Liberal churches turn to advertising

Liberal mainline Protestants are shrinking in number, even though one would think that their moral permissiveness and leftwing political activism would make them fashionable again. So these denominations are turning to advertising:

Shrinking mainline Protestant denominations are turning to marketing to help stem decades of membership losses and stay afloat.

The United Methodist Church recently released a $20 million rebranding effort aimed at attracting younger members to the large but diminishing Protestant sect. The new ads will appear over the next four years as part of the denomination’s “Rethink Church” campaign.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has invested nearly $1.2 million in the past two years launching a similar branding effort based on the theme “God’s Work, Our Hands.”

The denominations are trying to bounce back from losses that began in the mid-1960s.

From 1990 to 2008 alone, mainline Protestants dropped from 18.7 percent to 12.9 percent of the population, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.

The United Methodist Church has just under 8 million members in the U.S., with about 3.5 million additional adherents overseas. The median age for a United Methodist is 57, according to the Rev. Larry Hollon, the denomination’s chief communications executive.

The new ads highlight the opportunities for involvement within Methodist churches – from helping feed the poor to volunteering with youth basketball leagues in low-income neighborhoods, reflecting research that found that young people are especially interested in service projects.

“We need to refocus on young people and provide them an opportunity to be a part of the church,” Mr. Hollon said. “What we’re hearing is, they say, ‘Belief connects to how I live my daily life.’ If I say, ‘I value people because I’m a religious person,’ then I have to demonstrate that in concrete ways. It’s walking the walk, not just talking the talk.”

One of the 30-second ads, posted at www.10thousanddoors.org, asks, “What if church wasn’t just a building, but thousands of doors, each of them opening up to a journey that could actually change the world? Would you come?”

Another ad shows children reading books and asks, “What if church was a literacy program for homeless children? Would you come?”

Scott Hendrickson, a marketing director for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has about 4.7 million members, said his denomination’s marketing isn’t targeted to new members but current ones. The ads, at www.elca.org/tvads, have run on cable-TV channels and in other media outlets that serve large populations of Lutherans.

Like the Methodists’ ads, they feature church members helping others. One shows a Senegal Lutheran mission teaching women how to start their own businesses.

“Through [current members] they will encourage others to come join the church,” Mr. Hendrickson said. “We wanted to reach the current members to communicate … what we do, what our mission is.”

What their mission is! Notice that these churches are marketing nothing more than feel-good self-righteousness, especially social righteousness, rather than the more painful personal kind of righteousness. But when it comes right down to it, they are just as fixated on works righteousness as the most legalistic fundamentalist. While decrying the political activism of the Christian right, the Christian left is even more fixated on political activism. (I grew up in this kind of church. I remember attending conventions in which the delegates voted on foreign and domestic policy issues and pretended to be Congress.) I am all for works of mercy, including Sengalese literacy projects and the like. But how sad that the “mission” of these churches has nothing to do with grace, salvation, or Christ, who apparently is not even mentioned in these ads.

The new American auto industry

The only major American auto company not owned by the state–that would be Ford–is doing amazingly well:

Ford continued to pinch business from its struggling crosstown rivals last month, increasing its share of the U.S. auto market to its highest percentage in three years.

The automaker now controls 15.1 percent of the marketplace, and some analysts predict that Ford could leap past General Motors in sales by the end of the year.

Ford has been able to survive without government aid, as its competitors have buckled. In May, Chrysler entered bankruptcy protection. And GM was not far behind, culminating with a Chapter 11 filing on Monday.

Ford insists that its products, not its rivals’ financial troubles, are driving sales. But regardless of the reason, it plans to capitalize. As GM and Chrysler close and idle plants this summer, Ford announced yesterday that it will be ramping up its North American production by 10,000 vehicles in the second quarter. In the third quarter, it plans to make 42,000 more vehicles than it did a year ago.

Meanwhile, government-owned GM has sold its Hummer brand to a Chinese company.

