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The Infamy Of The Edsel

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

The Ford automobile named for Henry’s own son made its debut in 1957 after unprecedented hype. They had started planning and developing the Edsel back in 1955 based on consumer research, polls, and interviews. Ford thought it had tapped into the heart of the buying public with a car that would win its heart. It turned out to be a disaster in every way one can measure such–it was too big, too unreliable and poorly-made, too unattractive, too expensive, and, well, too weird. Even the name is strange. When Ford’s marketing department polled people about how they liked the name, many asked, “Did you say ‘pretzel’?” (info from “The Flop Heard Round The World,” Peter Carlson, Washington Post, 9/4/07).  While today the Edsel has become a collector’s item, selling for as much as $100,000 or more, it will forever live among the automotive lemons’ Hall-of-Fame lineup that includes such stellar machines as the AMC Gremlin, Ford Pinto, Chevy Chevette, Yugo GV, and De Lorean DMC-12. 

Marketing can be a mean business. Especially is it risky when you take a proven, respected name and attach it to something that dishonors and degrades it–like “Ford” and “Edsel.” So many researchers have sought to identify why the Edsel was such a colossal failure, but the answer often goes back to the problem that “with too many hands working on the Edsel, the project had no direction” (“The Edsel Proved Why You Should Never Design A Car By Committee,” Chris Perkins, Road & Track, 1/23/17). 

What does all of this have to do with God and the Bible or Christ and the church? Well, several things.

  • Jesus is the Perfect Man who offers something unique that cannot be outdone–salvation which is located in His body, the church (Eph. 1). This is what we have to offer this world, and this is what the world needs. 
  • Sometimes, we spend too much time in gimmickry, marketing hype, and mining for felt needs, and at the end of the day we wind up offering a cheap, poor, and disappointing product that dishonors and degrades His perfect name. May we ever respect the warning of Galatians 1:6-9. 
  • It is easy for us to lose sight of our mission and sense of direction, if Jesus is not the heart of our mission, purpose, plans, and activities. As disciples, He leads and we follow (Luke 9:23-26). 
  • We never want, as a church or as an individual, to sully His precious name by our association with it–whether by ungodliness, worldliness, legalism, mean-spirited, hateful behavior, doctrinal compromise, etc. I suppose that David’s name, as king of Israel, defamed God for a long time after his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:14). We should disdain the very prospect of such.
  • It’s not too late to correct even infamous blunders. Ford is not defined by the Edsel. It went on to produce some automobiles that more than restored its good name. That can be true for churches and individuals. Jesus would not have gone to the trouble to admonish Ephesus, Sardis, and Laodicea if they were a lost cause. The same is true of Euodia, Syntyche, the man in 1 Corinthians 5, and others.  There cannot “un-be” an Edsel, but there can be a brighter future.

The Ford Edsel became the focus of a great many studies by the likes of John Brooks and Bill Gates. Its failures helped many industries, not just the auto industry, learn from its basic mistakes. I think there’s insight in it for the greatest “business” of all–i.e., soul-winning. May we get the greatest name (Jesus) to the greatest audience (the world) through the greatest message (the gospel)! That’s a guaranteed recipe for the greatest success (salvation)!

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The REAL Terry Symansky Can’t Stand Up

Neal Pollard

There is a famous line from the longstanding game show, To Tell The Truth, that is so apropos here. On the show three people would all claim to be someone and make their pitch to “prove” it, then at the end the host would ask, “Will the real __________ please stand up?” Recently, a real-life version of this game surfaced in Pasco County, Florida, regarding a seemingly harmless man with a normal life in Zephyr Hills. He was a husband, father, landlord, pilot, and upstanding citizen, and he carried off the ruse for over 20 years! But the real Terry Symansky drowned in 1991.

Richard Hoagland, who had once boarded with Terry’s dad in Palm Beach, Florida, learned of Terry’s death, stole the death certificate to get his birth certificate from Ohio, which he used to obtain an Alabama’s driver’s license in order to obtain a Florida’s driver’s license! He also married Mary Hossler Hickman in 1995, with whom he has a teenage son. Meanwhile, back in Indiana, Hoagland has a wife and four children whom he abandoned with a story that the FBI was after him for embezzling millions of dollars (The Washington Post, “He Left A Family And Started A New One Using A Dead Man’s Identity, Police Say,” Peter Holley, 7/24/16). Think of the carnage for at least three families: the real Symanskys, the fake, Florida Symanskys, and the Indiana Hoaglands. Untangling this mess will not be easy, all because a man decided to try and be someone he obviously wasn’t. A professor who studies identity theft summed it up rightly, saying, “It will all catch up with you” (Holley).

Sure, this is outrageous and despicable. But, have we stopped to consider that something far worse than this happens, spiritually, more times than can be counted? Whenever a Christian behaves one way among the saints but another way away from that fellowship and environment, a similar phenomenon unfolds. Some would be blown away to learn that their co-worker, fellow team parent, neighbor, classmate, and the like, is actually a Christian. Were they to see them participating in worship, they would be baffled, using God’s name in a reverent, respectful way. To know that they, perhaps, were a church leader would be beyond the pale. In this way, it can be quite easy to assume an identity. All it requires is keeping “Group A” (the church) separated, as much as possible, from “Group B” (worldly associations). But, persisting in such a life will, sooner or later, catch up with the perpetrator (cf. 1 Tim. 5:24).

God sent Jeremiah to stand at the “front door” of the “church building” (so to speak) and tell the people entering for worship, “‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the Lord!’” Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place” (7:2-3). He specifies, “Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—that you may do all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,’ declares the Lord” (7:9-11).  They thought a day of worship substituted for six days of ungodly living, but the last word is most chilling. God says, “I, even I, have seen it.” Whoever else we may fool with a double-life, we cannot fool God.

Integrity requires honesty and strong, moral character. There must be genuineness, wherever we are and whoever we are with. May God help us to be the genuine article, all the time.

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Hoagland (L) and Symansky (R)