Could you imagine how many of today’s advertising agencies would love to get their secular hands on the Catholic Church? “Listen here”, they would explain patiently, “You’ve got a great product with this Jesus guy. But if you want to attract more consumer interest you’re going to have to make a few compromises.”
This is exactly what McCrindle Research, an Australian firm specialising in assisting companies better understand their customers, discovered in their groundwork for the “Jesus: All About Life” campaign in 2009. They found that Australian audiences responded to the words “Jesus” very positively, “Christianity” fairly positively, but losing favour were “religion” and “The Church”, both perceived in a very unbenevolent light.
McCrindle summed up the research very succinctly – people like your product, they just don’t like the retail outlet.
You can visualise the advertising gurus gathering the pope and leading cardinals together in the inner sanctum of the Vatican and laying it on the line for them.
“People just don’t like all those rules you’re promoting,” they would spell out on their first overhead.
“You’re pushing the women away with this ‘boys only’ mentality, you’re alienating homosexuals, you’re never going to attract young people – especially with this no sex before marriage campaign – not to mention your prohibition on contraception.
“And while you’re at it, you might want to ease up on the absolute, no abortion policy – and perhaps a rethink on all that hell and devil business.”
They would then point out the various other Christian denominations that have successfully pruned their “Thou Shalt Not” list and highlight their rising numbers.
Also on the agenda would be the increasing number of spiritual books on the bestseller lists that paint a portrait of a God who has shed all the negative aspects that are turning people away from the Catholic Church.
You don’t have to live by a moral framework this new thinking would insist. Because God is love and therefore he would not, like a dictatorial father, weigh us down with restrictive laws, but would rather grant us the freedom to decide for ourselves what is loving and what is not.
From a marketing perspective a campaign of “follow your own heart” is an advertiser’s dream. Everyone is a winner because there are no negative repercussions. Copy this approach, the advertising gurus will pitch, and the Catholic Church will broaden her public appeal and will mimic the rapid expansion experienced by a growing number of liberal Christian churches and New Age pedlars. But you’d better do it quickly, they would exhort, because your numbers are rapidly diminishing.
If your business is not expanding, the wise heads of secularism would tell you, we must assume your current marketing strategy is not working and logic would tell us to try a new angle.
So why wouldn’t the Church follow such wise worldly advice? Are they so removed from public opinion that they are blind to the reality of their own demise?
Why don’t they pander to the marketing principles of giving the people what they want and reap the rewards of repopulating her pews?
The answer is simple, but not always understood, especially by people who choose to live outside the Catholic Church.
But for those who currently serve at the current nexus of apostolic succession and for those who believe in the significance of this unbroken chain, there is a knowing in their spirit that they cannot compromise on the Truth which they have been entrusted.
These Church representatives would explain to the well-meaning advertising executives that they are not here to win a popularity contest, but rather serve as channels for the Holy Spirit – “Who will teach you all things” (John 14: 26).
They should also acknowledge that, despite the deliberate and unintentional errors and sins that men representing the Church may have made in the name of God, this Holy Spirit will ultimately prevail and, as Jesus promised the first pope, nothing in this world will ever overcome his Church on earth – no matter how small numbers may become.
They will explain that the Church has always, albeit slowly, acknowledged the mistakes that have been made over the past two millennia has and allowed herself to be drawn back onto God’s intended path. They will also draw attention to the fact that many of the popular teachings of today are founded on the shifting sands of moral relativism and not on the constant and unchanging truth of God’s love.
And hopefully they will make it equally clear that while they have been entrusted to preserve the foundational truth of this love, it is only God, with His intimate knowledge of each person and with his divine justice and mercy, who will ultimately judge the lives and hearts of each and every one of us.