21 October 2010

Proclaiming or pandering?

The "What a bunch of jerks" graphic on this church's Web site (below) ties into a billboard campaign of Christ Covenant Church of Beaumont, Texas, USA. The qideas.org site has some commentary on this campaign.

Then the following item--yet another disturbing church-sponsored sign--came to me via Monday Morning Insight:

I confess that when I read Jesus does not care, I interpreted it as Jesus doesn't really love you after all, despite what most Christian billboards tell you. A rather jarring interpretation, and of course the exact opposite of the message conveyed at the sponsoring church's Web site.

Someone somewhere is surely already studying this phenomenon of shock-value marketing by churches trying to be noticed through the glazed eyes of unchurched audiences. Let me know if you've seen any decent commentaries.

There's no doubt in my mind that, in many places, the word "Christian" evokes negative responses. Filmmaker Dan Merchant documented this in the film he showed at Northwest Yearly Meeting's pastors' conference in 2008, Lord Save Us From Your Followers. But can the church communicate effectively with its critics by, in effect, saying "You're right!"?

Honest confession is one thing. Dan Merchant's film has a fascinating example--he sets up a "confessional" at Pride Northwest in which he, as a Christian, was doing the confessing, and those outside the church were hearing the confession. But I have some worries about the in-your-face "Christians suck" marketing strategy:

Is self-flagellation ever engaging? When I was in seminary, it was fashionable for whites to say how racist they were, for men to say how sexist they were, for Christians to say how triumphalist they were, and for Americans to say how imperialist they were. These confessions can contain important and long-avoided truths, but beyond a certain point they become either disempowering or self-indulgent, and get in the way of making common cause with the rest of humanity.

A long time ago, we joined a meeting that had relatively few younger people. When we arrived, people welcomed us eagerly; one said, "That's what we need--young couples!" "No," I remember thinking, "don't organize your identity around how inadequate you think you are! What you need is to love God and each other; that kind of love is what will make you attractive."

Are the confessions honest? -- or is this just another way to be cool and edgy? Maybe we're we really thinking, "We're actually pretty good; it's those other Christians (particularly those .......) who've ruined our image...." Ahh, the seductive power of elitism.

That brings up another honesty check: Does Christ Covenant's campaign imply that all Christians are jerks? I don't know. I'm sure that even the most cynical observer knows at least one or two non-jerk Christians. Maybe most unchurched readers would understand and forgive the campaign's hyperbole, but that very rhetoric seems to me to cry out "glib, manipulative, watch for the bait and switch!"

Are the confessions reaching the right audience? Yes, it might be helpful for the world to know that Christians are capable of honest self-examination. (I assume we are!) But what's more important--letting the world know that we know we've not lived up to our ideals, or doing a better job of mutual accountability within the Christian movement? I have a preference for the latter, especially when it is done transparently and publicly, so that the rest of the world can listen in, when it cares to.  (Example here.) Perhaps there's no conflict; some Christian communicators are working internally, while others are reaching an external audience. I'm interested in honesty, whichever path is chosen.

Finally, how much should the world actually like us? I can't think of any way to defend self-righteousness, triumphalism, or whining about the loss of the privileges of christendom. Woe to us if these behaviors repel honest seekers. But Jesus warned us that faithfulness will result in danger. "... A time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God." (From John 16:2, NIV.) There's no guarantee that when the church is known for powerful evangelism that confronts systemic sin--violence, nationalism, elitism of all kinds--as well as personal sin, we won't still be attacked as "self-righteous" or any other label that cynics can try to make stick. The Enemy will do whatever it takes to put us in bad odor with potential converts--but let's make sure that odor doesn't come from the church's own rotten behavior.

"...aaand that means loving bullies, too."

"Global Christianity, Global Critique." "... [T]wo broad fields of argument stand out among current intellectual discussions of Christianity. Although both of these fields of argument might be taken to be relevant to discussions of the failure of secularization theory, they in fact go far beyond it, by making claims about how Christianity is and perhaps should be transforming both itself and the world."

"I fired them deacons!"

"Liberal white guilt and the Quaker peace testimony."

David Lyle Jeffrey reviews Xi Lian's Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China.

Israel and Palestine: "Why the Washington process collapsed."

Maybe I could have saved some time today by simply linking to this. "God does prefer honourable atheists to corrupt Christians...."

An interesting and entertaining addition to the voluminous debates on journalism and blogging. PS: I'm not blogging from "mommy's basement."

Blues from Barcelona, The Midnight Rockets. Lighting could be better, but just listen!

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