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The Story Behind W.W.J.D. "What Would Jesus Do?"

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Long (sorry), but Interesting. :) Popular in 1990's.

THE FASCINATING STORY OF HOW THE “WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?” SLOGAN CAME ABOUT, often shortened to WWJD? or W.W.J.D is a slogan so famous that millions of objects have been emblazoned with it. However, the person who came up with “W.W.J.D.” never saw a penny of the millions of dollars companies across the globe have made from it.

The earliest known instance of the full slogan “What Would Jesus Do” dates all the way back to 1886 from a series of serial sermons by an American minister from Topeka, Kansas by the name of Charles Sheldon.  Each week, Sheldon would tell an entertaining story, posing the question, “What would Jesus do?” when characters came across a difficult moral decision or situation. To increase attendance at his Sunday night sermons, Sheldon would end each story on a cliffhanger ensuring the people there would come back the following week to learn what happened next.

These sermons proved to be immensely popular. Spurred on by their popularity, Sheldon got them published in Congregationalist Magazine, and they were soon put together into the book, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?

As for the man, Sheldon was an advocate of Christian socialism, despising capitalism, ironically enough. He was also a firm supporter of gender and racial equality, as well as an advocate for the humane treatment of animals, including being a vegetarian. This is not overly remarkable today, but in the late nineteenth century was quite a radical stance on all four fronts. Besides being among the few white ministers of the day to not only allow, but openly invite, black people to become full members of his church, he also openly spoke out against the KKK to their faces and wasn’t shy about slamming anti-Semites whenever he encountered them.  He further encouraged women in his congregation to become involved in politics to help in the fight for equal rights for women, including in the workplace. Again, he believed we were all equal in God’s eyes; if this way of thinking was good enough for God, it should be good enough for everyone.

Considering his stance on capitalism, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that after a copyright hiccup saw his book placed in the public domain shortly after being published, it didn’t bother him much. He remained unbothered when the book went on to be one of the top 50 or so bestselling books of all time without him earning much of anything from it; he was mostly just happy the message was being spread, and that maybe more people would spend some time contemplating Jesus because of it. A few of the publishers who were raking in the dough thanks to his book did send him small “thank you” stipends, amounting to about $10,000 total throughout his lifetime (dying in 1946), so that was something at least.

His message was popularized a little further a few years after the publication of his book in 1900 when the editor of the The Topeka Daily Capital offered him full creative control over the paper for one week. Sheldon accepted the offer and endeavoured to run the paper as Jesus would. Over the course of the week, under Sheldon’s absolute control, the paper went from roughly 12,000-15,000 subscriptions to well over 350,000 in a few days. Sheldon’s changes, among other things, involved a ban on adverts for tobacco and alcohol. And to ensure everyone felt valued, he listed every person who worked for the paper (including the janitor) as an editor. A veritable Mr. Roger’s of his day “You are an important person just the way you are.” (Incidentally, Mr. Rogers was also an ordained minister.)

So how did this get us to the 1990s (and beyond) W.W.J.D. bracelets and other product? Janie Tinklenberg read Sheldon’s book in 1989 and had taken the message of “What would Jesus do?” to heart.  She decided to use it in her job as a youth leader at a church in Holland, Michigan where she encouraged her students to keep it in mind as they went about their daily lives.

As a way to make sure the kids didn’t forget, Janie decided to emblazon the slogan on something wearable, settling on wristbands, since “At the time, 1989, beaded friendship bracelets were popular. I figured a bracelet was perfect: They could wear it all the time and it was even kind of cool.” However, since the phrase “What would Jesus do?” was kind of awkward to fit on a bracelet, she opted for the abbreviation W.W.J.D.  Along with looking neater, this was also doubly ingenious since it prompted others to ask what W.W.J.D. meant, thereby spreading the message a little further and giving an opportunity for her students to evangelize.

