18 May 2005

“So successful are some evangelicals that they’re opening up branches like so many new Home Depots or Subways.” Sniping from the secular left or the anti-consumerist right? Nope. Just plain reality from Businessweek, which headlines a special issue on evangelical America with a story on evangelicalism as big biz.

“This year,” says the mag, “the 16.4 million-member Southern Baptist Convention plans to ‘plant’ 1,800 new churches using by-the-book niche-marketing tactics. ‘We have cowboy churches for people working on ranches, country music churches, even several motorcycle churches aimed at bikers, says… a spokesman for the Southern Baptists.” Is that shallow? Democratic? Who cares. The question Businessweek asks is: Is it profitable?

The lead story gets a few facts wrong — claiming, for instance, that Billy Graham never mixed pulpit and politics (martial law, anyone? Billy called for it in the late ’50s). But overall, it treats evangelicalism as just another business model, value-free. Will Christian conservatives screech at the moral relativism of this approach, or will they coo over the approval implicit to it?Businessweek aims for the latter, with a series of gushing “online extras” to help you, too, achieve the evangelical business dream — guides to evangelical jargon so you can fit right in, profile of evangelical “entrepeneurs” you can emulate, Wharton MBAs on what’s so great about God.