Marketing Martyrdom

One of the first books I ever purchased as a new believer was Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Vance Havner was preaching in my home church, and he mentioned the impact that book had made on his life. That week, I rushed down to the local Christian bookstore in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and purchased a hardback copy. It is still in my library today.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a classic study in the lives of the faithful—people who were willing to give their all for the cause of Christ and the proclamation of the gospel. Some of the heroes of our faith, if you will.

Today, there is a dangerous trend emerging in the Christian merchandising world. This “growth industry” in Christian books stores has taken off, since the tragic slaying of the students at Columbine High School in Colorado and the killing of students at a youth rally in Fort Worth, Texas. Those tragic shootings, and others that have followed, have led to a strange marketing ploy.

Those who make the decisions about the holy hardware and Jesus junk sold in Christian bookstores are now marketing martyrdom. It appears it is becoming increasingly acceptable to commercialize the “once for all delivered to the saints” faith.

Apparently, it’s acceptable to turn a tragedy into a T-shirt, bracelet, or bumper sticker.

All of us must admit that we are drawn to the courage and faith of people like Cassie Bernall. Many of us have quietly asked ourselves the question, “What would I do if I were placed in that situation?” Hundreds of pastors and student ministers have posed the question to their young people. It is a valid question. It is an issue we must be willing to face. Where would I stand when faced with martyrdom. Would I confess or deny? Good question. Hard to answer.

Therefore, it troubles me to see all the marketing going on in the name of martyrdom. It’s easy to wear a t-shirt, but what happens when someone puts a gun in your face? It’s easy to wear a W.W.J.D. or a “Yes I Believe” bracelet, but what happens if they put handcuffs on those wrists?

The popular dc Talk, a Christian music pop group, repackaged Foxe’s Book of Martyrs several years ago for the new generation, calling the saints “the ultimate Jesus Freaks.” Students were encouraged to share their faith in their schools. Family Christian Bookstores promoted a line of necklaces, bracelets, key chains, books, and a CD with the phrase, “Yes, I Believe in God”—the fatal and faithful answer of young Cassie Bernall.

While I am grateful that kids and adults are wearing these items, I do think we need to ask some honest questions. The priority question is this: Does the walk, match the talk? In other words, it’s easy to wear a t-shirt, but it’s tough to live the life. Jesus didn’t put the cost of discipleship in fine print on the contract. He spelled it out clearly. That’s why many left Him and followed Him no more. That’s why the disciples bailed out at the cross. To follow Jesus is a life and death situation. It’s more than a mosh pit at a Christian concert. It’s bigger than a XXL t-shirt. It goes beyond cranking up your stereo with Christian music. It’s about a life, about choices, about saying no to the world.

As a former youth minister, I’ve seen tens of thousands of kids in Christian t-shirts. I’ve preached nearly 100 youth camps, retreats, and Disciple Now Weekends. They all had the notebooks. They all had the T-shirts. But some of them didn’t get it. I’ve been around the block enough to know that wearing a t-shirt won’t keep your boyfriend’s hands off of you if you don’t have the convictions to stand up for what you say you believe.

Wearing the bracelets and gear should not imply that we are sinless. None of us are. But, if we are going to market the Master to the world, we better live lives that are blameless. The world is looking for hypocrites and inconsistency. They will put that t-shirt and the person wearing it to the test. If you are going to wear it, live it. Or else, stop wearing it. It’s an embarrassment to those who are trying to live the life.

William D. Romanowski, professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College said, “In some ways, wearing religious paraphernalia is hardly different from wearing brand-name clothing. Both tend to foster a consumer-oriented identity in which purchasing is like an act of faith. Wearing a clothing item that advertises a religious theme can easily be confused with, or even substituted for, genuine belief.”

Having raised two teenagers of my own, and having worked with tens of thousands of others, I know how fickle the tastes and styles of teens can be. One week it’s GAP, then it’s Tommy Hillfiger. Just about the time you pay off those purchases, they have moved on to Nautica, Abercrombie & Fitch, or Old Navy. Before you can get the tags off those, it has switched to Banana Republic. The problem? There’s no commitment to a brand, only to a certain style or brand that is in style. One week, they wear the logo shirt every day, the next week they wouldn’t be caught dead in that shirt. It’s so old, out of style, and no longer fashionable. Trends are dangerous. Nobody will die for style or trends.

“Yes, I Believe,” but for how long? When the going gets tough, if you were to face persecution, would you still believe? Or, would you put on another less costly t-shirt? If we are going to reach the world, we’re going to have to do it with more than walking billboards on our chests, wrists, and heads. We have no choice but to live the life that backs up the merchandise. Christianity is not about merchandise or slogans. It’s about a cross that will cost you everything. When Jesus bids a person to come, He bids him to come and die!

3 thoughts on “Marketing Martyrdom

  1. What a phenomenal message you have put across Pastor Catt. The whole merchandise charade is nothing more than a contemptible and disreputable way to make even more money. This is trully the height of infamy, i have been inundated, completely deluged by the merchandise being shoved down peoples’ throats in the name of faith. About WWJD- I think what they advocate for amounts to bringing down Christ to a human level, how can a mortal man reason like God in any given situation? I know there are legitimate expenses in Church but all that merchandise makes the gospel obscure.

    I believe that the gospel was not given as something to use to make pretty items with the name of Jesus on them, it is a serious entity! We are supposed to use material that will present the full counsel of God,not materials that act like placebos, providing a false euphoria to unsuspecting victims. Send out the gospel and quit charging for it!

    Thank you for reminding us what a serious affair the call to Christianity really is Pastor Catt.
    Divide by miles. United in love.

    From Africa with love,
    Langat Kibet,
    Nairobi,Kenya(East Africa).

  2. What a powerful commentary Pastor Catt. I read about you and your church about a year ago in Christianity today and I commend you for reaching out in your community.

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