Should We “Vote with Our Dollars”? Part 2
In the first part of this series, Alan Noble looked at what the phrase “vote with your dollars” means in church culture and what ideology it supports. In its common usage, the phrase seems to be used to support two main ideas: if we vote for Christian films, more Christian films will be made; and if we vote for films that include a Christian worldview, the Church will have a more prominent voice in the media. Part 1 of this series dealt with the former idea, and this concluding post will explore the latter.
If it will not produce better films, at least it will give us a louder voice in the world, someone might retort. But what kind of voice do these films give us and how do they actually impact the world? For the most part, the kind of effect Christian films have cannot be accurately described as a “voice” but as mind share; they function to increase the brand recognition of Christianity, not to sincerely persuade people of the Truth. The reason for this I believe is that there is an insular effect in “voting with your dollars.” What happens is that we “vote” for films that are Christian, Hollywood sees that there is money to be made in Christian films, they study our demographic and produce films that we want to see. We want to see movies that tell us that we are right and that they are wrong.
Instead of producing movies of excellence that accurately and compellingly tell the Truth about life, we are left with what amounts to cinematic cheerleading. The language, style, and content fails to communicate anything to the world since only Christians could find the films appealing. The “voice” does not communicate persuasively to the world, it states the preference of the viewers, Christianity. There are several problems with this situation. It creates an attitude of “Us vs. Them” as opposed to “The Truth vs. A Lie.” When we are more concerned with our cultural group having a positive image in the public, having a large mind share, then we have lost sight of people and we are marketing our Faith. This approach to creating a voice in the world also rarely produces sincere dialogue between believers and unbelievers, since its main purpose is to make our Faith seem popular and useful–just like any other product on the market.
Unfortunately, in our media-driven culture the value and validity of ideas are tested by their marketability. This has lead many Christians to mistakenly believe that we need to have a strong voice in the media so that we can compete. But the Great Commission is not about “competing,” it is about sharing the Truth, the Gospel. Ideas and concepts in the media are presented primarily as options, choices we have as consumers. Just as we can decide between Pepsi and Coke, Honda and Toyota, Republican and Democrat, we can choice our preference in faiths: Buddhist, Mormon, Christian, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist. It becomes not a matter of which is the Truth, but which has the best public image, the most persuasive voice in the media. Much like the use of Christian clothing, the films that are often supported when we “vote with our dollars” do not create a voice speaking the Truth to the world, they bolster the mind share of the Christian culture, treating our faith as merely another option in a global marketplace of ideas.
Does this mean we should be silent in the world and never “vote” for films with Christian content? No, not at all. We are called to have a voice in the world, but the voice we should have in the world should be focused on individual people, not on our church culture. And this voice does not need to be louder, to have more mind share, or to compete with commercials, it needs to honestly and humbly glorify and represent Christ. We are not going to fulfill the Great Commission through a good marketing campaign or public relations. In fact, people who are persuaded by an impersonal Voice of Christianity in the media are more than likely to treat it as merely another choice in the market; if we treat the Good News as a product, image, or lifestyle, other people will treat it as such. The kind of voice we should seek to have in the world is one that communicates, that seeks to hear other people (and in doing, love them), and is ultimately unconcerned with how the world views our Faith and our culture; it is a voice wholly concerned with loving God by telling the Truth to people, in love.
As for voting, I have always encouraged Christians to support excellence in the arts. If we want believers to make works that men can see and glorify their Father in heaven, then we need to praise, recognize, and “vote” for those works. But in order to “vote” in a manner that will lead to better films, we need to shift our thinking from working towards a better public image of Christianity towards glorifying God by making works that speak the Truth. Once we make this shift, we can see that we shouldn’t just “vote” for films when they are made by Christians, deal with famous Christians, or positively present Conservative politics. We should be voting for works that are marked with sincerity, strive for excellence, and seek to communicate beyond the sphere of our church communities.
