Jesus has taken some bad press and is apparently in need of a branding makeover. Thus we have all been subjected to the "Jesus gets us" marketing campaign. (It attracted widespread media attention around the Super Bowl, but the ads had been around for months before that.) There's a problem, of course: The evangelicals behind this campaign do not seem to understand even the most basic elements of getting Jesus. It turns out that the evangelical leadership's warm embrace of Donald Trump was a bad idea, in terms of turning people toward the Christian faith. I'm sorry to say that I think the current "brand identity" of American Christianity looks a lot like Trump wrapped in the flag, with a semiautomatic rifle in one hand and the Bible (which he hasn't read) in the other. America is certainly becoming less and less a "Christian nation," and many evangelical Christians are panicking, believing certainly feel they are losing the cultural and political war for the soul of America. They're right about that, frankly, and what's more they deserve to lose.
Decade after decade, fewer people in America attend church. Indeed, Americans reject the label of "Christian" more now than ever before in this nation's history. Yet during exactly the same time period over the past few decades, the evangelical church became increasingly louder in the areas of culture and politics. But evangelicals haven't figured out that the louder they get, the more people run away from the church. This new advertising campaign that culminated during the Super Bowl won't bring them back to church.
When I was going to college in the '90s there was a large campaign for Jesus going on then as well. Wearing a bracelet, necklace or lanyard marked with the acronym WWJD ("What would Jesus do?") was the marketing symbol of the moment. I certainly had one of those with my dorm keys on it. In fact, I lost those keys all the time, and to tell the truth I basically behaved the same whether I had the lanyard with me or not. To put it in Christian terms, I was a sinner with it and a sinner without it. Of course that was also a time when evangelicals thought they were losing America. They become convinced America is truly lost every time a Democrat is president. During Republican administrations, somehow God has made a comeback.
My basic advice to the evangelical church is found in another familiar acronym: STFU. In 1 John 3:18, we are told, "Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." Right now the evangelical church does not deserve Americans' loyalty, let alone actually showing up on Sunday. Most such churches are not places that preach the truth about Jesus Christ or try to do his good work. Generally speaking, the evangelical church is a place of loud, angry, judgmental and biblically-illiterate self-worship.
After the church learns to STFU, perhaps it can get back to doing things based on kindness, forgiveness, love and mercy — qualities that used to be considered Christian virtues. Not many Americans are coming back to the church as it is. It is time for a vigorous reformation of Christian theology, and time to put away the standard-issue evangelical ideology and political agenda. In the words of Jesus in John 13:35, the message is clear: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another." Does this country feel the love from the current evangelical church? I would imagine that nearly everyone who is now outside the evangelical church would say no.
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Third, this advertising campaign needs to stop. As I see it, it's directly opposed to the second of the 10 Commandments: "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below." Not only is this advertising ineffective, it is actually against God. Jesus is not a new model, like the latest product iPhone. Jesus is about embracing a way of life, not about something you purchase. That way of life is humble and quiet, built on a faith that heals the sick, welcomes the foreigner, serves the poor, forgives and shows mercy.
Those big Super Bowl ads are behind us now, and I'm sure many evangelical Christians celebrated that campaign as a cultural victory and applauded themselves for reaching millions with the message about their version Jesus. Millions of people saw those ads, but I'm confident that almost none of them will suddenly show up in church. Most people were probably in the bathroom during those commercial breaks, while others were simply be annoyed. Consider the incredible hypocrisy of so-called Christians creating a misleading ad campaign that aligns their supposed faith some cell phone provider pretending to be better than their competitors, some insurance company pretending to care about its clients, some auto manufacturer pretending that buying their car means fulfilling the American dream and, of course, some corporate brewer pretending that their beer is the secret to friendship, togetherness and happiness.
The truth here is not complicated: The church is failing exactly because it's doing what all the other advertisers are doing — pretending to be something that it's not. The teachings of Jesus are of great value and could help many people live better and more fulfilling lives, whether or not they actively believe in God. That's especially true for the millions of evangelical Christians who have completely ignored or abandoned the teaching of Jesus. "He gets us," yes. But at this point, evangelicals in America definitely don't get him.