A Double Life?

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
9th October 2009

Tagged: advertising baptism communication media

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What are we to make of the advertising campaign for a double life in Daylesford?  As Tourism Victoria says “The television advertisement depicts Daylesford as a village perched on the edge of decadence and purity.”

In an aesthetically exquisite ad, the haunting tune of the spiritual “Let’s go down to the river and pray” is the background to a beautiful young actress enjoying a double life in Daylesford.  By day, dressed in white she wanders barefoot through the country, smiling at the rural workers as she heads down to the river.  There are shots of a church where she finishes in a baptismal scene.  But by night she is dressed in black, looking sultry and partying hard.  In her black mode of decadence she plunges underwater, as in the white baptism, but this time it is in the embrace of a waiter.

The message for holidaying in Daylesford only comes at the very end of the ad when we are encouraged to “Lead a double life” in Daylesford.

Some Christians have expressed deep offence at this advertisement.  It uses a very Christian song to promote a lifestyle quite contrary to the Christian message – especially the message of baptism.  The song invites us down to the river to pray and find the way to the crown of life.  It is hardly an invitation to Victoria – let alone to lead a double life.  It may be true that some Christians lead a double life, but it is the opposite of the message of ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’.  John the Baptist was fierce in his denunciation of the hypocrisy of those who came for baptism without repentance (Matthew 3).

But other people have warned Christians to ‘chill’.  It is so easy to over-react.  After all there is nothing that we see in either lifestyle that is sinful.  Eating, drinking, playing a blindfold game and running through the long grass at night are but the enjoyments of the life that God has created for us.  Kissing your husband fully dressed underwater may not be everybody’s idea of a good time but is hardly contrary to your baptismal repentance from the world, the flesh and the devil.  And why should you assume that the waiter is not her husband?

Well that is the problem isn’t it?  The ad is suggestive rather than explicit.  It is true that “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Titus 1:15).  To be offended by people enjoying themselves like this, may say more about the viewer than the advertisement.  But yet, it is part of a promotion of “a village perched on the edge of decadence and purity.”  And it challenges us to “lead a double life” – something quite unnecessary if the evening activities are the harmless enjoyment of God’s pleasures.  Those of us who are baptized can readily enjoy these pleasures without leading a double life.

So it sends the message that either we should live a double life of decadence and purity or that enjoying the pleasures of life is inconsistent with a Christian profession.  Either way the gospel message is being mangled, while the message of the advertiser is succeeding.  For whenever an advertisement stirs controversy, it significantly increases sales.  Even writing this article is helping the promotion of Daylesford.

However, I suspect the reason for the strength of the Christian reaction is the music.  This lovely old tune, so hauntingly sung, stirs deep emotions in the hearts and minds of Christians.  The plaintive plea to go down to the river and pray – as Lydia did in Philippi when the Lord opened her heart to receive the message of life (Acts 16) – resonates with the experience of so many of us.  To use it to sell anything, let alone luxury or decadent holidays, feels uncomfortable if not sacrilegious.  It is a little akin to the problem some of us feel when we are asked to sing a Christian song to the tune of the “House of the Rising Sun”.  It is an uncomfortable association for those of us who know the old song.

But there is another lesson that we can learn from this advertisement.  It is to have more confidence in our own Christian culture.  So often we ape the world and its culture, instead of confidently asserting our own.  Here is a song that if we were asked to sing in church, Christians would complain: ‘It is too old fashioned’, ‘does not communicate with the modern age’, ‘is musically very limited’, etc.  Yet the world of big advertising budgets listens to that song and hears such a powerful communication possibility, that they make it central to their promotion.

We must make sure that our Christian cringe is about our failure to communicate appropriately (1 Corinthians 9:22) and not because we are ashamed of the gospel and its messengers (2 Timothy 1:8).