Though bait and switch most often refers to the retail realm, it can also apply in many other areas as this definition from Wikipedia clarifies: "Bait-and-switch is a form of fraud, most commonly used in retail sales but also applicable to other contexts."
The Wikipedia article goes on to describe how bait and switch is used in many areas of contemporary life including the obvious teaser rates for the airline and travel industry, hotel and resort pictures that show non-existent levels of excellence, dating sites that post fake profiles, and methods of authoring legislation that hide the complete intent of a proposed bill.
This use of bait and switch, of a headline or link promising one thing, but not delivering what was expected, has become so pervasive in the media that many readers are no longer shocked or outraged, but meekly and quietly assume that you can't trust much of what you read or hear and if you get taken in by false of misleading claims, you, the reader, simply were not careful enough.
Caveat emptor, "Let the buyer beware," may be the rule for anything we read from the secular market place, but it should not need to be our response to communications from writers and organizations that claim Jesus as Lord. Sadly, this isn't always the case.
Remember who you represent
Christian communicators serve the Savior who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).
We are Christ's ambassadors, as 2 Cor. 5:20 says, "We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God"
Let that sink in. As a Christian communicator, you speak for God. A core description of your communications should be that they are true.
To make that practical to you in your church communication work, following, I'll discuss:
- How the reality that we are Christ's ambassadors applies in Christian communication
- Some overall guidance on how we should communicate as ambassadors
- Two examples of bait and switch in Christian communications
- Application and advice on how not to be guilty of bait and switch in your communications
As a Christian communicator, you are also an ambassador
An ambassador represents and speaks for another. If you were preparing to be an ambassador for an earthly nation, you would carefully study the positions, the beliefs, everything you could about the nation you were to represent. An ambassador would have no personal agenda and his or her overwhelming goal would be to represent his nation accurately and not to do anything, say anything, be anything, that would cause shame to the nation represented.
If we are ambassadors for the God of truth, it follows that truth should characterize all our communications. The following verses from the Message translation leave little doubt about the place of truth in our communications:
"What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ's body we're all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself" (Ephesians 4:25, MSG).
"Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it" (Colossians 3:9-10, MSG).
Louboutin, a famous shoe designer, is known for the red soles of his ridiculously priced and coveted high fashion women's high heels. As communicators for Jesus, truth should clothe us as clearly and obviously as the red soles of Louboutin shoes shout the priorities and status of a television character wearing them.
One more command to consider
There is one more important biblical command to consider with the above commands to always tell the truth and not lie. That is to "speak the truth in love." Look at the verse in context, then I'll comment on it, and share the two examples.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the measure of the fullness of Christ.Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Eph. 4:11-15)
Speaking the truth in love should be characteristic of all church communicators. This command is in the context of the job description of Christian leaders and all those who "equip his people for works of service." There is no position so lofty, important, or authoritative that we should not work hard to say whatever we need to say with love. If we don't we will create defenses and not opportunities for learning.
What does it mean to "speak the truth in love?"
This is an easy question to answer. The characteristics that ought to describe our communications are in 1 Corinthians 13, where love is described. This list makes a good checklist with which to measure our words before we hit "send," "publish," or "post." Remember also that "God is love" (1 John 4:8) and it follows that if these characteristics describe our God, when they describe our communications, we are being faithful ambassadors.
1 Cor: 13:4-7, first from the NIV and then from the Message translation:
- Love is patient, love is kind.
- It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
- It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
- Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
- It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
- Love never fails.
- Love never gives up.
- Love cares more for others than for self.
- Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
- Love doesn't strut,
- Doesn't have a swelled head,
- Doesn't force itself on others,
- Isn't always "me first,"
- Doesn't fly off the handle,
- Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
- Doesn't revel when others grovel,
- Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
- Puts up with anything,
- Trusts God always,
- Always looks for the best
- Never looks back,
- But keeps going to the end
- Love never dies.
