Branding the rapture

Since coverage of the Family Radio Network started heating up in January, Bobby's been all over it. You can check out his installments here, here and here. Family Radio Network is the group that's predicting the end of the world at 6 PM tomorrow. At this point, it's hard to find a new angle. I love the idea of focusing less on the Family Radio folks and more on others affected by the group's popularity. But I'm not sure the one taken here by CNBC works so well:

Talk about defending the brand: Christian writers are coming down on Harold Camping with the fervor of Disney lawyers quashing a Mickey Mouse painting at a daycare center.

Now, perhaps it's because I'm Lutheran, where we're encouraged to study and confess not just what we believe but what we don't believe, but is pointing out theological error first and foremost about brand marketing? If at all? I mean, Christians haven't just been studying Scriptures and pointing out error since the beginning of the faith, it's something we do all the time. I'm not sure I'm on board with trivializing it as nothing more than brand identification, much less Mickey Mouse ears.

The article explains a bit about Camping and Family Radio Network's beliefs. I learned, for instance, that the rapture will happen at 6 PM local time, whatever your local time is, tomorrow:

He’s been spreading the word via the 66 stations in his Family Radio Network, on his website, and through billboards in several major cities. His prediction is based on some tangled algebra that sets numerical values for concepts such as "atonement" and "completeness," assumes that Jesus was crucified on April 1, 33 AD, and figures that these numbers actually represent something of importance.

Camping has also declared that every church in the world is false. One might expect that mainstream Christians would either dismiss Camping or ignore him. One would be wrong.

Hunh? Why would one expect Christians to either dismiss or ignore him? What's the precedent for dismissing or ignoring people who, in their view, are not just false teachers but false teachers whose work is being highlighted on every major media outlet in the world? I'm unaware of such a precedent.

And here's where I think we see the problem:

“There is some branding differentiation going on, in that traditional Christians would not want to be lumped in with Camping,” said Mara Einstein a media studies professor at Queens University and the author of "Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age."

I have no doubt that if you go to the media studies professor author of "Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age," you will get an answer that what is going on is "branding differentiation." No doubt at all. And I'm actually really interested in that topic, particularly when it comes to how various religions market themselves. But I'm not sure that's what we're dealing with here.

Here's another part:

Scholars are whacking at Camping like a cheap piñata, but this isn't a sign they consider his work worthy of attention. They're worried what people will think about Christians if they don’t rebut him.

This may be true. I can't say I know a single Christian who would agree with this, much less put it this way, but it may be true that there are some scholars worried what people will think of Christians if they don't rebut. That's just so far outside my experience, I'm not sure how to respond to it.

What do you think? Is scholarly response to the Camping crew about brand identity?

Perhaps I'd be more comfortable with this framing if the story also acknowledged that Christians regularly rebuke error as part of our Scriptural tradition. The Bible is full of passages calling on believers to rebuke those in error and instructing how to do it. It's also full of warnings about false prophets and how to handle them. There may be verses on brand marketing and identification but none come to mind.

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