Jihadists in American prisons

Why we shouldn’t send Guantanamo prisoners into American jails. From Michelle Malkin » The jihadi virus in our jails:

After a year-long investigation launched by the Bush administration, the feds cracked down on a ring of murder-minded black Muslim jailhouse converts preparing to bomb two Bronx synagogues and “eager to bring death to Jews.” They also planned to attack a New York National Guard air base in Newburgh, New York, where the suspects lived and worshiped at a local mosque. . . .

In 2005, Bush administration officials busted a terrorist plot to attack infidels at military and Jewish sites in the Los Angeles on the fourth anniversary of 9/11 or the Jewish holy days. It was devised by militant Muslim converts of Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (Arabic for “Assembly of Authentic Islam”) who had sworn allegiance to violent jihad at California’s New Folsom State Prison.

Jose Padilla, the convicted terror conspirator, converted to Islam during a stint at a Broward County, Fla., jail and reportedly fell in with terrorist recruiters after his release. Convicted Shoe Bomber Richard Reid converted to Islam with the help of an extremist imam in a British prison.
Aqil Collins, a self-confessed jihadist turned FBI informant, converted to Islam while doing time in a California juvenile detention center. At a terrorist camp in Afghanistan, he went on to train with one of the men accused of kidnapping and beheading Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

In East Texas, inmates were recruited with a half-hour videotape featuring the anti-Semitic rants of California-based Imam Muhammad Abdullah, who claims that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were actually carried out by the Israeli and U.S. governments.

Federal corrections officials told congressional investigators during the Bush years “that convicted terrorists from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing were put into their prisons’ general population , where they radicalized inmates and told them that terrorism was part of Islam.”

George Tiller, saint & martyr?

I have been condemning the murder of abortionist George Tiller–who sometimes baptized infants before he finished them off–but this does not mean I accept the smarmy religiosity of those on the religious left who are <a href=" proclaiming him a saint and a martyr:

Liberal religious groups joined secular pro-choice organizations Monday to mourn as a martyr one of the country’s most famous providers of late-term abortions.

A nationwide network of candlelight vigils and services took place from Lafayette Park in the District to Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Ore., and from Union Square in New York to Millennium Plaza in Yakima, Wash.

Hundreds of people were expected to gather at each locale to mourn Sunday’s fatal shooting of Dr. George Tiller on the grounds of his Lutheran church in Wichita, Kan. He was one of a handful of doctors in the country who did abortions after the sixth month of pregnancy.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Boston held an evening memorial service where the Very Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, president of Episcopal Divinity School in nearby Cambridge, was one of several scheduled speakers.

“This is about the loss of a man who was a saint and a martyr,” she said in an interview before the service. “He was a prayerful man who put his life at risk to protect others and died for it. People are in shock, outrage and mourning. They need a place to go.”

Ms. Ragsdale said she once visited Dr. Tiller’s clinic in Wichita to defend it from anti-abortion protests. She has been excoriated on conservative Web sites for a July 21, 2007, speech in Birmingham, Ala., where she called abortion “a blessing.”

Reconstructionist Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center said Dr. Tiller “joins the list of martyrs for ethical decency and human rights, killed for healing with compassion.”

The rabbi said Dr. Tiller was “a religious martyr in the fullest classical sense, killed in his own church as he arrived to worship, killed for acting in accord with his religious commitments and his moral and ethical choices.” . . .

A group called Faith Aloud – formerly the Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice – expected to draw at least 100 people to an interfaith memorial service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis, organized by the Rev. Rebecca Turner, a Disciples of Christ minister and executive director of Faith Aloud.

“He was a hero to many abortion clinic workers, who were aware of his incredible courage and bravery,” Ms. Turner said. “I knew him personally, so this will be a service of mourning for his wonderful life. He is the first abortion provider to put a chapel inside his clinic, and he had a chaplain on duty to work with all of his patients.”

A tale of two murders

Michelle Malkin contrasts the media and governmental treatment of the anti-abortion murder and that jihadist murder of two army recruiters in Arkansas. (Oh, you hadn’t heard about that one?)