Practical application and the two sad examples
When we disagree, when we feel someone is doing something wrong, our first impulse is usually not to speak the truth in love. Like a Weight-Watcher novice who has lost a few pounds and now feels obligated to loudly share the consequences of extra weight with their still Twinkie-addicted friends, once we become aware of the need for truth in our communications, it's easy to be shocked and angered when we see a lack of truth, of bait and switch in the communications of fellow Christian communicators.
Snatching a half-eaten Twinkie from a friend might be rude, but to respond in unthinking, righteous anger to perceived communication errors is sin. I'm a drill sergeant's daughter and learning how to speak the truth in love is a life-long process for me. It is so much easier to just get mad and spew indignation. It's so much easier to be loud (and I can be really loud) than to speak softly in person or in print. But we must keep trying. I almost didn't write this piece because I didn't want to be mean, but I wanted to do it because I think the examples have important lessons for us all.
Following are two recent examples of bait and switch in two online newsletters I read often. I greatly respect the organizations that produce them and I feel they are doing good for the kingdom of God. For those reasons and because I am trying hard to apply the biblical commands to speak the truth in love, I'm not sharing the details or naming specific names of organization. Please don't try to figure them out--these lessons are for all of us and have a wider application than the specific examples that prompted them.
Bait and Switch #1: Linking to a different website than the link given
Many Christian organizations publish online newsletters that have a brief description of another article that the editor feels would be useful to the audience of that organization. That practice itself is a very good one in that it helps the reader sort through the mass of material available on the web today and find articles that suit their personal ministry interests and goals.
The problem wasn't with the overall newsletter, which I read each week with interest. It was that on this newsletter, the publishing organization prominently features the source of the linked article, I would assume in part, as a validation of the credibility of the source. In this case it gave one organization as the source of the article. I always check the source because I know they use some sources that I don't particularly agree with their editorial stance. Because of that, I don't click-through to articles from them because I don't want to waste my time in mental arguments over nonessential issues. The organization listed wasn't one I usually avoid, the topic was interesting, so I clicked through.
However, when you clicked on the link it went to a website with a totally different, and in my opinion, extremely offensive name for the website. I do know, having encountered this site in the past, that the site is part of the organization for the listed name. I also know that the offensive name is so offensive to many in the church that they often list an alternate URL. This was the first time I'd encountered this bait and switch. Both of these URLs all go back to a site with a name that I feel dishonors the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Church is holy, it is his Body and Bride. I cannot, under any circumstances feel comfortable looking at material on, linking to, or even viewing anything on this site because of, what I feel is an irreverent and disrespectful attitude.
Please note--these are my personal convictions about the site. The people who created the site and write for it are responsible to the Lord for what they do and say.
Here is my problem: I would not have clicked through if I knew this is the site I was going to be taken to. I felt dirty when I saw when I landed on the site. I quickly clicked away and was very unhappy with the organization that allowed this. I resented the click I gave them and wished I could have taken it back. I am still praying about what to write to the sponsoring organization about it.
You are responsible for work done in your name
This brings up another issue that is important here. This particular newsletter, that made the link and I assume approved the bait and switch, is not created by the ministry it represents. It is created by a company that does online newsletters for various organizations. Nothing wrong with that. However, I'm not sure that the company that does the newsletter shares the ministry standards with the company that hired them to create the newsletter. Like every other ministry, I am certain the staff at the ministry headquarters of the company that sponsors, but didn't create the newsletter, has far more demands than they have time to fulfill. However, no matter how busy your schedule, if something goes out under your ministry name, you need to be certain it represents your organization and your Lord in a way that is appropriate.
Bait and Switch #2: Using a tragedy to talk about yourself
This one was really tacky. This is from another online newsletter that aggregates material from around the web for its audience. The organization sponsoring it also sometimes includes staff-written material. Nothing wrong with that in the article under discussion, other than the anonymous nature of "a staff-written" byline, which to me either says the author was lazy, sloppy, part of a committee, or all the above. The newsletter is clearly from a specific organization and they have every right to include as much as they want from their staff. However, I believe if you write something, for better or worse, take ownership of it. Regardless, that was not the problem. The problem was the headline (again what you click-through to go to the article) promised information about one topic, but then totally switched to another.
