What Big Religion Can Teach Big Soda and Mayor Mike: A Big Lesson in Perceptions For Us All

Mar 21, 2013

Historians probably won’t pair Big Religion and Big Soda together, but that’s the beauty of blogs – they offer a snapshot of the moment and not a broad brush of time itself.

March – the month of lions and lambs – opened with the Vatican’s election of a new pope and began its wrap-up with an 11th-hour court ban on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial attempt to forbid the sale of sugary beverages over 16 oz. the day before its enforcement. While many applauded Bloomberg’s public health efforts, Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling, said the proposed ban “has the potential to be more troubling than sweetened beverages.”

Call it the age-old “cure is worse than the disease” conundrum.

“Age-old” is something with which the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church is well-acquainted. Yet by many accounts, Pope Francis, 76, has been positively described as delivering a youthful dose of humility, authenticity, genuineness and credibility – qualities the Church desperately needs. Pope Francis leads a flock of some 1.2 billion Catholics. Meanwhile Coca-Cola sells 1.7 billion servings per day. I wonder how many of those consumers are Catholic?

Big Soda’s lesson is clear and it’s one Mayor Bloomberg has rightly been trying to impress. Hurting consumers’ health by incentivizing dangerous portions isn’t good business (It’s also immoral). Large drink makers should adopt voluntary changes – just as the church elected a somewhat progressive pope. Catholic disenfranchisement isn’t good for the business of religion either and the cardinals electing Pope Francis had the wisdom to know that.

Photo by ifood.tvMayor Mike could use a measure of humility too. Pope Francis might be the Vicar of Christ on Earth, but that didn’t stop him from asking people to pray for his – and the world’s – continued success. Bloomberg views his attempted beverage size ban as a health issue.  Detractors, however, including the state supreme court, have questioned his methods. Ronald John Warfield, a civil and criminal lawyer who’s tangled with Bloomberg over policies in the past praised the Mayor’s intentions, but said the administration acted with “an imperial hand.”

The Church has also acted with its own imperial hand over time, squelching dissent, covering up priestly sexual abuse and opposing gay rights. It also took 359 years to finally admit (in 1992) that Galileo was correct in saying the Earth revolves around the sun. But if this ancient an institution can be led by a pope considered genuine, authentic and humble and who embodies the possibility of internal change propelling external change,, then soda companies and mayors can learn those lessons too.

So, what are your perceptions of the new pope? Do you believe soda companies will better police their own policies, resulting in improved public relations? And can Mayor Mike step away from the mic long enough to swallow his pride? Let me know in your comments below.

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