What Would Jesus Buy?

I do hope that this movie comes to Australia.

What Would Jesus Buy? has been doing the rounds of film festivals in the U.S. since March but it’s about to get wider release.

It follows the story of self styled anti-consumerism preacher Reverend Billy. Along with his Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir he goes on a cross-country mission to save Christmas from the Shopocalypse.

From producer Morgan Spurlock (SUPER SIZE ME) and director Rob VanAlkemade comes a serious docu-comedy about the commercialization of Christmas. Bill Talen (aka Reverend Billy) was a lost idealist who hitchhiked to New York City only to find that Times Square was becoming a mall. Spurred on by the loss of his neighborhood and inspired by the sidewalk preachers around him, Bill bought a collar to match his white caterer’s jacket, bleached his hair and became the Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping. Since 1999, Reverend Billy has gone from being a lone preacher with a portable pulpit preaching on subways, to the leader of a congregation and a movement whose numbers are well into the thousands.

Through retail interventions, corporate exorcisms, and some good old-fashioned preaching, Reverend Billy reminds us that we have lost the true meaning of Christmas. What Would Jesus Buy? is a journey into the heart of America – from exorcising the demons at the Wal-Mart headquarters to taking over the center stage at the Mall of America and then ultimately heading to the Promised Land … Disneyland.

Of course Billy’s not really a reverend and he says that he’s not a Christian but his message against consumerism as a way of life is a call to us all. In a day when even the church tries to sell us more and more stuff that we don’t need, Rev. Billy brings a welcome change.

Christian magazine, Sojourners, has taken a look at the movie and at Billy and has welcomed his voice of reason amongst the vast crowd calling for our dollars.

The divine judgment Rev. Billy pronounces concerns a condemnation of religion that has been “hijacked” by the right wing, the resignation that we have “nothing to love but fear itself,” and the self-deceptive illusion that commodities can make us safe and happy. The shopping he assaults is seen to be an ideological practice whereby we keep “the demons in the zoo.” All of that will come to a sorry end for which he uses the term “shopocalypse,” a play on “apocalypse,” that imagined end of the world in a divine judgment as a great conflagration. Like every good poet, Billy has no interest in when or how that may happen, but only a conviction that this ideology that drives our society can only end in failure and raw disappointment.

There may well be parts of this movie that make me feel uncomfortable, especially as it parodies the Christian church, but from what I’ve seen so far, it is more about holding a mirror up to the excesses of the church than ridiculing Jesus Christ.

With Christmas so rapidly approaching I wonder whether you’ll be taking steps to get off the spending merry-go-round. Will you be spending the first half of 2008 paying off the last month of 2007? What are some of the strategies you use to put a bit of sense back into the Christmas season?

Posted by Rodney Olsen

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About the author

Rodney Olsen

Rodney is a husband, father, cyclist, blogger and podcaster from Perth Western Australia.

He previously worked in radio for about 25 years but these days he spends his time at Compassion Australia, working towards releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

The views he expresses here are his own.

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  • Hi Rodney, I don’t think a simple comment can do justice to the topic. But, yes, I don’t think that giving people a present to show you care about them needs to mean spending LOADS of money. Sometimes, though, it feels like the only way. I think I’ll go to see the film.

  • Good on you Rodney!

    My family has been very frustrated with the whole commercialization of Christmas and its unrealistic expectations. In my world everybody has what I can “afford” to buy them … but wants what I can’t! This came to a head last year and we tried to change things but it wasn’t too successful. So we began to ask some questions.

    While talking with some friends we discovered a new way of doing Christmas & it sounds great. We are trying it this year. This is how it works:

    The children get presents – but from 12 years of age on the game-plan changes as follows.

    Those who want to participate in the giving & receiving of presents, buy one present only.
    The challenge is to buy one present for a maximum of $15.
    Males purchase a male present.
    Females purchase a female present.
    The presents purchased are then shared amongst those who bought presents… 1 present each.

    Goodbye unrealistic expectations.
    Goodbye shopping madness
    Goodbye crippling Christmas Credit Card debt.
    Hello – we’ve got time & energy to enjoy our family & friends again 🙂

    To quote the old Medicare add “I feel better now”.


  • Thanks for this – I hadn’t heard of it before. I shall look out for it.

    The question is whether we Christians will, as so often, write it off because of the things we don’t like about it, and miss the point that is so pertinent to us…

    We definitely need to escape our slavery to Mammon. Good for you, Peter, on finding some steps forward


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