Branding the rapture

Since coverage of the Family Radio Network started heating up in January, Bobby’s been all over it. You can check out his installments here, here and here. Family Radio Network is the group that’s predicting the end of the world at 6 PM tomorrow.

At this point, it’s hard to find a new angle. I love the idea of focusing less on the Family Radio folks and more on others affected by the group’s popularity. But I’m not sure the one taken here by CNBC works so well:

Talk about defending the brand: Christian writers are coming down on Harold Camping with the fervor of Disney lawyers quashing a Mickey Mouse painting at a daycare center.

Now, perhaps it’s because I’m Lutheran, where we’re encouraged to study and confess not just what we believe but what we don’t believe, but is pointing out theological error first and foremost about brand marketing? If at all? I mean, Christians haven’t just been studying Scriptures and pointing out error since the beginning of the faith, it’s something we do all the time. I’m not sure I’m on board with trivializing it as nothing more than brand identification, much less Mickey Mouse ears.

The article explains a bit about Camping and Family Radio Network’s beliefs. I learned, for instance, that the rapture will happen at 6 PM local time, whatever your local time is, tomorrow:

He’s been spreading the word via the 66 stations in his Family Radio Network, on his website www.familyradio.com, and through billboards in several major cities. His prediction is based on some tangled algebra that sets numerical values for concepts such as “atonement” and “completeness,” assumes that Jesus was crucified on April 1, 33 AD, and figures that these numbers actually represent something of importance.

Camping has also declared that every church in the world is false. One might expect that mainstream Christians would either dismiss Camping or ignore him. One would be wrong.

Hunh? Why would one expect Christians to either dismiss or ignore him? What’s the precedent for dismissing or ignoring people who, in their view, are not just false teachers but false teachers whose work is being highlighted on every major media outlet in the world? I’m unaware of such a precedent.

And here’s where I think we see the problem:

“There is some branding differentiation going on, in that traditional Christians would not want to be lumped in with Camping,” said Mara Einstein a media studies professor at Queens University and the author of “Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age.”

I have no doubt that if you go to the media studies professor author of “Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age,” you will get an answer that what is going on is “branding differentiation.” No doubt at all. And I’m actually really interested in that topic, particularly when it comes to how various religions market themselves. But I’m not sure that’s what we’re dealing with here.

Here’s another part:

Scholars are whacking at Camping like a cheap piñata, but this isn’t a sign they consider his work worthy of attention. They’re worried what people will think about Christians if they don’t rebut him.

This may be true. I can’t say I know a single Christian who would agree with this, much less put it this way, but it may be true that there are some scholars worried what people will think of Christians if they don’t rebut. That’s just so far outside my experience, I’m not sure how to respond to it.

What do you think? Is scholarly response to the Camping crew about brand identity?

Perhaps I’d be more comfortable with this framing if the story also acknowledged that Christians regularly rebuke error as part of our Scriptural tradition. The Bible is full of passages calling on believers to rebuke those in error and instructing how to do it. It’s also full of warnings about false prophets and how to handle them. There may be verses on brand marketing and identification but none come to mind.

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  • Darryl

    Perhaps I’d be more comfortable with this framing if the story also acknowledged that Christians regularly rebuke error as part of our Scriptural tradition. The Bible is full of passages calling on believers to rebuke those in error and instructing how to do it. It’s also full of warnings about false prophets and how to handle them. There may be verses on brand marketing and identification but none come to mind.

    Wouldn’t this require that people writing the pieces on these subjects have some Biblical knowledge and comprehension? Maybe it’s just me, but to me it seems that “omissions” of this type occur quite frequently in articles relating to Christianity.

  • nathan

    The Bible says that no one knows when Jesus will come back.

  • Jerry

    This strikes me as a classic example of reporters using terms and frames-of-reference they’re familiar with. Seeing quite a few Christian denominations, it’s easy to think of other competitive situations where there are many “brands” competing for “buyers”.

    Scholars are whacking at Camping like a cheap piñata, but this isn’t a sign they consider his work worthy of attention. They’re worried what people will think about Christians if they don’t rebut him.

    My answer to this quote is something different than what you said. I suspect there is a bit of stereotyping about religious “scholars” going on. I was struck by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush’s comments at HuffPo Religion:

    First he writes from trying to understand what motivates them with compassion not snark:

    But as a piece by HuffPost Religion writer Jaweed Kaleem shows, the followers of Harold Camping and his end-time crusade are real people whose conviction of the impending end of the world was seemingly inspired by a deep desire to create meaning and certainty in life within our difficult and chaotic world.

    And then, far from being worried, he offers a positive message:

    We should not expect or hope for some cataclysmic event to bring about a better world — the Kingdom of God is among us if we have eyes to see it. We can live in God’s realm and find meaning through living out the commandments of love, forgiveness and peace. We can find spiritual and psychological relief when we offer prayers of gratitude for the blessings of family, and for the beauty of this world’s ecology, which cries out for redemption, not destruction. We can find purpose in our solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering and by working to extend God’s blessings to those whom Jesus called “the least of these.”

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    I know it’s tangential to the “branding” discussion, but I did a double-take at this AFP story yesterday:

    The tongue-in-cheek post makes no reference to fervent allegations by some preachers that the world will end on Saturday May 21.

    Some preachers? Has anyone other than Camping alleged that the Rapture is tomorrow? (And let’s not even get into the difference between the Rapture and the actual end of the world.)

  • http://sarahboylewebber.blogspot.com/ Sarah Webber

    Can’t you just see them all with shirts saying, “I’m NOT with stupid”?

  • http://sarahboylewebber.blogspot.com/ Sarah Webber

    And to apologize for my snark, here is a commentary that considers Camping with sympathy: http://www.patheos.com/community/slacktivist/2011/05/19/disappointment-despair-and-harold-camping/

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Not to mention that Camping, who asserts that the “church age” ended in 1988, and that now “you can get saved in a mosque but not in a church”, (see Stephen Cox’s article in the December LIBERTY), is espousing positions which are no more representative of “Christians” or “Protestants” or “evangelicals” than Westboro Baptist.

    As for “branding”, there is also the Park and Baker analysis of provision and consumption of “religious goods”.

    http://baylor.academia.edu/JerryPark/Papers/333882/What_Would_Jesus_Buy_American_Consumption_of_Religious_and_Spiritual_Material_Goods

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Sorry, I was confusing this with “Iannacone’s economics analysis of ‘religious goods’”.

  • Ron

    So, after centuries of inducing people to believe in strange tales, the churches have to work hard to make sure the people do not believe the wrong strange tales. Poetic justice?


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