God in the gutters?

The New York Times' small-business marketing blog poses this question:

Is God a Marketing Strategy?

The top of the post:

Recently while searching online for a new refrigerator, I came across a Web site for a local appliance store that featured the Ichthus, or Christian fish symbol, in its logo. The personal side of me that grew up watching Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker tearfully separating people from their money on Sunday television hesitated. The marketer side of me wondered if companies that invoke religious symbols are simply sharing their values — or trading on the intrinsic values of the brand that is the Bible? Lots of businesses align themselves with religion (without going through any kind of certification process from a higher authority).

It's an interesting post. Check it out.

Since GetReligion focuses on mainstream media news coverage of religion — as opposed to opinion blogs — I won't attempt to critique the Times post. However, I would like to analyze an Associated Press story on the same subject.

The AP headline:

Blessing or blasphemy? Some businesses wear their faith on their sleeves

The top of the AP story:

PLANO, Texas — A raspy voice blares from a CD player as Amen Gutter Systems owner Trey Snider and two helpers install rain gutters on a tree-shaded brick home in this Dallas suburb.

The voice isn't rock star David Lee Roth, Snider's hero as a hell-raising teenager, but rather a man reading from the King James Version of the Bible.

Bright red letters on the Christian convert's white truck tout his company's warranty: "Gutter that lasts until Jesus comes back."

"I tell people, 'If you have any gutter problems and you have not seen Jesus return on the clouds with great power and glory, call me,"' said Snider, 35, a self-described former drug-dealing fornicator.

From Faith Electric Inc. to Alpha-Omega Plumbing Co., hundreds of businesses across the nation wear their faith on their sleeves — literally.

So far, so good. I like the lede. Actually, it's the kind of intro that I could imagine myself writing in my days as an AP religion and enterprise writer in Dallas.

Keep reading, though, and the 766-word story seems a bit shallow.

At the end, readers find out a little more about the gutter installer in the lede. But the reporter never bothers to provide specific details on his Christian background. The fact that he's listening to the King James Bible provides a hint, but the story stops short of answering the obvious next question.

The guts of the piece, meanwhile, present talking heads with opinions but not much in the way of real insight as far as why the sources take the positions they do:

"I believe Christians would rather patronize other believers out of a charitable, heartfelt desire to bless them," said Todd Tomasella, publisher of Dallas area "Believer's Business Directory" yellow pages.

Tomasella's 200-plus advertisers range from The Living Water car wash to Kingdom Builders real estate. All must sign statements of faith affirming their commitment to Jesus Christ.

But what some call a blessing, others consider blasphemy - or at least bad business.

"I don't believe ... it was ever the intention of Christ to have his followers try to advance themselves economically by reference to their faith," said L. Kent Gilbreath, a lifelong Baptist who teaches economics at Baylor University.

What's the history of the "Believer's Business Directory" yellow pages? How long have they been around, and how much money does Tomasella make off of them? Does Tomasella find any biblical support for Christians patronizing other believers?

On what does Gilbreath base his opinion of Christ's intention? Did the professor happen to mention Jesus throwing moneychangers out of the temple? I would almost be willing to bet that Gilbreath referenced that well-known scene from the New Testament.

Later, there's a random Muslim quoted in the story:

On the other hand, Muslims such as Isam Alimam aren't exactly the target audience for such companies. But the Lewisville, Texas, architect said he takes no offense at the existence of Christian-oriented businesses, as long as they don't discriminate against non-Christians.

"If somebody wants to declare his faith or belief and wants to do business with people that share that, I don't really feel bad," Alimam said. "To the contrary, I may respect the man."

Of all the Muslims in Texas, why was this one chosen to offer an opinion on this subject? What's his expertise? I'm just not sure I understand what exactly he adds to the story.

Another vague source is introduced next:

Steve Mims, an Arlington, Texas, man who has installed garage doors for 20 years, said he gave his business a more spiritual name last year as he faced competition from "Angels Garage Door Service."

"I asked God, 'How can I compete with that?"' Mims said. "He said, 'Name your company Heaven Sent Garage Doors, it's got more power."'

I'd love to know more about that conversation with God. I'd love to know whether God had spoken to Mims before or if this was the first time. I'd love to know his religious background and how dedicated he is to it outside of his desire to compete with Angels Garage Door Service.

Alas, I've beaten up on this reporter enough. I actually know him personally and know that when he wrote the story critiqued, he was balancing religion enterprise stories with small-town murders, statewide political debates and constant interruptions from demanding editors in Dallas and New York. I also know that the reporter did not have the benefit of a truly remarkable blog such as GetReligion to help him overcome all his religion ghosts.

In case you haven't figured it out, the writer responsible for the woefully inadequate religion story was me. I wrote that story for the Texas wire back in 2003. Just for the fun of it, I couldn't resist putting myself under the GR microscope. But just this once.

Please respect our Commenting Policy