As millions of Broncos fans hoped for a miracle in the playoff game against the Patriots, Focus on the Family aired an interminable 30-second ad featuring the most precious, interracial, GapKids models that you’ve ever seen, all basically condemning you to hell if you don’t follow Jesus.
Of all the quotes in the Bible to choose from, of course they cherry-picked John 3:16. That’s the verse that was popularized at 1970s and ’80s sporting events by The Rainbow Man (who is now serving three consecutive life sentences in prison!) and that for many Christians summarizes the whole Bible:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. —John 3:16
I couldn’t help but picture how those same children would have looked giving voice to some of the Bible readings that always get left behind:
And when the letter came to them, they took the king’s sons and put them to death, all the seventy, and put their heads in baskets and sent them to him at Jezreel. —2 Kings 10:7
She lusted after lovers with genitals as large as a donkey’s and emissions like those of a horse. —Ezekiel 23:20
Even the most charming youngster in the world would have trouble finding converts with those verses.
But there was something beyond the choice of the verse that I found troubling: the use of children.
Why choose kids instead of adults? I see three reasons:
• Proselytizing kids sound so sweet and innocent. Adults sound pushy.
• Proselytizing kids appear to have less of a hidden agenda. Adults, i.e. the folks at Focus on the Family, definitely have an agenda.
• Listening to a child, we tend to let down our guard and listen to what they have to say. To an adult, we’re more likely to respond, “Sorry, not interested.”
So, besides being manipulative, what’s wrong with children as religious spokeskids? Because the kids are being used—used to send a message that the adults are actually making.
When a parent prodded her child to approach Michele Bachmann to make a powerful political point (being careful to capture it on video), it was a bit of a cheap shot (albeit a funny cheap shot).
If an adult wants to make an important statement of their principles, they shouldn’t hide behind their kids, who will often parrot even the most outlandish beliefs of the parents. The adults should make the case themselves. (I was tempted to make a parody ad with darling kids reciting one of the alternate quotes above, but I thought I should follow my own advice.)
As a general rule, I am not opposed to having kids in commercials selling me on the consumption-induced euphoria of toys, breakfast cereal, or underwear. But I bristle when they tell me to join their religion or suffer eternal torture. If that’s your message, say it. Don’t hide behind a sea of childhood sweetness as you tell the 4.7 billion non-Christians of the world that they’re going to hell.