Back in 2005 I wrote a series of posts when I discovered the Disney Company was trying to market their Narnia films through pulpits. At the time, Disney was offering pastors a chance to win a vacation to London if they mentioned the films in a sermon. The idea to leverage sermons for movie marketing was the byproduct of Mel Gibson’s successful plan to use churches to push The Passion of the Christ project after the usual Hollywood distributors bypassed it.
Since The Passion and Narnia, numerous other films with far less Christian content have tried to sneak into the pulpit including The Road and Evan Almighty. Marketers know that even an indirect endorsement of a movie by a pastor during a sermon can be one of the most effective means of motivating consumers–it’s as close to God endorsing a film as they can get.
The latest attempt to put a cash register behind the pulpit is MinistryResources.org (tag line: “The stuff you use to fill the pews.” I throw up a little bit in my mouth every time I read that.) They’ve contracted with Warner Brothers and DC Comics to create a ministry resource website for the upcoming Superman film Man of Steel.
Let me be transparent–I’m a big Superman fan (here’s proof), and I’m really looking forward to Man of Steel. I also admit that the Superman mythology has always contained Christological themes. A celestial father sends his only son to earth to guide and save humanity–that sounds familiar. And apparently Man of Steel plays with biblical imagery, including a scene with a young Clark Kent talking to a priest with a stained glass image of Jesus positioned just over his shoulder.
But pastors can’t be naive to think Warner Brothers/DC Comics is trying to aid the church with their Man of Steel Ministry Resource website. They’ve created Man of Steel sermon outlines, sermon video clips, and offered pastors advanced screening tickets for one reason–money. They’re looking to hijack pulpits to push their film and boost box office receipts. On one level I can’t fault them for trying. It is a savvy, if cynical, marketing tactic. What really bothers me, however, is that a decade after The Passion and Narnia, studios still see sermons as worthwhile product placement opportunities because apparently it works.
Last year Lifeway released some encouraging findings. 87 percent of Protestant pastors said they do not believe a pastor should endorse political candidates from the pulpit. Most realize preaching must remain free from political manipulation. They would never prostitute the pulpit or sully a sermon with blatant partisan hackery. Unfortunately, the evidence indicates some ministers don’t feel as strongly about protecting the integrity of the pulpit when $200 million Hollywood blockbusters are involved.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not opposed to referencing a film, book, television show, or other consumable product in a sermon. Just a few weeks ago my runaway VW Golf featured prominently in my sermon. The difference is Volkswagen didn’t help me write the sermon, offer me a free oil change, or enter me in a drawing for a new Passat.
Maybe it’s time for pastors to speak up and tell studios and companies like MinistryResources.org that we don’t appreciate attempts to leverage worship gatherings for product placement and marketing. Maybe we need to be more vocal about the holiness and separateness of preaching. Maybe the church should be an oasis from the incessant consumerism of our culture, and perhaps our gatherings should look more like a house of prayer than a den of thieves.
If you share this point of view, join me in sending a kind but honest email to the folks at MinistryResources.org (click here) to request that they respect the church, its ministers, and the sacredness of the pulpit by not trying to manipulate them for marketing purposes. Share this post with your colleagues in ministry, and let’s see what happens.