“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.
In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”
- Anne Rice, statement made July 28, 2010 on her Facebook page
This powerful statement made by Anne Rice, author of Interview with the Vampire and more recently the Christ the Lord novels, was a lightning rod for reaction by the media, Christian leaders, believers and non-believers. For many people in the Christian church it struck a nerve, while for many others it struck a chord. Whether you side with Anne Rice or not, the fact is that this public statement, borne out of a real and deep frustration, has resonated with far too many people to be ignored as the isolated sentiments of one individual. To me, it put an exclamation point on a situation that I’ve been observing for some time – Christianity has a branding crisis.
I realize that calling the serious issues within Christianity a branding crisis may seem trivializing to some, but I ask you to hear me out. As a branding strategist, it’s natural for me to look through this lens when observing companies and organizations. When the actions of entities, from Martha Stewart to McDonald’s, do not match what they stand for, their brand suffers.
For example, take BP. For the past decade, BP had been striving to reshape its brand with a “Beyond Petroleum” theme that focused on their activities in solar, wind and alternative energies. While these energy activities formed a small percentage of BP’s entire energy portfolio (about 2% in the first quarter of 2010), their brand was gradually becoming more and more associated with green energy than big, dirty oil. Then the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite ten years of saying one thing, the public immediately formed the perception that BP was still a big oil company and their brand position completely changed. The walk did not match the talk.
In a recent message delivered by Craig Groeschel, Pastor of LifeChurch.tv, he said, “When I meet people and they ask me what I do for a living, I’ve got to be honest with you, I often want to lie. I never have, but I’ve been tempted to so many times. Because I could be having a great conversation with somebody, just flowing along, and then they say, ‘What do you do for a living?’ And I say, ‘Well, I’m a pastor of a church.’ And every time I say that, immediately the conversation changes…if they’re not a Christian, the conversation just tanks.”
What Craig is experiencing, is the default reaction of many non-Christians to Christianity. With just a mention of the words “Christianity” or “Church”, they immediately begin to form perceptions, usually negative. On his CBC Radio program, The Age of Persuasion, host and author Terry O’Reilly stated, “One sign of a remarkable, vibrant brand is that the very mention of it unlocks a flood of imagery.” The same can be said about a brand in crisis, except the imagery is negative. For Craig Groeschel and many other Christians, these perceptions are not accurate or fair, but for the non-Christian in the conversation, their perceptions have been formed by their experience with Christianity and Christians.
Whether BP or Christianity, people have formed negative perceptions for a simple reason – what the entity is supposed to stand for does not match what people have experienced. Of course, one can’t compare Christianity to BP, except to state that BP has a branding crisis that will take a monumental effort to change…and so does Christianity.
Over the next few weeks, I will look at the perceptions of Christianity as a brand, demonstrate that it is in crisis, and present some recommended responses to address the crisis. This discussion is not designed to assign blame or point fingers; my hope is that it serves as a catalyst to get a conversation started.
Read Part 2: Christianity’s Brand Position