Monday, August 18, 2008

What Would Jesus Sell?

What Would Jesus Sell?
Sarah McAlpine

In the 21st century, nothing is revolutionary in the world of dating. Social networking sites are ever evolving, as is the modernisation of religion. But can Christian dating sites justify charging for their services? Are Christians really using God as an endorser to a product or service?

Leading US Christian Dating service, Mingle goes to the extremes of offering a cash reward scheme for referrals which lead to membership. The site offers an initial free membership, and does not mention cost of full membership until well after joining. A sub section on the site ‘Gift Subscriptions’ does not mention prices either; one has to enter their login details before such information is disclosed. Basically, fees are never alluded to in the joining process.

After setting up a test account, digging around the site for close to an hour and reading the phrase “Join For Free” over and over, the Subscription page finally allowed me access. The price for a gift subscription for was set at $29.99/month but deals were offered for extended membership. A 12 Month subscription was offered at $119.88. Is this a small price to pay for eternal happiness?

The homepage of the site dedicates about half of the space to a search bar and “Join For Free” advertisement with a section to enter personal details. The other half includes four sample headshots of other members, testimonials, a success story (see right) and religious daily updates, such as the Daily Verse and Ministry Highlights.

A 2006 article of the Los Angeles Times entitled What Would Jesus Sell by Stephanie Simon touched base on the marketing behind Christian products and services. She claims that in 2004 the retail Christian industry reached heights of $4.3 billion. Items being sold included religious golf balls which featured a printed Bible verse and thongs with a pattern on the bottom which left the message ‘Follow Jesus’ in the sand. Simon states that Christian marketers are putting “a religious twist on unexpected products – marketed as a means to reach the unsuspecting and unsaved.”

The ChristianMingle site is owned by The Sparks Network, a production company who dabble in many forms of income. While they describe themselves as one of the leading independent television production companies in the world, The Sparks also have a line of network services, including mobiles. The most appropriate for this discussion, however, is the range of tailor-made dating services it offers. These include dating for the Greeks; the Deaf; Black singles; Military singles; Single Parents and more. In fact the site currently lists 31 dating sites for target markets. With statistics like these, it is obvious that is a business and not set up in good faith. The exploitation of Christians and other groups in general for money is an enormous issue among society today. The hardest part, it would seem, is drawing the line between products created for good faith and products created for marketability.

Bob Siemon Designs is a company famous for making the WWJD? What Would Jesus Do? line of jewellery. The Bob Siemon Design website sells everything from cross pendants to dove earrings, even leopard-skin Bible covers. The company also teamed up with Mel Gibson to create Share the Passion of the Christ, a line of jewellery including the ‘Passion’ tagline. Accessories include a nail pendant with Isaiah 53:3 (“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”) Graduation gifts include the inscription from Jeremiah 29:11 which reads, “"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."” It is debatable whether the verses are serving their exact purpose by providing inspiration in current day terms, or whether they have just been manipulated. Bob Siemon’s website, however, does include profitability in his core values. A statement on the page reads, “Sales growth combined with fair profits are essential in creating a healthy business, enabling our employees to accomplish their financial and career objectives.”

These days, it seems like every entrepreneur is seeking out ways to make a quick buck. When religion becomes involved, a whole range of moral questions enter into the scenario. My belief personally is that a Christian person will definitely feel more devoted to their faith by wearing it on their body, and wearing a cross is a commonly accepted sign of commitment to faith. When someone is purchasing a religious jewellery piece from a jeweller, there is no doubt in the consumer’s mind where their money is going. It only becomes a moral dilemma when companies state their affiliation with the church and God as a sales tactic, as sites such as ChristianMingle are doing. I believe it should be compulsory for these companies to state costs of services and where the money is going upfront as to maintain tact and marketability.

"Online Christian Dating For Christian Singles." 16 Aug. 2008 .

Simon, Stephanie. "What Would Jesus Sell." Los Angeles Times. 21 June 2006.16 Aug. 2008 .

"Welcome to Bob Siemon Designs - Christian Jewelry, Bibile Covers and Gifts." Bob Siemon Designs. 2007. 16 Aug. 2008 .

Siemon, Bob, ed. "Passion Jewelry." Share the Passion of the Christ. 16 Aug. 2008 .

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