January 10, 1998 in Features

‘What Would Jesus Do’ Different From Usual Fad

Ken Garfield The Charlotte Observer
 

I’m usually turned off by people who wear their faith on their sleeve. Or their T-shirt. Or the bumper of their car.

Many of you share my disdain for products that sully the purest part of life - and you didn’t even have to lay eyes on the “Air Jesus” T-shirts I spotted at last summer’s Christian Booksellers Convention in Atlanta. You haven’t seen cheap until you’ve seen Jesus dunking a basketball like Michael Jordan, Nikes and all.

But there’s something different about the “What Would Jesus Do?” mania sweeping across the Christian landscape. There’s something meaningful going on in people buying and displaying bracelets, shoelaces and pins that inspire them to consider a higher source.

Many of you are wearing “What Would Jesus Do?” items today, a Christmas present from a loved one. Every gift is a sign that more people seem to be willing to look deeper for the right answers.

“What would Jesus do here?”

A stroll through the Baptist Book Store in Charlotte, N.C., confirms that “What Would Jesus Do?” is still the rage in the Christian culture. Competing for space with Bibles and the Billy Graham biography are WWJD bracelets, books, bookmarks, T-shirts, key chains, shoelaces, car window decals, Bible covers. Even diaries.

A pack of WWJD golf balls and tees sells for $9.99. If anything pushes this envelope a bit too close to tacky, it’s spiritual golf balls.

Christian retail, a $3 billion a year industry, is as fickle as secular retail. If you doubt that, consider the angel products languishing in discount bins.

But there’s no letup with WWJD. About 200,000 WWJD bracelets were sold in 1996. More than 2.5 million are expected to be sold this year.

That doesn’t include all the other WWJD products spun off from the original bracelets.

I spent part of a rainy afternoon watching people pore over WWJD products. They seemed so serious about their shopping, so purposeful about wanting to be reminded of the importance of seeking God’s help in their daily lives.

Karla Pursley of Belmont, N.C., shopped with her daughter and son. Kristin, 7, already has a wristband, so Benjamin, 13, browsed through the rack of WWJD T-shirts. His mom approved.

“It’s a subtle way kids can show their belief to others,” she told me. “They don’t have to wear a neon sign.”

In another aisle, 9-year-old Ashley Ivey of Fort Mill, S.C., said her WWJD bracelet came in handy the day a friend acted mean to her. Ashley was about to retaliate, maybe even let loose with a slap, when she looked at her bracelet.

“OK,” she said to herself, “what would Jesus do here?” Ashley decided to turn the other cheek.

Moments later, Tracey Chidester of Charlotte came in to look at WWJD items for her children, 9, 11 and 13 years old. What Christian mother wouldn’t want their kids consulting Jesus before heading out into a dangerous world?

Not far from the WWJD counter, a soft-spoken woman from Gaston County, N.C., shared problems she’s having with a teenager. We spoke for a moment about the challenges all parents face. Anguish lined her face.

But then her eyes softened as she spoke of her WWJD pin and the changes in attitude it has brought to her life. She’s decided to let God get more involved in helping raise the child.

It’s amazing what a small pendant worn close to the heart can do. xxxx

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