Show your electronics that Jesus saves and ring in the New Year with a piece of Jesus toast; freshen your breath with one of the famous Testa-Mints (found in your nearest Christian bookstore) before slapping on your Jesus Save sandals to go buy a bobblehead football Jesus.
Are these items harmless, or humorless and offensive? Christian kitsch is becoming a mainstream commodity, making waves in Christian retail on Internet sites featuring odd items.
“There are some disconcerting side effects to watch out for in the world of Christian advertising,” noted James Beverley, in an interview with The Christian Post. “Any promotion that uses Gospel symbols to sell non-spiritual products increases the chances of non-Christians thinking that all Christians are interested in is money.
“There is also the danger of cheapening the value of Christian symbols by direct connection with various products of modern capitalism,” said Beverley, professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale University in Toronto, Canada.
Creators of the kitsch argue that some products were created for functionality, such as the Higher Power surge protector, a cross-shaped power strip to maximize outlet space.
“It’s a much more efficient way of using all your outlets … it’s also a visual metaphor; the cross is a ‘higher power,’” Rob Howell, the entrepreneur behind the idea, told CP.
While Howell is not himself a Christian – he said he is “more of a searcher” – he saw the popularity of other Christian products, namely the Jesus toaster featured in a previous CP article. He and his partner, architect Alex Pincus, have posted the surge protector on kickstart.com to raise the funding needed to launch the project. Howell said they plan to donate 10 percent of the profits to Project Host, a soup kitchen in Greenville, S.C.
“The feedback has been positive – we haven’t heard any negative comments so far,” Howell said, stating that several churches have expressed an interest in the surge protector, using the logo itself to create T-shirts, or selling the items as a youth group fundraiser.
“We’re inclusive and we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The design is functionally inclusive, not exclusive,” Howell said.
But how should a Christian view all the religious kitsch? Is it taking the Lord’s name in vain, trivializing the Gospel, and an affront to God?
“On the bottom line, Christians will have differences of opinion about the trappings of the Christian consumer world,” Beverley said.
Some Christian-themed items are blatantly for fun and humor – such as Jesus action figures or the “Jesus Shaves” shaving mugs – and could be taken with a grain of salt. A previous CP story on the Jesus toaster, sparked hundreds of comments, mainly positive, on the item.
Some Christians may feel that items like Testa-Mints, sandals imprinted with “Jesus Loves You” or Evangi-Cubes, are witnessing tools. But how would a believer feel about a toilet-seat cover emblazoned with the words “Let My People Go” in a Hebrew-like font?
Beverley said these things are purely distasteful. “While Christians have liberty in a free market economy, we should set our ideals at a high level when presenting the Gospel,” he said. “Can we picture these modern trinkets in the Sistene Chapel?”
“Here is a good question, ‘what cultural message are we communicating by the mediums that we use as vehicles to present the Christian message?’” asked Matt Capps, associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina, in a recent blog post.
“The commodification of the Christian message not only exploits the faith to consumer capitalism, but it also sentimentalizes and trivializes the Gospel. We can’t just slap a Bible verse on something and call it “Christian” because that item itself has a message attached to it within the context of our culture,” Capps wrote.
It’s hard to imagine Christians getting rid of the Jesus fish on their cars, or closeting their “Lord’s Gym” T-shirts, but maybe Christians should think twice before purchasing any cross-shaped trinket or item emblazoned with a Bible verse.
"There is no need to question the motives of the sellers but if a product cheapens the deep, sacred realities of the Christian faith then the Christian community should resist buying those items,” Beverley advised.