Recently, I have been seeing more commercials for Christian dating. We have previously discussed new dating companies offering racially correct matches and the implications of such trends. However, ChristianMingle.com raises an interesting legal question in telling subscribers that they can “find God’s Match for You.” When does such an appeal to consumers become deceptive advertising as opposed to hyperbole?
The question came to mind because I recalled reading a story about a church in New Zealand being required to take down a billboard viewed as falsely claiming miracles.Notably, a government agency called the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that a church had to pull down its billboard proclaiming that ‘Jesus Heals Cancer” is deceptive advertising. Napier’s Equippers Church was told that it could not promise such miracles. I disagree with that decision as curtailing freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It seems to be that the church is allowed to proclaim its faith in miracles — though we have seen tragic examples of people who forgo life-sustaining treatments.
Now back to ChistianMingle. On the commercials, the announcer says that the viewer should join and “Find God’s match for you.” Not to be too Clintonesque, but it comes down to the meaning of “find.” One could easily view the site as promising an ability to locate God’s choice for each person. However, their more mundane lawyers are likely to argue that it refers to the ability of each person to find such a person — promising an avenue not an answer to your prayers.
While I do not view this as deceptive advertising, I would be interested in whether they claim first amendment protections under the religion clauses when sued over any later tortious conduct. They are competing with secular sites, but could claim that any lawsuit would intrude upon their free exercise of religion. The case that comes to mind is Nally v. Grace Community Church (1988) 47 Cal. 3d 278 [253 Cal. Rptr. 97, 763 P.2d 948], where the California Supreme Court refused to impose a professional duty of care on pastoral counselors who provided spiritual counseling to a suicidal church member.
I would be a bit careful however. After all 1 John 4:1 warns “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Moreover, God has a mixed record on matches, such as his match for Hosea: “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” (Hos. 1:2). When his wife Gomer later went back to sleeping around, God said “Go, show love to your wife again, even though she loves another man and continually commits adultery.” He eventually buys her back in a slave auction and appears to have worked out their marital difficulties. It was not what most people would have viewed as a perfect match but then again that does not appear the point of the story.
Replacing eHarmony with eDivinity is probably not a good idea if you are expecting a selection directed by the Almighty.