Compassion Ad Get’s It Wrong

Compassion Ad in Leadership Magazine

I got a copy of Leadership Magazine in the mail yesterday. I forget why, but it showed up and so I started a quick skim through it. This ad caught my eye. Before I start, let me just say that I am a big fan of Compassion and the work they do. I’m also not bothered by using advertising and appealing to Christians in the USA to give. What I do have a problem with is the wording and what I see to be a direct contradiction to what Jesus says.

The ad on the left, with a picture of two young boys sleeping on a mat on the floor, reads:

They Are The Needy.

You Are The Blessed.

We Are The Pipeline Between.

Anyone who knows of Compassion can understand the appeal. Consider sponsoring a child through Compassion, since you have money and they need food, shelter and education.

However, this seems to be counter to what I read Jesus saying:

“Blessed are the Poor.”

Apparently, blessing and need are not mutually exclusive, and one can hypothesize, money might not be a blessing at all. This sort of language bothers me because it continues to create an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality and allows us to do acts of ‘charity’ from a sort of pious and self-righteous position. It’s along the same lines of my critique of mixing up the words “unsaved” and “least of these.”

I believe a more accurate advertisement would draw out of us an emotion of the need for justice, and would compell us to give not out of a place of privilege and superiority, but out of our own need to move ourselves from participating in injustice to justice. Jesus words to the “You” in this ad (the people with the money) wasn’t that they were “blessed”, no they were “woe”ed.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.”

So, what would be a more accurate advertisement? I’ll give it one shot…

They are Blessed with the Kingdom, but have physical needs

You have money to meet their needs, and wouldn’t it be cool to support the Kings and Queens of God’s Kingdom?

We are the Pipeline to getting you out of Jesus’ “Woe” category…

Do you have any creative ad ideas? I’ll email the best ones to Compassion.

22 thoughts on “Compassion Ad Get’s It Wrong”

  1. that's why i sponsor world vision 😛 jk but you're totally right man, i'm sure the heart is in the right place, but you couldn't have put it better dude, keep it up bro! i feel like advertising today is all about the shock factor though or arousing emotions like a demagogue would, which is why i could see an ad like this coming out, it arouses a sense of guilt or emotion that would compel someone to choose to give. its like the question that is posed in watchmen or dark knight – do you give people the truth or do you give people what they need to hear in order to get a desired result, or the one that the few in power deem most beneficial for society. just my thoughts….

  2. Definitely agree. I'm not totally sure how I feel about using guilt as an emotion to give. In a lot of ways, I think we should feel guilt about not giving when we should. Maybe it's a geniune emotion we shouldn't shun. At the same time, Corinthians talks about being a cheerful giver.

    That said, I think Jesus is a good example of advertisement. He says woe to the rich and well fed. He doesn't judge them but he does say “watch out”. And he makes it clear that whatever we don't do for the least of these will have an impact of eternal significance.

    So what would you ad be?

  3. i'd just try to be as honest with what the true message I was giving would be as i could, just like yours –

    maybe something like,
    "they are blessed, but they are hungry and living in a place we can't really imagine, so if you can, lets help out our brothers and sisters in need. we have money that can help them, so let's help them. (if you don't want to, we won't guilt you into it, but if you are looking for a place to give as an outpouring of the monetary blessings God gave you, then let's go baby :P)"

    haha, yeah.

  4. Whoa Ariah. Great post. This is a paradigm shift that I have really been trying to get my heart and head around lately. I heard a woman by the name of Riane Eisler speak at a Montessori conference a few weeks ago. I am reading two of her books Tomorrow's Children, and The Real Wealth of Nations, discussing how we help educate children in a shift from a domination system to a partnership system. Anyway, this idea of a partnership system and caring economics follows the wisdom of Jesus, and echoes what you are speaking of. Check her books out. I think you would enjoy them.

  5. "It is only because of their love that the poor forgive us for the bread we share" I was told St Vincent dePaul might have said this – a little grist for the mill

  6. Dude,
    I'm definitely going to pick up those books. Or at least the one you tell me I should after you finish them.
    Got a personal email coming your way too in a minute.

  7. I like Compassion and think they do amazing work. I hope you follow-up on this and share your insights — you are right on. As for an alternative, how bout:

    If you're not ready to go, sell everything you have and give to the poor… here's a good place to start.

  8. I think you have to speak to people in developing nations (ie typical donors) where they are at and this does a pretty good job both visually and rhetorically.

    I think you're points are well taken. Unfortunately, given the problems of language all identities fall short. The map doesn't fit the territory. (This is the discussion in Plato's allegory of the cave: the ideal vs. the real) In other words our descriptions of those realities falls short (because of language), while this doesn't give us license to slice those identities up or mangle them, it does give us some pause.

