1.29.2007

Vintage NW Arkansas

The following article was printed on the front page of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette last Wednesday, January 24. I've only seen one other blog about this story - one other conservative blog, that is - and it has made other news media as well.

Mentioned in the article is XXX Church - of which I've blogged about last year.

(The picture of The Rev. Robb Ryerse of Vintage Fellowship was taken by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Dan Hale.)

Church hopes steamy ads will fill pews

BY CHRISTIE STORM ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Sex sells, even in church.
Vintage Fellowship in Fayetteville is using provocative newspaper advertisements and a suggestively titled Web site — iamturnedon.com — to draw attention to a sermon series on sex.
One of Vintage Fellowship’s ads features an attractive young couple entwined in an intimate embrace. Another shows a photogenic couple nearly buried beneath the bedcovers. The ads refer to a Web address with a title that hints at pornography instead of prayer. Some Christians say such ads send the wrong message.
But the Rev. Robb Ryerse, 32, pastor of the nondenominational church, said he’s trying to attract young people by focusing attention on a subject often ignored by churches.
“We don’t want to spend money on ads people will ignore. If the church is going to connect with people, we need to be relevant,” he said. “Sex is everywhere.”
The series, “Turned On: The Naked Truth About Sex,” begins Feb. 4. Sermon titles are borrowed from pop songs — “I’m Bringing Sexy Back,” “I Want Your Sex,” “My Angel is a Centerfold” and “Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby.”
The series will include discussions of God’s plan for mankind as sexual beings, desire and pornography. The series will end with a discussion about sex, including a question-and-answer session.
The church, which aims to be “rooted in the ancient faith, bearing fruit in postmodern culture,” meets at 10:15 a.m. Sundays at the Malco Mall Twin Cinema at the Northwest Arkansas Mall.
It seeks to spread vintage truths using 21st-century tools. It particularly aims at young people.
Americans in their 20s are those least likely to attend church regularly, according to the Barna Research Group of Ventura, Calif., an evangelical organization.
Ryerse said the series is a way to talk about sex in a positive manner and acknowledge that God created man as a sexual beings.
“We want to talk about the relationship between sexuality and spirituality from a perspective that takes seriously what the Bible has to say,” Ryerse said.
Churchgoers will be told that sex should be saved for marriage, but the tone won’t be judgmental, he added.
Ryerse said the ads, which were rejected by The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, are intentionally edgy. The ads were accepted by the Northwest Arkansas Times after slight alterations, including the addition of the church name and location. The first one is scheduled to run this morning.
“We wanted the ads to express that this isn’t your typical church,” he said. “But they are not any more offensive than anything out there.”
Other churches have experimented with provocative ads, billboards and Web sites, especially those trying to reach individuals disenchanted with traditional ministry. Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind., used a similar campaign with some of the same images last year for its PureSex series by using billboards featuring the entwined feet of a couple in bed and a link to www. mylamesexlife.com.
Some use more blatant tactics to attract attention, perhaps most notably the XXX Church, which promotes itself as “The No. 1 Christian Porn Site.” Web surfers searching for smut, however, will find none. Instead they will discover a site dedicated to fighting pornography and helping individuals and families affected by addiction.
J.R. Mahon, pastor of XXX Church, said the ministry began five years ago as a way to tackle the issue of pornography.
The ministry name, and the church’s outreach to members of the pornography industry, drew criticism from some fellow Christians. Some, including the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a popular radio host and author, were especially critical of the ministry’s “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” Bible, saying the slogan — printed on the cover — demeaned the word of God.
“Early on the American church thought we were the devil,” Mahon admits, but he said concern has waned as the ministry’s message has spread.
Not everyone approves of churches using intentionally provocative ads and slogans to engage the public in a discussion about sex.
Mike Johnston is spokesman for Pure Life Ministries, a ministry in Dry Ridge, Ky., that provides counseling and resources to help individuals overcome “sexual sin.” Johnston said the church has a responsibility to present a biblical perspective on sexuality, but he questioned the tactics used by Vintage Fellowship and other churches.
“We must avoid the temptation to utilize images or language that appeal to the carnal nature in an effort to become more relevant or to become more ‘seeker friendly,’” Johnston said in an e-mail.
“In the end, such strategies cheapen the Gospel and send a confusing message to a world that desperately needs to see true believers who are being transformed into the image of Christ — not conformed to the current culture.”
Mahon, however, commends Vintage Fellowship for taking on the issue of sex and pornography and urges other churches to do so. He also defends the use of provocative messages and advertising to attract attention.
“I hope that gets the conversation started on where the church needs to be in talking about porn and what it does to individuals, the way it rips families apart,” Mahon said. “The church should be the one leading the conversation on pop culture and not reacting to it.”
The Rev. Lowell Grisham, pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, also commends Ryerse for discussing sex in church — a topic he hasn’t broached in a worship setting.
“We do need to be talking about it,” Grisham said. “It seems like some of the topics that can also be taboo at the wider Thanksgiving table are also topics that can produce anxiety at the table when the church gathers. At the top tends to be politics and sex, yet those seem such important things that faith has a lot to speak to.”
Grisham does discuss sex with his congregation, but not during worship. Discussions are done in a teaching setting, such as last year’s Lenten study of sex and intimacy in For Fidelity by Catherine M. Wallace.
Ryerse said the subject of sex makes people uncomfortable, and churches have shied away from the topic out of fear or embarrassment.
“That emboldens us. We want to talk about things others might be scared to talk about,” he said.
Ryerse isn’t nervous about the series and said he will approach the topics with a sense of humor.
“We understand it’s the kind of thing that makes people blush,” he said. “We’ll laugh and have a good time, but it’s an extremely important subject. ... I think that’s one of the lies the church has told is that God isn’t all that interested in sex, and we think he is. There is a lot in the Bible about sex.”

3 comments:

Gary said...

My favorite sound byte:

“We must avoid the temptation to utilize images or language that appeal to the carnal nature in an effort to become more relevant or to become more ‘seeker friendly,’” Johnston said in an e-mail.
“In the end, such strategies cheapen the Gospel and send a confusing message to a world that desperately needs to see true believers who are being transformed into the image of Christ — not conformed to the current culture.”
Mahon, however, commends Vintage Fellowship for taking on the issue of sex and pornography and urges other churches to do so. He also defends the use of provocative messages and advertising to attract attention.
“I hope that gets the conversation started on where the church needs to be in talking about porn and what it does to individuals, the way it rips families apart,” Mahon said. “The church should be the one leading the conversation on pop culture and not reacting to it.”


I also like what you said in the comment field of your other post on this topic, "pure motives never excuse bad methodology." I would think if the ads were rejected by a secular paper would set off all kinds of discernment alarms... right?

klasieprof said...

Discernment alarms? The same paper that rejected the ad, had a FULL page ad for a stripper club.!!
Somehow "pole dancing for Jesus" has been avoided. LOL.

Gary said...

Yes discernment alarms. Very much so. I mean, honestly, what would make a newspaper reject an ad by a church? If that same paper had a full page ad for a stripper club and that got accepted... what in hek was so distasteful about the church's ad? Were they too seductive? That raises even more concerns I would think?

For the record, I am not questioning the pastor's motives at all. I don't agree with his methodology.