The New Evangelism: A Brand in Crisis

Christianity is a brand in crisis.

This is saying nothing new, of course, but it bears repeating.

To say that a brand is in crisis is to say that it has become muddled and has developed an inability to effectively communicate to its customer base. When a brand is in crisis, there is no longer a clear, discernible understanding of what is being offered. When a brand is in crisis, those with whom the brand wishes to do business have turned their attention elsewhere, often for a myriad of reasons, but, mostly, because the brand no longer demonstrates that it is in sync with their own self understanding.

Brands are not about the thing being offered, but the people to whom the brand wishes to be in relationship.

One thing that brands have going for them is that they are not about a specific product. The idea of a brand comes from the practice of branding one’s cattle so that your livestock can be easily identified as distinct from another’s livestock. The word itself comes from the Norse word that means, “to burn.” The cattle was the product; the rancher is the brand.

I suspect that the brand called “Christianity” is in crisis because is has believed that it is about a specific product.

There is an old saying that goes, “When people buy a drill they do not actually want a drill. They want a hole.” The thinking is that the drill is merely a means to an end. People do not, generally, wake up one day and say to themselves, “I wish I had a drill.” But, when they find themselves in need of a hole, they go looking for a drill.

I think Christianity has confused the drill for the hole.

Confusing the drill for the hole*

Christianity confused the drill for the hole when it made being good the message of the Gospel. For far too long we have made adherence to a strict moral code the criteria for judging discipleship. Jesus, on the other hand, demonstrated with his life that his plan of action was one of service and sacrifice. The Christian Faith has little to do with us, and everything to do with whether or not we are servants of others.

Christianity confused the drill for the hole when it made influencing the decisions of others the message of the Gospel. As Andrew Root has taught us, Christ did not come to be with us to get us to do anything. Christ came to be with us to share our place in depths of our pain.

Christianity confused the drill for the hole when it made heterosexuality a requirement for receiving the Grace and Peace promised in the Gospel. In seeking to lift up purity, we forgot that when the Spirit of the Lord touches a person’s heart there is nothing to prevent them from being accepted into the Body of Christ.

Christianity confused the drill with the hole when it refused to think in an attempt to be faithful. Rather than loving God with our minds and seeking to reconcile all we have learned with the truth of God’s amazing love, we continue to deny the need to care for our planet and insist that women’s bodies can, somehow, miraculously survive rape.

Christianity confused the drill for the hole when it equated the Missio Dei with a political platform. While professing to work with God to make Earth as it is in Heaven, we have sacrificed our call to care for the poor, outcast, and marginalized in favor of political expediency.

It’s time to apologize

Someone recently asked me what I thought would be a good first step to repairing our image, of getting our brand “realigned” (so to speak). In light of the recent Pew study, we know that those whom we might call the “Nones” or the “Spiritual but Not Religious” actually like our God, our Jesus, prayer, etc. The survey’s respondents actually hold beliefs that are surprisingly close to many traditional Christian beliefs.

However, they don’t like us much.

I think the best thing we can do at this point, in light of the ways we confused the drill for the hole, is to simply apologize. Loudly. And often.

In as many ways as we can think of, we should make it known that we’re sorry for being stuck up, judgmental, anti-homosexual, non-thinking hypocrites. We should apologize for obscuring the marvelous teaching of Love that our Savior gave us by thinking more about our own rightness rather than the needs of our neighbors.

I think we should take out ads in newspapers (if anyone actually still reads them) and send emails and put up flyers and put it on our church websites.

I know that wallowing doesn’t help, but I’m not advocating wallowing. I’m advocating being honest.

We’ve really screwed up and made Jesus into something he’s very much not. I think it’s time to very loudly and very publicly come clean about that.

*These points were shamelessly cribbed from unChristian.