Take another look at promotions for the new “Come Together & Worship” Christian concert tour. That’s not a cross above the title. It’s Chevrolet’s “bow tie” logo.

That’s because the car manufacturer owns the title sponsorship to the 16-city tour featuring contemporary Christian musicians Michael W. Smith, Third Day, and author Max Lucado.

The “Chevrolet Presents: Come Together & Worship” tour begins tonight in Atlanta and ends Nov. 23 in Auburn Hills, Mich. But listening ears are already hearing noise from the event.

“This may be a sign of the times, but it’s not a good sign,” said Rabbi James Rudin, spokesman for the American Jewish Committee, in the Detroit Free Press. “America is increasingly multiethnic and multireligious. So, for an American icon like Chevrolet to link itself to one religion, Christianity, and then one specific group within Christianity is divisive.”

For its part, Chevrolet thinks the marketing move makes good business sense.

“Chevrolet recognized through research of the Contemporary Christian Music industry and working with Third Day first-hand, that the demographics of the fan base was a match for Chevrolet’s target audience—families and adults 35 to 54 with disposable income,” according a news release from General Motors. Chevrolet is GM’s largest vehicle division.

Steve Betz, regional division marketing manager for Chevrolet, said in the release that the sponsorship would allow Chevrolet to associate itself with a positive message while targeting consumers.

“With Contemporary Christian Music growing exponentially compared to every other genre of music for the past two years, Chevrolet recognizes the marketing potential with this tour and the benefits of partnering with the most popular and successful musical artists in their industry,” Betz said.

Michael W. Smith has won two Grammy awards, 34 Dove awards and was the Gospel Music Association’s 2002 Artist of the Year. Third Day has three Grammy nominations and was GMA’s 2002 Group of the Year.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was “a little uncomfortable with a major commercial venture going into propagating religion,” according to the New York Times.

“Evangelical Christians believe they have the truth,” Foxman continued, “so are they selling a product because it’s God’s product? I find it troubling.”

Foxman isn’t the only one who’s troubled. Phyllis Tickle, an expert on religious marketing, also thinks the partnership holds pitfalls.

“This is surprising—a real blurring of the lines between the commercial and the sacred,” she said in the Free Press article. “And it’s unfortunate, because it compromises both sides. We know that church and state are never supposed to meet, and I think it’s also a bad idea for church and Wall Street to be meeting like this.”

But Frank Breeden, head of the Christian Music Trade Association in Nashville, welcomes the opportunity.

“We consider this to be a breakthrough for our industry,” he said in the Free Press. “A lot of corporations have had a longstanding hands-off policy on topics they consider controversial—and for a long time they’ve thought about religion as one of those topics.”

Now, however, religion is a demographic trait apparently worth targeting.

“If marketers are looking for a niche that’s working,” Breeden told the Times, “we know from market research that the largest affinity group in the nation, second to none, is the 100 million people who go each week to a house of worship.” Furthermore, he continued, “20 million are purchasers of contemporary Christian music.”

Chevrolet has created an “integrated marketing program to enhance the sponsorship,” according to the GM news release. The program will include “experiential marketing, advertising, community relations and direct mail.”

The tour will support Compassion International and World Vision.

Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.

Visit the tour’s Web site at http://www.cometogetherandworshiptour.com/

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