the unlikely profiterole

2 09 2009

Mmm, tasty

Mmm, tasty

There is something wonderful about profiteroles. Something enticing, enchanting… the darkness of the chocolate melting over the softness of the pastry, ebony against the ivory of the Devonshire cream… I can visualise the M&S advert now: “These are not just ordinary profiteroles…”

Yet behind every profiterole lies a dream dashed, a hope lost, a potential future lost like a kite torn from the hand of a child by a gust of wind… Ok, maybe not that bad, but do profiteroles not disappoint every time? Do they not promise greatness – rich chocolate, soft pastry, full cream – yet pretty much always leave you thinking “is that it?”

James Murdoch, son of Rupert and heir to the News Corporation (owner of Sky, The Times, The Sunday Times, News of the World, The Sun, HarperCollins Publishers, FOX TV), made a much publicised speech recently in which he decried the lack of ‘independent’ news coverage, because in this country, unlike the US, there are rules about having to give a balanced view. This makes him feel stifled, because he is forced to present news as opposed to opinion, and he wants a free reign.

Ruperts bear

Rupert's bear

James Murdoch’s argument seems to me a bit like a profiterole. It looks good on the outside. We need opinion, we don’t want over-regulation, we want a ‘free press’. Amen to that. But read his final sentence, and see where the lovely profiterole suddenly becomes simply a recipe for heart disease.

“There is an inescapable conclusion that we must reach if we are to have a better society. The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.”

What?! Seriously, you’re having a giraffe. And this profit is coming from where exactly? From advertisers, customers, subscribers. So who do we aim the news at? Those who the advertisers need, those who can pay the money to subscribe… So news is skewed because of the need to make money. It is not rocket science. It is not independence. Check out Fox News for all the evidence you’ll ever need.

I could say a lot about this. But instead of attacking him (or discussing him further), let’s see if we are any better.

Because churches can be drawn down this ‘profit’ road too. We have news to share. We need money to share it. So, are we tempted to tailor our (good) news to those who will keep us financially viable? Do we try not to upset the wealthier people because we need them more? Do we pray for the streets with new cars rather than mouldy sofas on the drive? Do we rejoice more at the thought of a Premier League footballer being told to sell all he has and give it to the poor (bingo!), or a delivery driver? After all, we need to pay the gas bill, the maintenance bill, the parish share. My church has a leaking cellar, no heating in the hall and a broken front door. Are we ever tempted… honestly?

To paraphrase Jesus, we’d better not be. I’d better not be. We spread the news of life to all, regardless of the depths of pockets. What we offer is a prophetic vision of lives transformed and fountains of hope springing up from barren places: we have the prophet’s role of good news of life in all its fullness, not the profiterole of hypocrisy in all its foulness. If we ever let the need for money in our churches influence our good news then we are, as Jesus called the Pharisees, no more than hypocrites, actors, pretenders; white-washed tombs, as in looks good on the outside but contains only emptiness and death.

Profit can be good, for it subsidises those with none, like the ancient OT laws about not harvesting the edge of your field, so the poor can come and claim some. But it comes with  a stark health warning. Thank you James Murdoch for reminding us, in an unlikely prophetic role.

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3 responses

3 09 2009
c2drl

Surely the Church has gone further than that in adopting the ways of the financial world. If it starts a project, an academy or some social work for instance, it applies for government money and accepts with it the need to control the project to fulfil targets to maintain the funding. In the life of the church we talk much about members finding their role in the right ‘job’ within the fellowship. Much of the church’s own promotion is modelled on the world of advertising and as you say we are star struck with growth. We have sold out to the profit/growth agenda in a big way.

3 09 2009
Kevin

You do have a point, though some generalisations need to be addressed! Many churches explicitly don’t apply for ‘strings-attached’ money; and some apply for, and get as we have in the past, money that has strings but we decide them before we apply. St Andrew’s in Furnace Green (http://www.crawleychurches.org/standrews/building4.htm) is a prime example of a church aiming to complete a major demolish and re-building project substantially self-funded.

Economic language has crept into many aspects of our society, and particularly in the evangelical world where we more easily talk of ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ than ‘priesthood’ or some other ministerial word. But let’s not forget that the business world stole many of the phrases anyway – trees were growing long before economic markets were!

There is a danger of marketing taking over, but there is more a danger of nobody thinking it needs doing. Like it or not we have an ethos and a brand, we have a recognisable symbol and a public perception. And we want to grow. Not because we want to please our shareholders, or raise funds for the sake of it… but because spreading the word – “viral marketing”, if you will – is the point. After all, if a prophet has something to say, it is even worth saying in an advert.

1 06 2010
10,000 thank you’s « the blog of kevin

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