SUV Spirituality

    The past few months have seen two well-publicized attempts to link the name of Jesus to people's car-buying decisions. While these efforts are well-intentioned, they raise serious questions. In November, "Come Together and Worship" toured the country, featuring prominent Christian singers and speakers. In addition, Christian literature was distributed at each event. I know the people appearing in the tour -- good friends of mine -- and they have the best of intentions. The problem was the tour's sponsor: Chevrolet. Chevy's goal is to help evangelicals to see Chevy's cars and trucks as part of what it means to be an American evangelical. A Chevy spokesman was unabashed: It's not about religion, he said. "It's about selling cars." Now, this isn't the only attempt to draw a link between one's faith and one's driving habits. In response to news about the concert tour, a group called the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) announced a campaign to convince Christians to drive more fuel-efficient cars rather than, for example, Chevy Suburbans. It argued that it's a moral and spiritual issue involving stewardship of the environment and the love of neighbor. Fair enough -- we have to be good stewards. But what got people's attention is the way it summed up its argument in its advertising: "What Would Jesus Drive?" was emblazoned across the top of the ad. In case you had trouble answering that question, the motto was emblazoned across a picture of a Toyota Prius, a fuel-efficient, gas-electric hybrid. EEN took a full-page ad in Christianity Today asking that question. Next month, television ads asking that question will be broadcast in the South and Midwest. Scarcely had the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign been announced than jokes about what our Lord would do in other circumstances began popping up. They became a staple on late-night television, in editorial cartoons, and on the Internet. The effect of the effort so far has not been to get people to re-think what they drive but to turn the Lord into a cartoon character. These seemingly opposite efforts raise the same serious questions about the line between commerce and the Gospel. And they are hardly the only examples of a troubling mingling of faith and commerce. A recent article in the Weekly Standard described the "flourishing market" in Christian merchandise, like T-shirts and other trinkets. Increasingly, every secular market niche has a Christian counterpart. It's difficult to escape the conclusion that religion is often being put to the service of commerce, rather than the other way around. That's why Christians need to be vigilant, not only because we risk profaning what is sacred, but also because we run the risk of detracting from the message itself -- as we've seen in the "What Would Jesus Drive?" case. I'm not suggesting that I have the answers to these questions. And they go beyond these two examples. Often I've had to swallow hard at the commercial exhibits of T-shirts and trinkets at Christian conventions -- and the sponsorship of worship concerts. Without criticizing those involved in these cases, what I'm suggesting is we think seriously and carefully about the dangers of tying the Gospel to American commercial enterprise. What would Jesus drive? I don't know. The only thing the Bible tells us He drove is the moneychangers out of the Temple. For further information: George Will, "What Would Jesus Drive?," Washington Post, 28 November 2002, A47. Michelle Cottle, "Jesus Drove a Civic," New Republic, 13 November 2002 (free registration required). "Christian Concerts Spark Controversy for Chevy," Detroit Free Press, 23 October 2002. Stuart Elliott, "Questions about G. M. Sponsorship," New York Times, 24 October 2002 (free registration required). "Evangelical Leaders Join Criticism of Chevrolet-Sponsored Christian Music Tour," EEN press release, 6 November 2002. Stephen Bates, "The Jesus Market," Weekly Standard, 16 December 2002. "What is Hip?", Christianity Today editorial, 5 December 2002. Frank Burch Brown, Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life (Oxford University Press, 2003).


Chuck Colson



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