Forget all that morbid Jesus stuff - try New Christianity

The Churches have re-packaged their product for Easter, but lost the point

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THE MENTALITY that gave us New Labour is now zooming in on an innovative product - "New Christianity". CAN - the Churches' Advertising Network - has launched an Easter Campaign. CAN is a "joint project for the decade of evangelism" (joint means lots of denominations). It has gone out and done some market research which has revealed that the words Jesus, God, cross, death, sacrifice, repentance and even resurrection don't deliver a feel-good factor. (Church, perhaps surprisingly, is an OK word, suggesting community and vague "traditional values", while Jesus is a downer implying judgement and criticism.) So CAN avoids all those old-fashioned negative concepts and recommends some nice non-specific cuddly terms instead - comfort, happiness, love and singing.

But this is advertising - the words provide only an atmosphere. What is needed is a strong visual image, and since crosses and tombs are right out, what can we possible use? What about the death of the Princess of Wales? Great idea. Yes, the central image for Easter 98 is one of the piles of flowers and teddy bears: a religious shrine of contemporary relevance.

You may expect to see splashed across the billboards, bus shelters, churches and houses of this land over the next 40 days large posters with a picture of the heaped bouquets and fluffy toys of sacred memory running along the bottom and a plain test above reading "If all this started you thinking, carry on at Church this Easter." ("Carry on", we assume, has warmly humorous and British connotations.)

CAN has also put out leaflets explaining the campaign's rationale. They emphasise that "in recent times we've witnessed the hunger of people from all backgrounds as they're faced with life's big issues - not least death. It is a shared communal experience." Christians, you'll be relieved to hear, "believe it's OK to be human". "This campaign," we are told, "is not designed for `committed' Christians. They're (sic) designed to awaken interest in those who are outside the church." (Grammar, incidentally, is not a priority in CAN's output.) As it happens I agree that too often Christian conversion material uses language that has meaning only for the already-converted, and that the need to be comprehensible is a good one. The trouble with this campaign, apart from its intrinsic bad taste, is that it is completely incomprehensible.

The whole point about Easter, from a Christian point of view, is that Jesus's death on the cross is caused by and is the cure for sin: no Jesus, no death, no cross, no sin = NO EASTER. No matter how you play it Easter cannot be about hope, joy, peace happiness and singing if it isn't first about repentance, discomfort, hard choices, and sacrifice. No amount of promulgating St Diana, and the new morality of "feeling" can change this slightly inconvenient fact.

The campaign leaflet ends up proclaiming that "the Easter experience can actually be part of a 20th century lifestyle". A lifestyle of cheap comforts built on half-truths, euphemisms, easy options and nursery pap. Is that what we really want? New Labour obviously thinks so, and here the churches are showing a horrid willingness to go along with it.

How about a different Lenten slogan: Spin doctoring makes you giddy. Try intellectual rigour.

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