Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jesus Heals Cancer: A Tale of Media Hype and Church Marketing

A certain church made national headlines last week with a billboard advertising Jesus' medicinal properties.

This has not gone unremarked, e.g. Dr Mark Keown (he of the remarkably poo coloured blog) has pontificated at length.  Now for the record, I do believe that Jesus heals cancer, but it it is also rather evident that he does not always heal cancer, which means those of us who believe he does heal need to be sensitive in how we express that in public settings - this sign manifestly fails to do that. But I am not wanting to blog about that, because, well, it is just a bit obvious.  Instead I want to ask two questions that don't seem to have been asked by anyone but that bug me no end.

1. Why is this a national news story?  This was not a national advertising campaign, but one billboard on one church in one town.  Local community newspapers are actually very good at reporting positive church events, if a church does a working bee or organises help for a local school or runs a special service for asylum seekers or some such the local paper will be happy to say what is going on.  The national media couldn't care less, and why should they?  But when a local church does something questionable, why should it appear on the national TV news and in the national papers?  Am I missing something here?  This is not a story of national importance, it is a local issue and the only reason it has become a national story is because the national news media has hyped it up into one.  Why is that?

2.  The second thing is that for me this billboard not only disrespects those who are suffering from cancer but also implies rather directly that Jesus only heals cancer at this particular church.  Now this suggestion has created some hostile reactions on facebook where I first mooted it, but let me explain:

The billboard proclaims, I quote, "Church, but not as you know it" - claiming other churches are not like this one.
And in what way is this church different from the ones I know (i.e. any other church I may have been to)?
Answer: This church is different because in this church "Jesus heals cancer."

We are so used to churches appropriating inappropriate marketing methods from the commercial world that we don't even notice where such comparative advertising leads us, but it actually leads us to denigrate God's people who sincerely worshipping him in the other churches around the town.  Why is it that this church feels that Jesus healing cancer should be or could be their unique selling point?  Do they think that Jesus isn't at work healing in other churches with different styles and pattern of worship?  Do churches in this country need their own advertising standards to help those churches who struggle not to embrace comparative commercial and insensitive advertising to stick to a standard that doesn't lead them to slander the bride of Christ?

I'm just asking.

Let me know what you think :-)


  1. Hi. It is a national story because that is the world we are in, ready to swoop on our mistakes, false claims etc. It is part of the ongoing tsunami of anti-Christendom thinking that goes on and on. It is a product of our own mistakes as well. But it is irrational. We have to do everything we do knowing that they are waiting to swoop, and be "wise in the way we act toward outsiders."

    Your point about "church not as we know it" is a good one. I have seen that used a number of times. It is usually used by people who are unwittingly syncretistic and subtly demean other churches from different traditions. I think we need to be much more thoughtful about the way we relate to outsiders and to each other. Nice work Jonathon.

  2. While on one level, I am completely anti-litigious, on another, I wonder why advertising like this is not in breach of the Consumer Guarantees Act - particularly, where some kind of payment is made for the service. I am surprised that people have not searched for compensation from churches that have made such claims in the past.

    But more to your points, it is a National story because we - the Christians - have created it that way. Funnily enough, the nation uses messages like this to contrast to the truth that they occassionally observe. I agree that National media does not print the good news stories of the churches in our communities; however, it does glorify God every time it prints stories about the behaviour of Christians going through adversity. This is our real opportunity to shine as followers of Christ - not when we irrationally claim that we can avoid the said adversity. The public - both secular and Christian - probably view this kind of billboard advertising as hypocritical and divisive.

    Even the secular world can easily see that this church is trying to differentiate themselves from other churches. To their mind, they are probably thinking that this is cult-like behaviour - and they are lumping this church in with the other American-style churches commonly in the media.

    Great post and good questions that got me thinking.