A mysterious U.S.-funded advertising campaign promoting Christian values and “power for living” has caused an uproar here, prompting a ban on its television and radio spots and some self-searching on the part of Germany’s established churches.
Celebrities like the German golfer Bernhard Langer, the Bayern Munich soccer star Paulo Sergio and the ageless British pop singer Cliff Richard are promoting the campaign on billboards. Germans are urged to call a number (not toll-free) to get a free copy of a book that, the celebrities say, changed their lives. But the ads provide no clue to the sponsor of the campaign or the book.
The book, “Power for Living,” is an evangelical Christian text that opposes smoking, homosexuality and abortion. Written nearly 20 years ago, it provides a primer for individual conversion, based on such principles as “God loves you,” “Mankind is sinful,” and “Everyone must accept Christ personally.” Bible-reading is encouraged. The campaign is sponsored by the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation of West Palm Beach, Florida.
Mr. DeMoss, who died in 1979, made his money from the mail-order life insurance business. His wife, Nancy, has carried on the work of the foundation. Last year, the foundation had assets of about $563 million. It has helped to finance the Campus Crusades for Christ and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and helped support projects of Pat Robertson, another American evangelist.
The DeMoss Foundation is reportedly spending some $4.5 million on the campaign, which began after Christmas. It turned down a request for an interview about the campaign. In Germany, broadcast advertising for religious, political or ideological causes is prohibited, and the authorities banned the campaign’s spots on both radio and television last week. There have been accusations in the press that the ads are pushing a cult, which is illegal under German law, and suspicions that they have some connection with Scientology, which is considered here to be a fund-raising conspiracy, not a religion. The campaign makes no request for contributions or affiliation with a particular church, not even Germany’s own evangelical churches.
Reinhard Hempelmann, director at the Protestant Center for Religious and Ideological Issues in Berlin, said: “Even the athletes who advertise for the campaign do not know any details on the background of the DeMoss Foundation. Those who want to spread the Gospel among people and advertise for the Christian faith in public should have the courage to let themselves be seen.” Michael Utsch, also of the Protestant Center, called the campaign the work of “very conservative powers” that he said were carrying out an extensive missionary campaign in Europe, including France and Spain.
For Mr. Utsch, the campaign focuses too much on the individual. “A central element of Christian belief is missing, namely community,” he said.
Mr. Utsch said he was also put off by the campaign’s message, which he characterized as “If I really believe, then I will be successful, happy, satisfied.” He considered it to be based on an “an inherently American lifestyle that does not apply to the realities of our lives, to European culture.”
Phil Dusenberry, a New York ad executive who created the ads on a free-lance basis, said Germany’s broadcast ban was disappointing. But he said there would be no appeal.”
“Our complaint is that the law is faulty and violates free speech as we understand it in America,” he said by telephone.
“Maybe because of Germany’s past it’s understandable that there should be certain limitations.”
But he said the decisions should be case by case.
“This is a benign book whose only intention is to get the word out on the scriptures,” Mr. Dusenberry said. “We have no hidden intentions.”
Jan. 19, 2002