Little did Janie realise she’d accidentally stumbled onto a goldmine, and before long the 300 bracelets she’d had made weren’t enough, forcing her to order hundreds more. When the company making them, Lesco, saw how popular they were, they quickly began churning out and selling millions of their own. Other companies, seeing that Lesco were raking it in, followed suit. Before long, W.W.J.D. was everywhere.

Much like Sheldon, she was initially happy that her little abbreviation, and the message with it, was spreading like wildfire. However, after seeing a $400 necklace with W.W.J.D. on it and a decidedly questionable W.W.J.D. board game, she felt it was getting out of hand and had become more about commercialism than the message.  To try to take control of it, and to use the potential funds from sales to start a non-profit youth ministry, she applied for a trademark on W.W.J.D. but was told that since she’d waited so long and because it was now so prevalent, it was in the public domain, echoing the situation Sheldon had found himself in almost a century earlier.

The people selling the product with W.W.J.D. on it in return soundly ignored her complaints (one of them, the international Christian publishing company, Zondervan, even going so far as to try to trademark it themselves) and went back to earning millions of dollars from works that had essentially twice been stolen from their creators, though neither really minded much on the whole.

Mike Yaconelli, the founder of Youth Specialties (makers of various ministry materials), stated of Tinklenberg and her W.W.J.D., “She got totally ripped off  if you want to know the truth. Even if it’s legally right, it’s morally wrong.”

Garrett Sheldon, professor of political science and the great-grandson of Charles Sheldon, seemed to agree, stating about Tinklenberg’s predicament, “It’s ironic to see that either they (the companies) aren’t asking the question ‘What would Jesus do?’ or they’ve asked the question and decided that Jesus wouldn’t pay and so they don’t need to either.”

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On 10/20/2018 at 9:19 AM, turtletwo said:

Long (sorry), but Interesting. :) Popular in 1990's.

THE FASCINATING STORY OF HOW THE “WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?” SLOGAN CAME ABOUT, often shortened to WWJD? or W.W.J.D is a slogan so famous that millions of objects have been emblazoned with it. However, the person who came up with “W.W.J.D.” never saw a penny of the millions of dollars companies across the globe have made from it.

The earliest known instance of the full slogan “What Would Jesus Do” dates all the way back to 1886 from a series of serial sermons by an American minister from Topeka, Kansas by the name of Charles Sheldon.  Each week, Sheldon would tell an entertaining story, posing the question, “What would Jesus do?” when characters came across a difficult moral decision or situation. To increase attendance at his Sunday night sermons, Sheldon would end each story on a cliffhanger ensuring the people there would come back the following week to learn what happened next.

These sermons proved to be immensely popular. Spurred on by their popularity, Sheldon got them published in Congregationalist Magazine, and they were soon put together into the book, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?

As for the man, Sheldon was an advocate of Christian socialism, despising capitalism, ironically enough. He was also a firm supporter of gender and racial equality, as well as an advocate for the humane treatment of animals, including being a vegetarian. This is not overly remarkable today, but in the late nineteenth century was quite a radical stance on all four fronts. Besides being among the few white ministers of the day to not only allow, but openly invite, black people to become full members of his church, he also openly spoke out against the KKK to their faces and wasn’t shy about slamming anti-Semites whenever he encountered them.  He further encouraged women in his congregation to become involved in politics to help in the fight for equal rights for women, including in the workplace. Again, he believed we were all equal in God’s eyes; if this way of thinking was good enough for God, it should be good enough for everyone.

Considering his stance on capitalism, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that after a copyright hiccup saw his book placed in the public domain shortly after being published, it didn’t bother him much. He remained unbothered when the book went on to be one of the top 50 or so bestselling books of all time without him earning much of anything from it; he was mostly just happy the message was being spread, and that maybe more people would spend some time contemplating Jesus because of it. A few of the publishers who were raking in the dough thanks to his book did send him small “thank you” stipends, amounting to about $10,000 total throughout his lifetime (dying in 1946), so that was something at least.

