Acton Institute Powerblog

Secularizing Sam Adams

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bernardusJonathan Merritt reports on a decision made by the parent company that produces Samuel Adams beer, Boston Beer Company, to redact “by their Creator” from an Independence Day ad featuring the Declaration of Independence. As Merritt writes, “We have arrived at a time in our history where some people are so offended by even the idea of God that they can’t bear to speak God’s name or quote someone else speaking God’s name. Worse yet, they have to delete God’s name from the Declaration of Independence to make a point.”

My friend Will Hinton rightly identifies the company’s defense of its decision for the fig leaf that it is:

“We adhere to an advertising code, established by the Beer Institute – a beer industry trade organization – that states, ‘Beer advertising and marketing materials should not include religion or religious themes’,” according to a statement provided by a Boston Beer Company spokeswoman. “We agree with that, and we follow these guidelines and approach our marketing with the utmost responsibility.”

As Will points out, brewing has a rich religious history, and many of the most popular specialty brews are branded with religious themes. Here are those produced by members of the Beer Institute he highlights: Bell’s Christmas Ale; Ommegang Abbey Ale; Marin Brewing Co. Witty Monk; Marin Brewing Co. Altar Boy; New Belgian Abbey Ale; New Belgian Lips of Faith. It is true that there is such a code and that point 7 reads as the spokeswoman declares. Right after point 6, “Beer advertising and marketing materials should not contain graphic nudity,” comes point 7, “Beer advertising and marketing materials should not employ religion or religious themes.”

Some will blame market forces for Sam Adams’ decision to secularize its commercial messaging. But that doesn’t really add up. The most natural thing to avoid controversy would be to leave the text of the Declaration intact, especially when linking the text thematically to the person of Sam Adams. To redact the text as the commercial does is to, as the backlash makes clear, runs the risk of alienating a huge swath of potential customers.

There’s something other than economic caution going on here, and Merritt puts his finger on it.

This is less about a decision to avoid controversy for fear of alienating a consumer base than it is an expression of a corporate culture that embraces a radical secularism and is tone deaf to the point of editing one of our nation’s most significant documents. It has more to do with a secular political and social sensibility than it does with economic savvy.

In such a radical separation of faith from public life, Sam Adams the beer company has done something that Sam Adams himself would never have stood for.

As Sam Adams put it himself in 1776, “We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom all alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven, and with a propitious eye beholds his subjects assuming that freedom of thought, and dignity of self-direction which He bestowed on them. From the rising to the setting sun, may His kingdom come.”

Here’s the ad in question:

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

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