The Christian in the Age of the Branding Lens

It is hard to separate the notion of branding from the normal influences of simple culture, but yet, I think they are very different.

The principles of culture formation are as old as living animals have been on this earth. For humans, the first time they had a clan or family there was culture formation. One family simply thinks and feels differently from another family or clan. I can see it now as I—a Tennessee boy—married a girl from the Midwest. We have some issues that we approach so differently, it is hard to understand how the other side even thinks. Then of course there are the larger human organizations that take it to new levels of culture such as villages, cities, states, and civilizations.

But branding is a newer concept and goes far beyond the typical cultural constructs. It was probably invented on Madison Avenue in the 1950s. It takes abstract thinking to define branding and how it is different than culture itself. Here are some of the things I have come up with to define branding;

  1. It is a deliberate organization of things under a chosen label,
  2. It is more well-defined than other general cultural concepts, with very defined boarders and is intended to evoke a certain image,
  3. Branding is less tolerating to deviation from the main belief than regular culture,
  4. Branding can change at a moment’s notice, but only from the top down.
  5. However, the perception of the branding can change from the outside, bottom and up.
  6. The difference between #4 and # 5 is that “Coke” will not change their belief system unless it is verbalized from the top with great purpose. However, the perception of “Coke” by the masses can change if—say—a photo is released on Facebook of a dead rat in a vat of Coke syrup at the factory.

Now, I will try to get more specific about how branding applies to Christianity.

Last time I wrote about church denominationalism. I love diversity within Church cultures. But, I am not a fan of it when it goes to seed as absolutism. I constantly hear from supporters of different cultural interpretations of the Church that they have found the only true Church and if you are not part of it, you are inferior. I am a candid person and when I talk about struggles (such as my struggle here with branding) someone always steps up to tell me that they have found the only true Church, which has all the answers. They are, of course, wrong.

We must have the freedom to celebrate church life in a variety of ways and respect people who differ. I have greatly enjoyed services in the Orthodox, Lutheran, Coptic, Catholic and many smaller denominations. This is not relativism because it does not touch the essentials. We must also acknowledge that no one gets it 100% right. We must humbly accept our church’s failures as we see the failures in other churches.

Branding is a lens by which we see the world. It should not be that way. The lens through which we see the world should be 1) our senses, which God has given, 2) our reason, which God has also given and 3) Scripture.  However, we have to be very careful with the last one. Most of the time we see Scripture through the lens of our brand and it should be the other-way around. Two people, from very different perspectives, will read scripture the way they want to read it. Scripture is not relative, but it is not always clear. We pray for God’s guidance, but we can’t full trust ourselves to get it right every time.

I will not hesitate to say that I’m not a big fan of Donald Trump. He sufferers from narcissism and I mean that literally. If it makes anyone feel any better, I’m not a fan of the Hillary pretentiousness either. She is a chameleon for votes. But this is what I find amazing. I heard a poll yesterday that the Evangelical brand supports Trump at almost 90%. Late yesterday I heard a report that black churches in some areas support Hillary at almost 100%. It is as if the brand dictates your thinking before you have the chance to think. The “Conservative” brand is a lens through which Donald Trump looks like a savior. The “Black church” culture may be doing the same with Hillary.

Then, with the terrible shootings this week all my friends lined up exactly according to their brands. The conservative branded friends (Fox-News-Evangelical friends) starting posting what I expected them to say. I know that brand well and was not disappointed by my—low—expectations of them. I heard their chatter that “Black Lives Matter” does mean what the proponents say it means. It means “Blacks deserve more rights than whites.” I saw video tapes of preachers, Fox News hosts and others pointing out that it is the failure of black society that is the problem. That the two black men shot were bad people. The scariest posts were a couple of black evangelicals supporting that same brand view. In their cases their evangelical brand was the lens they defaulted to rather than their black community lens.

Then, on the other side I heard what I expected.

So, here is the point I am trying to make. If events are controversial, without clear interpretations, you think that you would see a wide “bell-shaped” curve of views, based on people’s perceptions of those events. Those at the highest point of the bell curve would be those most right.

However, what we see are rows of rectangle columns.  Each column is a topped by a bright neon sign touting the brand and everyone who subscribes to that column falls in line with the brand view. There is no personal thinking but that has been relegated to the brand leaders.

This is what is wrong with American politics at this time in history. The brand dictates the thinking and it is brand alone.

It is time that we forsake the brands and humbly ask God to forgive us and give us the insight to see things as they really are, not how our brand dictates how we should think.

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