His message was popularized a little further a few years after the publication of his book in 1900 when the editor of the The Topeka Daily Capital offered him full creative control over the paper for one week. Sheldon accepted the offer and endeavoured to run the paper as Jesus would. Over the course of the week, under Sheldon’s absolute control, the paper went from roughly 12,000-15,000 subscriptions to well over 350,000 in a few days. Sheldon’s changes, among other things, involved a ban on adverts for tobacco and alcohol. And to ensure everyone felt valued, he listed every person who worked for the paper (including the janitor) as an editor. A veritable Mr. Roger’s of his day “You are an important person just the way you are.” (Incidentally, Mr. Rogers was also an ordained minister.)

So how did this get us to the 1990s (and beyond) W.W.J.D. bracelets and other product? Janie Tinklenberg read Sheldon’s book in 1989 and had taken the message of “What would Jesus do?” to heart.  She decided to use it in her job as a youth leader at a church in Holland, Michigan where she encouraged her students to keep it in mind as they went about their daily lives.

As a way to make sure the kids didn’t forget, Janie decided to emblazon the slogan on something wearable, settling on wristbands, since “At the time, 1989, beaded friendship bracelets were popular. I figured a bracelet was perfect: They could wear it all the time and it was even kind of cool.” However, since the phrase “What would Jesus do?” was kind of awkward to fit on a bracelet, she opted for the abbreviation W.W.J.D.  Along with looking neater, this was also doubly ingenious since it prompted others to ask what W.W.J.D. meant, thereby spreading the message a little further and giving an opportunity for her students to evangelize.

Little did Janie realise she’d accidentally stumbled onto a goldmine, and before long the 300 bracelets she’d had made weren’t enough, forcing her to order hundreds more. When the company making them, Lesco, saw how popular they were, they quickly began churning out and selling millions of their own. Other companies, seeing that Lesco were raking it in, followed suit. Before long, W.W.J.D. was everywhere.

Much like Sheldon, she was initially happy that her little abbreviation, and the message with it, was spreading like wildfire. However, after seeing a $400 necklace with W.W.J.D. on it and a decidedly questionable W.W.J.D. board game, she felt it was getting out of hand and had become more about commercialism than the message.  To try to take control of it, and to use the potential funds from sales to start a non-profit youth ministry, she applied for a trademark on W.W.J.D. but was told that since she’d waited so long and because it was now so prevalent, it was in the public domain, echoing the situation Sheldon had found himself in almost a century earlier.

The people selling the product with W.W.J.D. on it in return soundly ignored her complaints (one of them, the international Christian publishing company, Zondervan, even going so far as to try to trademark it themselves) and went back to earning millions of dollars from works that had essentially twice been stolen from their creators, though neither really minded much on the whole.

Mike Yaconelli, the founder of Youth Specialties (makers of various ministry materials), stated of Tinklenberg and her W.W.J.D., “She got totally ripped off  if you want to know the truth. Even if it’s legally right, it’s morally wrong.”

Garrett Sheldon, professor of political science and the great-grandson of Charles Sheldon, seemed to agree, stating about Tinklenberg’s predicament, “It’s ironic to see that either they (the companies) aren’t asking the question ‘What would Jesus do?’ or they’ve asked the question and decided that Jesus wouldn’t pay and so they don’t need to either.”

This is quite an interesting story, but it's not surprising that people with their eyes on the treasures of this world were quick to tap into the potentially huge market for faith-based merchandise.  I found an article dated 2003 stating that at that time, annual Christian retail sales were around $4.2 billion.  I can only imagine what they are in 2018.  Today, like Sheldon and Tinklenberg, the smaller, independent Christian retailers have been virtually swallowed up by larger retail chains offering the same products and more.  It is wonderfully ironic, however, that while retailers may focus on the large profits they can accumulate in this life, the profit to their customers is much greater in the encouragement they receive from Christian music, books, home decor, and "wearable" reminders of our Father's love.  Sheldon and Tinklenberg will be the real winners:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). 