When a right-wing Christian vigilante kills, millions of fingers pull the trigger. When a left-wing Muslim vigilante kills, he kills alone. These are the instantly ossifying narratives in the Sunday shooting death of Kansas late-term abortionist George Tiller versus the Monday shootings of two Arkansas military recruiters.

Tiller’s suspected murderer, Scott Roeder, was white, Christian, anti-government, and anti-abortion. The gunman in the military recruiting center attack, Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad, was black, a Muslim convert, anti-military, and anti-American. Both crimes are despicable, cowardly acts of domestic terrorism. But the disparate treatment of the two brutal cases by both the White House and the media is striking.

President Obama issued a statement condemning “heinous acts of violence” within hours of Tiller’s death. The Justice Department issued its own statement and sent federal marshals to protect abortion clinics. News anchors and headline writers abandoned all qualms about labeling the gunman a terrorist. An almost gleeful excess of mainstream commentary poured forth on the climates of hate and fear created by conservative talk radio, blogs, and Fox News for reporting Tiller’s activities.

By contrast, President Obama was silent about the military recruiter attacks that left 24-year-old Private William Long dead and 18-year-old Private Quinton Ezeagwula gravely wounded. On Tuesday afternoon – more than 24 hours after the attack on the military recruiting center in Little Rock – President Obama held a press conference to announce his pick for Army Secretary. It would have been exactly the right moment to express condolences for the families of the targeted Army recruiters and to condemn heinous acts of violence against our troops.
But President Obama said nothing. The Justice Department was mum. And so were the legions of finger-pointing pundits happily convicting the pro-life movement and every right-leaning writer on the planet of contributing to the murder of George Tiller. Obama’s omission, it should be noted, comes just a few weeks after he failed to mention the Bronx jihadi plot to bomb synagogues and a National Guard airbase during his speech on homeland security.

Why the silence? Politically and religiously-motivated violence, it seems, is only worth lamenting when it demonizes opponents. Which also helps explain why the phrase “lone shooter” is ubiquitous in media coverage of jihadi shooters gone wild – think convicted Jeep Jihadi Mohammed Taheri-Azar at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill or Israel-bashing gunman Naveed Haq who targeted a Seattle Jewish charity or Los Angeles International Airport shooter Hesham Hedayet who opened fire at the El Al Israeli airline ticket counter– but not in cases involving rare acts of anti-abortion violence.

Himmler vs. Christianity

In browsing through Uwe Siemon-Netto’s blog, I came across his review of a new biography of Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Nazi S.S.:

“There’s no doubt about Himmler’s anticommunism and anti-Semitism; he wiped out both groups mercilessly,” writes historian Peter Longerich, “but basically he was much more engrossed with Christianity. The conflict with the Christian world, in which he grew up, was of truly existential significance to him.”

According to Longerich, Himmler considered it his life’s calling to coalesce the fight against Christians with his idea of resurrecting the lost world of (pagan) Germania. While anti-Semitism and anticommunism were core elements of Hitler’s entire National Socialist movement, de-Christianization linked to re-Germanization “was the quintessential task of the SS in Himmler’s mind,” Longerich writes in his 1,000-[page] tome (Longerich, Peter. Heinrich Himmler, Biographie. Munich: Siedler Verlag, 2008; 275). . . . .

Himmler saw Christianity as an “alien, Asiatic” imposition on the Germanic world. . . .

Himmler too loathed the Christian virtue of neighborly love, Longerich reports: “The principle of Christian compassion stands in the way of his (Himmler’s) insistence on an uncompromising treatment of ‘sub-humans.’” Himmler strove to “replace Christian principles with Germanic virtues, such as toughness, as a precondition to persevere in the struggle against sub-humans and win the future.” He added, “We live in the era of the ultimate showdown with Christianity” (280).

The post goes on to discuss the movie “Valkyrie”–which I finally saw and liked–with some fascinating details about the Christian nature of the German resistance.


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