souls rather than make money, why are Bibles sold? Why are they not given away instead? I can understand if an author must charge money for a book in order to make a living and be a self-sufficient member of society. But Bibles? Something tells me the authors of that book aren’t interested in profit making. I have an inkling that Jesus might not be a fan of his words being sold rather than given away freely. Leather bound, gold engraved and diamond encrusted (I jest) Bibles don't exactly fit with a message of love for the poor, broken and marginalized.

My second request is that Christian bookstores stop selling political texts and apparel. It bothers me when Christian authors write with the intention of being political or something similar. Example: you can find in any Christian bookstore a copy of How Would Jesus Vote?, a book attempting to convince you of how Jesus would vote on a number of contemporary issues. Don't even get me started on this one. Thing is, I don’t remember Jesus being very political. I remember Jesus avoiding politics completely and just focusing on people. When asked about his opinion of Caesar and paying Roman taxes, Jesus said "give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Matt 22:15-22); doesn't sound as if Jesus was very concerned with politics. But maybe that's just me. Amazingly, you can even find books by Sarah Palin, Laura Bush and even Michael Savage (title of his book: Liberalism is a Mental have got to be kidding me) in many "Christian" bookstores. Yes, those are links within the Christian bookstores' websites where you can buy them. Christian bookstores: stop combining Jesus with politics. And making money off the combination. I do not appreciate it.

Oh, one more thing. Please put away the America-is-a-Christian-nation-and-better-than-everyone-else shirts. I love my country as much as anyone, but to make it sound like we are more moral or religious than the rest of the world is sickening. As if Jesus loves us more because we are American. Oh, the humanity. Are we so quick to forget that Jesus was Jewish?

And so on…


  1. Actually Jesus was quite political. Though he didn't involve himself with the Roman authorities, he was very much involved with the rulers of the theocracy in which he lived. The Sanhedrin (Pharisees, Sadducees) was the "supreme court" and "congress" of the Jewish nation all rolled into one. He dogged them incessantly -- and they killed him for it.

    To say that Christians shouldn't be involved in politics, is to say that William Wilberforce shouldn't have fought to end the British slave trade, or that abolitionists in America should have kept their mouths shut, or that the evil of abortion is none of our business, or that M. L. King should not have led the fight for civil rights, or that ... you get the point.

    Every law we live under has moral underpinnings that we either accept or seek to improve. Being Christian doesn't allow us to bury our heads in the sand and hope things will just get better some day.

    That said, your points about the Christian Book stores is well taken ... and so is your blog in general. It's nice to see young men and women thinking about, and being able to articulate, what they believe. Keep up the good work.

  2. BTW, you might enjoy a new book about this very subject:

    ... or a recent interview with its author on the podcast of 5/29/10 here:

  3. Hmm. I hear you, and I recognize that Jesus made clear his displeasure with the Pharisees. But he did not repeatedly seek them out, often they came to him in order to trap him or refute him. And even so, he stood against the Sanhedrin because of their theocratic nature. It seems as though he was concerned with their religious teachings, not so much their politics.

    My point isn't that Christians shouldn't be involved in politics. As citizens of this country, it is our duty to be a part of the political process and express what we believe about certain issues. Voting based on our beliefs (religious beliefs included) is what we are supposed to do. Certainly we should not bury our heads in the sand, as you said.

    The problem is when we exploit the name of Jesus in order to move merchandise. Writing a book about the virtues of morality (or the value of carrying a child to term) is one thing; writing a book from one side of the political spectrum condemning the other is another thing entirely when sold under the guise of a "Christian" bookstore. Is there any good reason why Sarah Palin's book or a book called "Liberalism is a Mental Disorder" belong anywhere close to a Christian bookstore? (Makes you wonder if we are overtly being told that least at Barnes and Noble you can find books by both Sarah Palin and, say, Michael Moore).

    The issue isn't political activism or action. The issue is using the name of Jesus to promote political literature and make a profit on it. Exploitation at its finest.

  4. I agree with your critique of the commercialization/exploitation of Jesus. No argument there. I wouldn't buy Sarah Palin or Michael Moore's books in either store, but I digress. :-)

    Your beef is more with the fact that too many Christians use Jesus for political purposes. That's a different issue, and I agree with you on that one.

    My point was to disagree with the notion that "... Jesus [wasn't] political. I remember Jesus avoiding politics completely and just focusing on people." That simply isn't the case for him nor should it be for us.

  5. But Jesus wasn't political. He explicitly avoided entering into politics many, many times during his time on Earth. If you have examples to the contrary, by all means, provide them. I just don't remember any.

  6. Thank you, for writing about the making money off of Jesus subject. I have been against this for so long, but I remember when the apostals told Jesus there were those teaching for the wrong reason, he said don't worry about it, at least the word is getting out. I agree strongly that Jesus should not be sold, or profit made I should say. I think its great that you can find nice Jesus things to hang in your house which is a witness in itself to those that come there, but when I walk into a Christian book store and everything is so expensive that I walk out, well, I have a problem with that. and have for a long time. Jesus is Free, and his love and salvation should be freely given. But at the same time, its not our place to judge those that are doing it, we could just be glad the word is still getting out, through these people whos motives are really between them and God. Still, I don't like the idea at all. I used to go to a church and there was a concert I wanted to go see, When I found out they were charting 7 bucks, which I could afford, I didn't go, because I believed it was very wrong that they would exclude anyone who could not afford to pay that. They could have just let everyone in and taken a love offering for the expenses of the band, they probably would have gotten more money, by using their faith for the sake of those with no money.

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  8. Jehovah witnesses have this same belief that is in the Bible. No political involvement, no profiting off books, movies music, pagen holidays, and a host of other things that the world follows that is not in the about this to a preacher and he gets angry? That's because if everyone knew the truth he would be out of a job

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  13. I have pondered for many years the big business that is Christianity. Billions are made every year in the name of Christianity. If a person believes in Jesus then the answer is black and white. In the book of Matthew. 10:7-9. Jesus says to his disciples, "As you go, preach, saying, The kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. Freely you have received, freely you shall give. Provide neither gold, silver or brass in your purses." Now Jesus didn't want the disciples making money from the gospel. Why is it ok for anybody else? I don't believe that it is. I feel so strongly about this that I feel like a hypocrite for supporting anyone that does. Any person charging money for the message in my opinion is not doing Gods work. They are serving themselves.

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