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26 minutes ago, PromisesPromises! said:

This is quite an interesting story, but it's not surprising that people with their eyes on the treasures of this world were quick to tap into the potentially huge market for faith-based merchandise.

Isn't that the way it goes? Sad, but true. I remember the beginnings of Christian music when it was considered ministry...not industry. Not career. And certainly not entertainment. Not much money to be had. Or even sought after much. Those were the days...

I knew we were in trouble when the big secular labels started swallowing up the little Christian ones. 

30 minutes ago, PromisesPromises! said:

It is wonderfully ironic, however, that while retailers may focus on the large profits they can accumulate in this life, the profit to their customers is much greater in the encouragement they receive from Christian music, books, home decor, and "wearable" reminders of our Father's love.  Sheldon and Tinklenberg will be the real winners:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). 

:thumbs_up: Very good conclusion. Thanks.

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14 hours ago, Faithful_heart said:

I had a purple bracelet with white letters. I wish I knew where that bracelet went because I could use a reminder of W.W.J.D. 

@Faithful_heart :)Hi. I never owned one myself, but I do remember seeing them for sell in the Christian book stores. Seems they'd make good reminders, as you say.

Also, 'conversation pieces' ('ice breakers' when someone spots it and asks you what it means) that could lead into an opportunity to witness.

By the way, I see that you joined recently. :)Welcome. I look forward to getting to know you more/ interacting with you some time. Hope you enjoy Worthy.

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It is the first step, perhaps, to putting on the mind of Christ.  The next is to yield to what Christ in us would do.

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On 10/20/2018 at 10:19 PM, turtletwo said:

“What Would Jesus Do”

.

Christians are not truly Jesus Christ, who was actually God-in-the-flesh on earth(JOHN.1:14, 1TIMOTHY.3:16). There are a lot of things that Jesus could do which ordinary Christians today could not do, eg He heard directly from the Father to do what He did, performed miracles, signs and wonders. A more accurate slogan may be "What did Jesus say in His Word that we should do.?" for the problematic situation that we may be in. 

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2 hours ago, Willa said:

It is the first step, perhaps, to putting on the mind of Christ.  The next is to yield to what Christ in us would do.

@Willa:amen: Absolutely, sister! The Holy Spirit's conviction must be followed by yielding to what Christ in us would do and  by action (following through in obedience to the Lord.)

"To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." (James 4:17)

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1 hour ago, discipler777 said:

He heard directly from the Father to do what He did, performed miracles, signs and wonders.

That's true. But I think the people who developed the idea were meaning for when you find yourself in a confusing situation (perhaps a movie that might be morally iffy or what to say to somebody.) Compare to Jesus. 

1 hour ago, discipler777 said:

A more accurate slogan may be "What did Jesus say in His Word that we should do.?" for the problematic situation that we may be in. 

I agree. But most abbreviations are only 2-4 initials ( and people wore these on the wrists so there wouldn't be room for WDJSIHWTWSD:))

I think the idea was to look down at your wrist & it would remind you of the holiness of Jesus when you were in compromising situations...kind of like a nudge on your conscience. (People used to portray this in cartoons as the little angel sitting on one shoulder while the little devil was sitting on the other.) Iow, conscience vs temptation.

When under pressure of temptation, it's like the bracelet is forcing you to stop and take inventory with the question "Would JESUS do that?"

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 "You are to imitate me, just as I imitate Christ." 

As for using the bracelets to talk to others (as a way to get them to ask the question "What does WWJD stand for?"...I do think it's an interesting idea. Then you can answer them, "Jesus says in His Word..." and go from there. :) Or you could witness to a lost person. 

 

 

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52 minutes ago, turtletwo said:

I agree. But most abbreviations are only 2-4 initials ( and people wore these on the wrists so there wouldn't be room for WDJSIHWTWSD:))

.

How about "What says the Word.?" = WSTW = WeST Wind. .......

.

Exodus 10:19 (NKJV) And the Lord turned a very strong west wind, which took the locusts away and blew them into the Red Sea. There remained not one locust in all the territory of Egypt.

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