John the Baptist's Public Relations
[Translator's Note: The following document is a translation of a scroll unearthed last year near the Dead Sea. This text, written on vellum in a curiously modern Hebrew idiom, purports to be a transcription of a dialogue between John the Baptist and a representative of a first-century public relations firm. The conversation reveals radically polarized philosophies about the best approach for John's mission to the masses.]
"Call me John."
"Nice to meet you, John! I've heard so much about you! I'm Phyllis T. Barnum of Slick Image, Inc. I'd wade out to shake your hand, but river water and mud are murder to negotiate in high-heeled sandals. John, let me come to the point. Our firm wants to help serve you in your ministry by managing your public relations campaign with the masses."
"What can a public relations firm do for my ministry?"
"That's a very good question. Public relations is about rapport, communication, harmonizing your connection with the people."
"I'm more interested in the rapport between the people and God."
"We can make that part of the package. John, public relations has been around since Eve convinced Adam he really should try that apple, but in this new millennium public personalities find professional guidance invaluable. Your public success, John, has come to our attention ever since a journalist wrote 'all of Judea' was coming out to be baptized by you."
"I'm just a front man for the Messiah. He must increase, and I must decrease."
"John, your modesty is charming, but think of future possibilities. I envision papyrus uplinks and late night talk shows on the camel circuit. If you can be this successful in a wilderness area of a small country, just think of the results of world exposure."
"I prefer to remain a voice calling in the desert until all the crooked roads shall become straight."
"John, may I say your own straight-arrow ethics are beyond reproach. Your exemplary ascetic lifestyle contrasts sharply with several other evangelists who've blundered into financial and sexual scandals. Your honesty is legendary, and your fairness is obvious as you point out the sin of everyone--no matter who they are."
"I only practice what I preach."
"Seeking conviction and conversion is a tough job you've picked for yourself. Changing people's attitudes is so much more difficult than reinforcing existing attitudes or crystallizing uninformed public opinion. John, you could use all the help possible to change the public's opinions."
"Some will always hear, but never understand, and see, but never perceive."
"John, I've heard the political implications in your sermons. Psychological research has revealed political activists' six cardinal precepts for attitude change. I'm afraid you've broken every one."
"I only follow the law of Moses."
"If I may, let me tell you how to improve your message. First, you shouldn't use graphic images unless they are accompanied by specific actions people can do. Your images of vipers, axes cutting down trees, and burning of chaff with unquenchable fire risk alienating people."
"I use those images and request the specific action of repentance and baptism."
"Well, we question if that will lead to a sustained attitude change. The second precept is to go to the public instead of asking the public to come to you."
"But the Jordan River is the only place I can baptize such large crowds."
"Yes, you have been successful here, but if you went to the people around the country via papyrus uplinks and talk shows, think how many more your message would reach. The third precept is don't assume that attitude change is necessary for behavior change. If you want to baptize people, go ahead and do it, but linking it directly to 'repentance' is psychologically tenuous."
"The form of religion without true belief is hypocrisy."
"That leads to the fourth precept. You should use moral arguments as adjuncts, not as primary thrusts. You'll find it easier to gain support by stressing the practical advantages of the Kingdom. How can the Kingdom stimulate the economy, provide health care during pestilence, or soothe fears of war and rumors of war? The average person asks not what they can do for the Kingdom, but what the Kingdom can do for them."
"Salvation is extremely practical. The alternative is rather hideous."
"The fifth precept is to embrace the mainstream. John, your campaign is considered so radical that people from all walks of life can hardly relate to such an elite lifestyle."
"Even though I am out here in the main stream of the Jordan, the Gospel is radical. Nevertheless, the good news shall be for all people."
"The sixth principle is don't offend the people you seek to change. John, your approach is more like vinegar than honey. We feel your message could use a little more finesse and diplomacy. Calling the religious leaders 'vipers' and denouncing our governor's marriage could have used a little more tact."
"The hypocritical Pharisees corrupt our religion, and Herod knew marrying his brother's wife was a sin. They need to come clean."
"Mixing religion with politics is always a risky business. If you don't have contingency plans before crises occur, heads will roll. Many celebrities had P.R. problems. Look at Ahab and Jezebel or the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. If our firm had been around to counsel them, we could have alleviated their image problems and kept consequences from getting so nasty. And speaking of image, John, can I be brutally honest?"
"Of course. Brutal honesty is my business."
"Your diet and attire need a makeover. Since leather's always stylish your leather belt is fine, but you'll have to lose the locusts and hair shirt. Haute cuisine, designer robes, and power sandals are the image you want to project. In public relations image is more important than reality."
"God does not look at outward appearance. God looks at the heart."
"Our market research, however, shows people are not as concerned about God's salvation as they are about making enough shekels. Maybe you could add a message about the rewards of 'seed faith' and financial giving to your ministry."
"I have preached about giving. 'The person with two coats should share with the one who has none.'"
"That's not exactly what I had in mind. I'll show you the 'shekels over salvation' demographics, and we can work out something a little more palatable to the public's self-interest. People want to know as the bottom line: 'How does the Kingdom profit me?'"
"The prophets are my bottom line."
"So, John, can we do business?"
"I don't think so. I already have implemented my campaign plan. My situational analysis (to use your profession's terminology) is that all people are lost--like sheep gone astray, each has turned after his own way. My target groups are the Jews first and then the Gentiles. My goal is that all people will see God's salvation. My strategy is to prepare the way for the Lord and the forgiveness of sins. My objectives are repentance and confession. My tactics are preaching and baptism. My evaluation is that thousands have already received baptism upon the confession of their sins. So, I really can't use your services, but if you would like to repent and be baptized, now is the acceptable time."
"Thank you for the offer, John, but I must be going because the Roman soldiers behind me are getting impatient. Sorry we couldn't do business with you at this time, but we also do bail bonds, so keep us in mind."
Copyright 1996 Mark D. Stucky.
Originally published in the October 1996 issue of Integra.