The headline referred to a church in a specific city and how they were ministering to victims of a huge, natural disaster in that area. Because it is an area very precious to me, I clicked through to see what was going on in terms of helping people.
The first few paragraphs told a wonderful story about how a very large church in the area was helping in incredible ways and serving as a witness to Jesus.
But then--the story abruptly shifts (no header change, no transition) to a press-release sounding announcement about the organization that sponsored the online newsletter and how they are moving to the area. No problem telling your readers about that--but what a bizarre and offensive way to do it. Bizarre in that the move had nothing to do with the disaster. A separate article/press release would have been far more appropriate.
What was offensive (probably not intended, but should have been caught) was that several times in the press-release, all-about-me section, the organization mentioned that it was moving to the area because of lower real-estate costs. A huge natural disaster had recently devastated the area. In much of it the natural beauty was destroyed and would not recover in most of our life-times. Of course real-estate in those areas, previously known for their beauty, would fall like a rock. The organization sounded a bit like an opportunistic land-grabber. The gaffe would have been humorous if it wasn't so insensitive.
After reading about the move of the organization at the end of the article, I wasn't left with inspiration for what the church was doing for the people whose homes were destroyed, but more of a "what were they thinking?" response to the add-on move information. It was like the cheap joke about two people seeing each other where one person pours out a personal tragedy and the other responds with, "Ok, enough about you. Let me tell you the big news in MY life."
I do know this organizational move has been planned for a long time. However, if you search the website of this publication, and enter in the move and the location, this article is the first mention of it. It appears someone was asleep at the editing helm here. What really makes it sad is that this bait and switch could have been so easily avoided and turned into two positive pieces by making the article into two articles or even with a subhead that announced the topic shift. In a positive way, it could have been tied into the current tragedy with a separate headline or subhead like this: "Christian organization continues with relocation plans and vows to help rebuild devastated city."
We're all pilgrims, but some stumbles don't need to happen
We all make mistakes in our attempts to communicate for our Lord. With the speed of digital communications and the demands of our audiences we put things out too quickly; we sometimes don't check as we should; and we seldom proof as well as we ought.
But a bait and switch, like in the examples above, doesn't just happen.
You have to enter in the URL of an article. Sometimes organizations change their names (mine has and there are various spellings of my URL) and that requires linking of the old name to the new site, but the content expectations should stay the same and there be no offensive, intentional surprises when you land on the linked page. If you are ashamed to print your URL or think people won't understand how witty you are or won't get your snarky joke, don't hid the link to your content behind a respectable sounding ministry. That is a lie and not pleasing to the Lord. Nor is it honoring to the organization that allowed it.
You decide the content of a blog or online article before you hit the publish button. If you are talking about two very different topics and want to keep both in the same article, change your headline. The headline, of course, won't cover all that's in an article, but it shouldn't have totally different and unrelated topics in it. If you don't do that, at least give a subhead transition.
This is one area where I know that I don't do what search engine optimization articles and other "expert" advice tell you to do--I rarely have short headlines. I try to make them as complete as possible because I know my readers are very busy. I want them to know right away if the article is useful and I respect their decision-making. If they don't want to read an article, I don't want to waste their time. I don't want to surprise people with content they don't suspect or a shift in tone that they weren't expecting. I'm sure I fall short and am not always successful in my headlines, but I do try to. I've rewritten many when I finished an article or blog and realized it ended up as something different from what I intended when I started writing it.
It's a test of time
It takes time to read over what an organization you hired to do a newsletter actually does with it. It takes time to make certain links go to their expected destination. It takes time to make certain a headline reflects the content of an article and even more time to fix the headline or rewrite the article if it doesn't.
But our time is not our own. We are not only the ambassadors, but the bond-slaves of the King. We must spend whatever time it takes to represent Him well. Part of that means no bait and switch is allowed.