The Evangelical Environmental Network, a group of 23 religious organizations lead by Rev. Jim Ball of Philadelphia, has taken up what can only be called an unusual cause, the stamping out of the SUV movement. The group, in conjunction with the SUV Ad Campaign, has begun a television and print ad blitz in eight metro markets asking the question "What Would Jesus Drive?"
Ignoring the fact that Jesus was never confronted with this question when he was alive, my main problem with this campaign is that I desperately want to love it. Although no one has mistaken me for Jesus, (except for a stripper named "Blaze", but that's another column), I too hate SUV's with the kind of dedication that's usually reserved for all things, well, biblical.
In my book, SUV drivers are people who willingly waste money on features they'll never use, create a safety hazard for everyone else on the road, destroy the environment and make life a living Hell for other cautious drivers so that they can drive the biggest, baddest vehicle on the road short of a semi-truck.
Every time I look into an SUV (or should I say, look up into an SUV) and see a soccer mom (or dad) at the wheel with no one else in the car, I have to gag in order to hold down my lunch. As far as I'm concerned, SUVs are off-road vehicles that never leave the pavement (who wants to get them dirty?) and, with very few exceptions, SUV drivers are people so wrapped up in themselves and their appearance that they gladly make the roads a more dangerous place for everyone else just to look cool and tough (while sitting in posh leather interior).
But seething hatred aside, I can't do anything but laugh at this campaign. First of all, the only honest answer one can come up with for the tagline "What Would Jesus Drive?" is "nothing." After all, when Jesus was alive his only modes of transportation were donkey, boat and foot. While it certainly is hard to place him at the wheel of a giant SUV, I can't see him using any modern transportation with the possible exception of a bicycle.
Second, while the campaign is targeted at SUV drivers, has perhaps the worst call to action in history. The idea of telling people to give up their large vehicles might sound like a good plan, but think of what happens when someone trades in an SUV, someone else buys it. Even if the campaign was amazingly successful in getting people to turn in their SUVs, all that would happen is that the vehicles would be back on the road in a few months (probably sold at a lower price) under new ownership. The end result, there would be almost no reduction in the number of SUVs on the road.
But most importantly, as anyone who's set foot inside an advertising class will tell you, unless you're selling something inherently religious, you should never, for any reason, mix religion with a commercial message. People despise having their faith used to sell them products or motivate them to do things that they wouldn't otherwise. Even though God has been used to sell charity for as long as the two have existed together, we're not talking about feeding starving orphans or any other issue where the connection is clear and easy to understand. Rather, we're talking about the car in your garage, an issue that seems about as far removed from Jesus as television, Capri pants and electric razors.
In the end, that's why the question "What Would Jesus Drive?" rings so hollow. While Jesus means so much to so many people, people see the car they drive not as a charity expense or a moral decision, but as a business transaction and thus largely off-limits to the influence of religion.
So while auto manufacturers like Ford might be scared enough to meet with these leaders, they're clearly not scared enough to change their ways and why should they? SUVs have survived environmentalist assaults, a gas price crisis and flurry of horrendous safety test results; I seriously doubt a hollow question such as "What Would Jesus Drive?" is going to put a single dent in the SUVs $30,000 armor.
So no matter how much I hate SUVs, no matter how much I want them all melted down into a tiny ball and no matter how much I despise the majority of SUV owners, I can not endorse this illogical and irrational campaign. In fact, about all it's going to do is a make a mockery of the very serious environmental issues surrounding SUVs and give SUV drivers another reason to call us SUV-haters "wackos" and "lunatics".
A name we've already been called way too many times before…