So go vote, but before you do, consider why it is that you “vote with your dollars.” What good do you hope to accomplish? And even more importantly, what good should be accomplished? Should we be seeking to making Christianity into a popular lifestyle choice, or to support works of excellence that cause people to glorify their Father in heaven?
Good article Alan. People too easily by into the hegemony of idea marketability and valuation. Truth is not sold or bought, but despite that, mainstream American Christendom* continues to treat it as a commodity—something to be shilled in the quote-unquote marketplace of ideas.
The truth of the gospel does not need media embellishment or support in order to find its successes; and contrarily, it may even be the case that media oversaturation with gospel-like content diminishes the effectiveness of our Christian witness (even while increasing Christian mindshare).
Incidentally, the pro-life movement is a good example of Christian mindshare. While there are certainly those who are not in favour of abortion who are not Christians, the Christian right has been so successful in their media barrage that the movement is now hopelessly intertwined with the Christian faith, so much so that when one thinks Pro-Life they likewise think Evangelical Christian (for the most part). This marketing move on the part of Christians has possibly made it even more unlikely for non-believers to convert to the Pro-Life Movement (because what non-believer wants to be confused with an Evangelical Christian?).
*note: I can’t speak for other cultures within Christendom. I know, shocker, huh?
The Danes last blog post..20080528
I’d never actually heard the phrase “vote with your dollars” until you brought it up, Alan, though the concept is certainly familiar. Nice addressing of the issues. I wonder how much the “vote with your dollars” mentality has to do with the transition from an era in which, for Christians, the appropriate thing to do with your dollars was withhold them from the evil pursuits of the world–to an era in which evangelicals have gained more “worldly” power and now participate and even try to actively shape culture.
I’m actually more familiar with the phrase “vote with your fork,” attributed to Michael Pollan. The problems with this approach are similar to the problems with Christians engaging with the media by dollar-voting. Merely choosing to consume or not consume something doesn’t necessarily send the message you want it to send. People started voting with their forks and buying organic, and now we have organic produce traveling thousands of miles in gas-guzzling trucks to suburban grocery stores. (Of course, Pollan says to buy local anyway, but people don’t always pay attention.) The Passion of the Christ did well in theaters, but it’s clear that Hollywood producers are still flailing around trying to figure out what that means so that they can capitalize on it. A “vote” of consumption or non-consumption doesn’t inherently send a message, much as we’d like to think that it does.
Oh, and I meant to add that I’ve been thinking recently about how astonishingly positive the portrayal of Christians is in British TV shows of the past 15 years or so. When Christian characters appear, they’re reasonable, articulate, devout, and kind–much more so than most Christian characters on American shows (Ned Flanders being something of an exception, of course). Obviously, this isn’t because Christians dominate British culture–in fact, quite the opposite. My husband and I have been wondering if Christians get a better rap on British TV because, there, there’s no perceived threat of “Christian Right” dominance, culturally or politically. Anyway, it serves as a nice reminder that maybe, just maybe, Christians don’t have to be in control for the truth to get out there! God can work just as well–maybe even better sometimes–when we’re not trying to call the shots.
Thank you, Alan, for expressing what I’ve always thought. Back in the day when I worked at a Christian bookstore I found that 99% of the Christian entertainment (including fiction books and some music) was so unappealing as it lacked excellence. I purchased very little, not because it was Christian but because most of it lacked a level of intelligence, creativity and ability.
When told to support a “Christian” film in the mainstream, my first thought is, “Great, it’s probably some bland story with one-dimensional characters, cheesy acting/music, with writing and concepts no higher than the level of a 5-year-old.” If that is the case, then I really do not want to “vote with my dollars” as this would encourage more of the same. Until truly talented Christians are encouraged to produce realistic, intellectual stories with excellence, I’m afraid I’ll run the other way than vote at all.
