Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter: Marketing Nightmare

A couple of weeks ago a co-worker and I were navigating through blizzard conditions in the Midwest when I said something like, "Wow, it sure is weird to think Easter is right around the corner."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm just saying that when your running around in a snow storm, it's hard to believe it'll be Easter Sunday in less than two weeks."

"Are you serious? When is Easter anyway?"

"It's on March 23rd ... Sunday after next."

"Holy crap. I'm flying that day. I didn't even look at the calendar when I bid for my schedule."

The conversation went on but here's my question. Can you even imagine the average American (let alone the average Christian) not realizing when Christmas was?

Yes I know that the date for Christmas doesn't change on us every year and that makes it harder. But that's not the real problem. Easter is by far the most significant Christian holiday (holy day) because it memorializes the linchpin of the faith -- the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. As Paul put it, "... if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins (1 Corinthians 15:16)."

Your faith is worthless without Easter and yet Easter has become a second-rate holiday. The Christmas marketers start in the stores in October (around here anyway). It's in your face everywhere you go. Easter, on the other hand, gets a row dedicated to it in the greeting card section and an aisle of pastel candy colored candy at Kroger.

The real problem with Easter, you see, is centered in that three letter little word at the end of Paul's statement: s - i - n. Nobody likes that word. Madison avenue can deal with the holiday that revolves around gift-giving and its direct correlation to shopping. But the concept of Easter and its relationship to sin doesn't lend itself well to the modern feel-good culture that would try to market it.

Sin doesn't sell.

That notion was brought home for me in the March 20, 2008 issue of USA Today (Life section) in the article titled "Is Sin Dead?." There, this question was asked:
... as Easter approaches, some pastors and theologians worry: How can Christians celebrate Jesus' atonement for their sins and the promise of eternal life in his resurrection if they don't recognize themselves as sinners?
Sin is "the word that shall not be spoken" from far too many pulpits in America these days. In fact, maybe the most popular preacher in the nation, a man with a vast TV following and several best-selling books to his credit, Joel Osteen, admits that he never mentions sin in any of those media.
"I never thought about (using the word 'sinners'), but I probably don't," Osteen told Larry King in an interview. "Most people already know what they're doing wrong. When I get them to church, I want to tell them that you can change."
Apparently, Mr. Osteen didn't get the data presented elsewhere in the piece about what WHAT AMERICANS CALL SIN:
• Adultery: 81%

• Racism: 74%

• Using "hard" drugs, such as cocaine, LSD: 65%

• Not saying anything if a cashier gives you too much change: 63%

• Having an abortion: 56%

• Homosexual activity or sex: 52%

• Not reporting some income on your tax returns: 52%

• Reading or watching pornography: 50%

• Gossip: 47%

• Swearing: 46%

• Sex before marriage: 45%

• Doing things as a consumer that harm the environment: 41%

• Smoking marijuana: 41%

• Getting drunk: 41%

Source: Ellison Research, August 2007, based on 1,007 adults through a representative online panel ad adjusted to be demographically representative of the USA Margin of error: ±3.1 percentage points.
Apparently folks don't know what constitutes sin -- or at least, according to these numbers, about half of us have no clue. A question for Mr. Osteen. Which behaviors are your followers going to change if half of them think most of this stuff is OK?

It is no small irony that the culture we live in finds it more reprehensible to point this out (i.e. be "judgmental") than to actually exhibit the sinful behavior itself. The worldliness that sin promotes is in itself a comfortable denial of standards that exist outside our own little spheres of happiness and personal fulfillment. As David Wells puts it in his classic, "God In The Wasteland,"
Modernity is worldliness, and it has concealed its values so adroitly in the abundance, the comfort, and the wizardry of our age that even those who call themselves the people of God seldom recognize them for what they are.
Christmas plays to that theme. Easter upends it. So it is no surprise that the latter gets conveniently, even if unintentionally, forgotten.

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