  9. Nathan,
    I definitely hear you about speaking to people where they are at. At the same time, I don't think that's an excuse for what I would consider dangerous theology. My alternative is probably outside of what would be good marketing, but I think simply replacing the word “blessed” with something indicating we have financial means would be more theologically accurate. Don't you think?

    Never heard of the Plato Cave thing. You'll have to elaborate. Sounds interesting.

  10. Hi Ariah… good post! Though Compassion has good intentions, the ideology that would allow that to get to print is a little scary. Anyway, I can attest that they are working in Rwanda and providing education so that is at least encouraging.

  11. I think that guilt is a negative response in any situation. God does not use guilt as a motivator or as a tool for anything. He uses love, we use guilt – but that is part of our brokenness. There is a big difference between feeling convicted about your lifestyle and feeling guilty about your circumstances. If you feel guilty, that is a provoked response from our human condition. If you feel convicted and choose ot act differently, that is more likely born of the kind of love that Jesus is and that he teaches. You are absolutely on target with the ad, and it is righ that you point it out. I think that the goal here is not to convict each other about the way that we are living, but to invoke guilt about our "blessings" so that we will spread them around a little (and sperad them to Compassion, more specifically).
    Our church is raising money to build a new building, and you know how my wife and I feel about that. I haven't had a problem with the campaign, for the most part, as it is the first time that some of the people in our church have been challenged to live sacrificially, but on several occasions there has been the same undercurrent that you express in this post, "You, the rich, are the 'blessed' ones and should give back to God in honor of His care for you." Yikes. There was even a call to refinance your house if you are able so that you can fulfill the call to live more sacrificially for the cause. If it were just that ad, then I wouldn't bother responding, but I think you have hit on something that is a borderline epidemic in our Christian faith.
    Great article, brother.

  12. Great thoughts Bryan. I think your right on.
    My one additional thought is that I think “guilt” can often be the
    response of a person when they should or could feel convicted. In
    other words, I'd say more often then not, the burden isn't on the
    person communicating but on the receiver in how to respond.
    Like the ad, I think is intending to convict people of their blessing,
    people can respond with conviction or guilt. I just think “blessing”
    is a theologically in-correct term.

    One more example of my point is when the topic of our countries
    historical racism comes up. The term, “white guilt”, is often
    mentioned as a negative thing as if it was the speakers fault, but I
    think that can damage the conversation. The hear can respond with
    conviction or guilt, more often then not, the choice is theirs.

  13. Great Post Ariah.

    I think that you have touch on one of the great weaknesses of Rich Western Theology. Our theology does not require us to ask the tough questions about how we got our wealth, we simple believe we are "blessed". I personally believe that this kind of theology is one of the leading reasons why there are such great disparities in the world.

    Liberation Theologians have helped me rethink many of these kinds of issues. I would recommend staring with "God of the Oppressed" by James Cone

  14. I don't see a problem with the ad at all. Scripturally, it's stll sound. Psalms says "Blessed is he who considers the poor."

    My concern is that you take one single ad, and try to characterize Compassion with that one message. Compassion has ads that appeal to those who have a sense of a need for justice in the world, and ads for those who care more about babies dying of malnutrition than adults hurting because of a lack of education. It's called targeted marketing.

    And anyone who has any experience in marketing knows there's no room for a "one size fits all" mentality in good marketing.

    My guess is that this ad hits right at the heart of some people. While it may not resonate with others at all (obviously.)

    The real question is, where was this ad placed? Was it placed in a magazine or some other publication or on a website in which the audience would resonate best with this particular message?

    My .02 anyway.

  15. Tim, thanks for stopping by, I appreciate the comment. I'm not sure if you read my posts, but allow me to clarify a couple things briefly.
    1) I think Compassion is a great organization and they do great work. I said that first thing in my post. That's part of the reason I thought it was worth addressing and hoping to see a positive change.

    2) I don't have a problem with target marketing. Your right that this ad addresses a particular audience, etc. I understand effective advertising isn't one size fits all.

    3) My critique is with the theology and worldview it implies. I won't repeat what I said in my post, but I think it's a theologically inaccurate advertisement. Even the Bible verse you quote acknowledges it. “You Are The Blessed.” in the ad implies that you are blessed with monetary wealth, it doesn't say you are blessed because you are considering the poor. By your verse reference, the ad should say that “You can be blessed if you consider the needs of the poor.”

    As I said at the very beginning of my post, the ad was placed in a Leadership magazine.

    I'd love it if you stopped by again, read the details of my critique and made further comments on it. Thanks again for stopping by.

  16. So, apparently someone at Geez Magazine beat me to it. They've got a much better written open letter to Compassion about the ad and possibly someone from the company getting back to them. I haven't heard anything back since their email that said "will get back to you", but maybe I'll give it another shot.

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