Needs Help

specialofferings1_medium250The Presbyterian Church (USA) is taking a beating this week over the marketing materials it published for its campaign of special denominational offerings. Two images in particular have drawn widespread condemnation on social media and in statements by groups like the National Hispanic/Latino Caucus of the PC(USA).

The ads are being condemned as racist and insensitive to the struggles of addicts. They are being denounced as flashy and edgy attempts at relevance that achieve gross insensitivity instead.

More informed people than I can speak on the decision making that led to these ads, because I honestly don’t know any of the people involved and I don’t have any reason to doubt their integrity. But here’s what I’m tucking up under my own hat from this episode: as compelling as the justification may be for doing something unconventional and perhaps out of bounds–you’re trying to save lives; you’re trying to save souls–, if the product can’t pass the nose-crinkle test it isn’t worth doing.

We have a copy of this poster in our office. It came in the mail last week and has been sitting atop the office counter untouched for days. After spending the morning reading angry screeds on Facebook, I grabbed the above image and showed it to our church’s Office Manager, the sweetest conservative evangelical middle-aged white woman you’d ever want to meet who’s not even a member of our church.

specialofferings2_medium250“What do you think of that?” I asked her. She studied it for a moment and then–as if involuntarily–her nose crinkled up into an uncomfortable stance and she said, “Hmmm. That’s interesting.” Confident there was more there, I pressed her: “Say more.”

“It gives me a bad feeling.”

Not “offensive.” Not “insensitive.” Not “racist.”

“It gives me a bad feeling.”

Nose-crinkle test: failed. Done. Scrap the campaign. Go in another direction.

Perhaps these images were shown to focus groups before they were published and distributed. I don’t know. But “It gives me a bad feeling” is precisely the kind of thing a focus group will tell you. And that’s more than enough to guarantee that whatever kind of motivation or inspiration or compassion you’re trying to elicit is going to be harpooned by the icky feeling people get first and that the damage to your mission isn’t worth it.

The denomination has issued a statement to the effect that the campaign will be redone. Unfortunately, the bad feelings it has already created won’t go away as easily as paper.