Secret Lattes last blog post..What Gospel Were You Sold? (Part 1, Fire Insurance)
It’s so funny how so many Christians are so quick to judge their brothers & sisters in the media and yet do little or nothing to produce the “works of excellence” they are so good at saying those in the media are not producing. It would be nice for critical Christians who can’t stand what other Christians are making to start to do something about it rather than complain, murmur, gripe and sit back and be professional seatwarmers. Finally on this not filma and TV media just like food is highly objective. Step out and take the risk of producing one movie even if it is just five minutes. When you have done that and you have gained people to see it and enjoy it then you can begin to talk. Oh by the way, Dane, truth is to be bought but not sold see Proverbs 23:23. And in England where I have lived for the last eleven years, Christians are not represented in the best light in the media infact in the UK, Christians have been perceived as quite complacent and irrelevant to anything in society – and we wonder why there is so much youth crime and violence in the UK.
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And for the record, I am trying to produce “works of excellence,” and have been for quite some time.
I hope my post did not make it seem like I took the hard work of Christian artists for granted. I know, from personal experience, that creating works of art is incredibly time consuming, stressful, costly, and often thankless. I want to encourage Christians to make good art, and I have.
But just because I encourage believers to make good art, and I myself try to produce good art, and I am thankful that there are believers working and risking to create things for God’s glory, does not mean that I cannot challenge the Church to make better art.
My apologies that I came on harsh. I just hear this so much that I almost wonder OK what is being done to make it better? In making my statement, I was really looking for critical evaluation to be backed up by factual evidence of what “works of excellence” so many Christians are looking for. It is one thing to criticise and yes rightly so (I have been made better for it) but it is another thing to do so without pointing to what examples there are and if so who is doing it and how. That is the thing that I find so hard to understand about us Christians – we say one thing and then when it comes down to it we go for what is safe, what is easy and has no risks involved. I agree with a number of points from both articles conclusively but with the view that changing a life will at some point change a person’s world. I do not want to go into details but I would hope that more Christians would start finding ways to make the media better not just for Christians but for the world. Another thing is Christian media may just be the problem and the reason why we have lost some level of influence – we are not a religion in that sense of being identified as such. A car salesman who is a Christian and one who is not are known more by what they do and how they do it and not because one puts Christian on his car business:-) Maybe we may altogether look to finding ways to serving our world better, starting from our own homes.
@Leslie – As Alan does, I too work to create excellence in art. In fact, the project I’m currently involved in, when released, should be a good example of how Christians can create works of greatness that develop out of the truth they serve.
One of the reasons that many of those critical of the quality of quote-unquote Christian art don’t offer a lot of good examples of what they’d like to see is simply this: there are not a lot of contemporary examples of believers creating overtly Christian art that is worthwhile.
Sure, I could point to the compositions of Handel or Bach, but those are hardly contemporary to our culture. Sure, I could point out the music of Havalina Rail Co. or Starflyer 59 as examples of Christian art that is approaching excellence, but neither band is really all that overt in their expressions of their Christianity. I could point to Larry Norman or Keith Green, but while each was pretty overtly dedicated to Christ in their music, I’m not sure we could consider their music to be excellent.
The point is, just because one doesn’t see any great examples of What Should Be, that doesn’t negate the opinion that there is a lot of What Shouldn’t Be.
p.s. When you quote Proverbs there, you’re equivocating. The obtaining and keeping of truth discussed in that passage has nothing to do with the topic of the commodification of the gospel to which I was speaking.
The Danes last blog post..20080528
While I agree that we don’t need to sit around complaining, the reality is that it is difficult to find like-minded Christians to a) discuss issues like these and b) collaborate on how to move forward in a positive manner to create excellent Christian film/art/etc.
This arena is helpful to know that other people see this as an issue, and it encourages me that there may be a part of the Christian audience that would be interested in the fiction I prefer to write as opposed to what currently is sold today.
Secret Lattes last blog post..What Gospel Were You Sold? (Part 1, Fire Insurance)
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