Not Buying It: the Church of Stop Shopping

"Reverend Billy" says Black Friday should be "buy nothing day."

ByABC News
February 19, 2009, 7:52 AM

Nov. 25, 2007 — -- Americans are expected to spend nearly half a trillion dollars this holiday season, doing their part to boost the economy by splurging on presents for loved ones and themselves.

But as some shoppers drive themselves into debt, maxing out their credit cards and wiping out already slim savings, one man says it's time to stop.

Actor and activist Bill Talen, also known as Reverend Billy, heads the self-styled Church of Stop Shopping, which replaces more traditional beliefs with the gospel that consumerism is destroying the American spirit.

"I think, in the United States, we are addicted to shopping," Talen told ABC News, as he preached to crowds outside New York's Macy's department store on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

"Every Christmas has become that we're supposed to save the economy by shopping ourselves to death," said Talen, whose persona as Revered Billy is part performance act, part serious protest. "No. There are other ways. There is another way."

As Reverend Billy, Talen spends his days preaching on the street or protesting outside large chain stores, like Wal-Mart and Starbucks. Members of the church's "Stop Shopping Choir" and the "Not Buying It Band," dressed in colorful robes and clapping, often accompany his teachings with energetic, anti-consumerist chants.

Talen is also is the subject of a new documentary, "What Would Jesus Buy?" which tracks the efforts of the church as it tries to prevent what Talen and his followers call "shopocalypse."

"We have to slow down our consumption, now," Talen said, gesturing at the hordes of shoppers trampling down Manhattan's 6th Avenue to take advantage of this year's sales.

"The real cost is not always the sticker price," he continued. "We're using fossil fuels [at such a rate that] we can't sustain [it]. We have to stop. The Earth is telling us, we're telling each other, we have to stop."

But while personal bankruptcies in America are on the rise, Talen's message can be tough to deliver this time of year.