Message Good—method Bad

I’ve never heard of Bill Talon or “the Rev. Billy” before today. And I guess if you’re lucky, you might say the same. Yet this week, the Rev. Billy made it into the headlines of the NY Times. What’s his message? Freedom from the demon of consumerism! He slips into a nice suit, slaps on a priest’s color, gathers a “gospel” choir, turns on his megaphone, and marches up and down the streets of NY proclaiming the tenets of his faith.

I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that hundreds of average people had thoughts confirming their opinion that Christians are whacko and out of touch. In fact, the good reverend and his disciples will fit into nearly every negative stereotype reserved for Christians.

The irony is that his message is actually one worth considering. Consumerism is a plague in America. More and more people are dropping off the deep end with needless, popular purchases financed with consumer debt. We are all driven to make purchases that we don’t really need. Our current wardrobe is fine, even though it doesn’t quite match the Gaps interpretation of the new “winter look.” So we buy, buy, buy to be original—like everyone else. Of course, consumerism is driven by materialism, which is one of the biggest little gods in America today. Consumerism is something that every person should wrestle with.

Since the Rev. Billy’s message is good, why are people reacting negatively? The answer is two-fold. One, he’s attacking a giant. The whole ethos of pop-culture is driven by consumerism. That’s a tough nut to crack. And two, his method is all wrong. Screaming in the streets with a megaphone isn’t going to stimulate educated discussion. Publicity? Yes. Engaging the culture? Probably not. I don’t know how to change our society’s drive to consume, but I don’t believe it will happen through Rev. Billy’s evangelistic crusade.

There is a lesson to be learned here. Our method can disrupt even the best message. In fact, the wrong method will probably cause more harm than good. As believers, we have a great message to offer. The hope, joy, peace and purpose found in Jesus is unmatched by anything culture has to offer. Yet, far too often the true message is missed because of our distracting methods. Let’s learn from the good reverend and seek to connect with the culture instead of antagonizing it.

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