Hello, God?

Get religion from your long-distance carrier

There's a reason Buzz slaves away every week in the journalism mines, sweating to produce the fine product you hold in your hands. The reason is that we are dumb.

We know this because A) friends and family routinely tell us so, and B) as a media-type person we often get an early look at potential moneymaking ideas that are so simple in concept that we feel idiotic for not thinking of them first.

Take, for instance, OneChristianVoice, a startup nationwide long-distance telephone company that this month launched services in Texas. Here's the deal: OneChristianVoice buys long-distance time from wholesalers and retails it to individuals with the promise that part of the company's revenues will be donated to faith-based Christian organizations and ministries. Customers have a limited say over who gets the donation.

So this for-profit company has a well-defined, highly motivated customer base and offers a simple incentive that appeals directly to those customers' hearts. Ka-ching. Why didn't we think of that? Oh, yeah, we're dumb. Forgot.

Now, Buzz is no more Christian than, say, Beelzebub, but we respect the whole idea of "put your money where your mouth is" businesses--from socially conscious investment funds to "buy American" to supporting companies with specific religious, political or philosophical bents. There are more American consumers than there are voters or churchgoers; it makes sense to leverage consumption to shape the culture. (Of course, we also think the Vice Fund, a Dallas-based mutual fund that invests in tobacco, alcohol, gambling and similar companies, is a pretty good idea. Buzz has a fairly libertine idea about how we want the culture to be shaped.)

Maggie Jessup, a spokeswoman for OneChristianVoice, says blending business and a moral point of view is essentially the goal of the 2-month-old company. So far the company is donating 25 percent of its revenues to charity, Jessup says, though since it just started up in the Vancouver, Washington, area she's not certain how much that means in real dollars, and the company is not yet profitable. Texas is its first market outside its home base, Jessup says, and the company is already considering making the North Texas Food Bank one of its beneficiaries.

As part of the service, OneChristianVoice customers can opt to receive audio e-mails containing two-minute inspirational recordings of Christian speakers, but those aren't required. "We're not trying to shove religion down anyone's throat," Jessup says. That's a good thing, Buzz suggested. If you're a straying Christian calling that woman you recently fornicated with while on a business trip, chances are you won't want a message from your long-distance company coincidentally warning you about the wages of sin--however much you might need it.

On the other hand, Jessup counters: "All those people who mess up on Saturday night can feel good about making a call to Mom the next day. Part of the money goes to a good cause. Redeem yourself through a phone call."

That's gotta be better than saying a few hundred Hail Marys.

 
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