Christian MediaStrategy & Marketing

War-Like Imagery in Christian Ministry: A Bad Idea?


I’ve been watching media coverage from both religious and secular sources about the series of Christian stadium events called “Battle Cry,” and I have to admit to some real concerns. From a branding point of view – in today’s culture – I’ve felt for a long time that
Christian organizations need to move away from so much battle, war, or soldier imagery in their promotions, marketing, or design.

War-like imagery has been a part of Christian images for generations. “The Salvation Army” is a great example. They’re hardly an “army” in the historical sense, but are organized as a “humanitarian army” designed to defeat poverty, hunger, abuse, and much more. As a result, The Salvation Army is one of the most trusted and recognized brands in the world, and is doing some remarkable projects globally. The advantage The Salvation Army has is brand equity. They have generations of good works to show for why they exist and what they do.

However, with other – particularly more recent – Christian organizations, the last thing we need to do is create a warlike image around what we do in the world.

The obvious reason is Islamic terrorism. When men and women who espouse the faith of Islam blow themselves up, killing hundreds of innocent people, it frames most people’s perception’s of that faith. Of course it’s politically correct for me to say at this point that millions of Islamic people are peace-loving people and have no association with terrorists – and that would be correct. But the real truth is, in a media-driven culture, perception is just as important as reality, and in that world, the words “Islam” and “Muslim” are rapidly becoming associated with terrorism – no matter how much their moderate members try to sway public opinion.

In a media-driven culture, perception matters. And when Battle Cry leaders make volatile statements, they get lumped into the same category as radical Islam. It’s hardly helpful for those of us trying to show the culture that Christianity is founded on the concept of grace, when they look at a Battle Cry event on the news and hear statements from the speakers that sound more like they’re coming from a radical mosque.

I know the Battle Cry leadership, and they have all the right intentions, and are passionate to reach this generation of young people. They’re rightly frustrated with the influence the culture and the media has on teenagers and children, and speak in militant terms in a well intended effort to get them to rise up and take control of their own lives. They are simply trying to make a positive difference for this generation.

Great idea. But it’s not just a question of intentions, commitment, or calling.  In a media-driven culture, it’s also a matter of perception.

Many readers will say that we shouldn’t react to the culture.  That responding to the realities of our society means compromising our faith.  But in Acts 17, Paul responded to the culture in Athens.  He respected their philosophers, took the time to understand their beliefs, and as a result, earned the right to have his message heard.  They not only listened, but they invited him to come back again.

I admire boldness in presenting the Christian message, but as a student of culture, I also admire strategy.  In an age of increasing terrorism, the average American is growing more afraid of militant language and images.  Jesus lived during a time of similar brutality, when horrible violence and cruelty was part of daily life.  That’s why he chose a far different approach, and it changed the course of civilization.

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7 Comments

  1. You got me thinking about the documentary Jesus Camp. Pastor Becky Fischer’s “Kid’s on Fire Summer Camp” where kids are taught to become dedicated soldiers in “God’s army” and are schooled in how to take back America for Christ. Pastor Becky says that she wants the same level of religious frenzy among the youth at her camp as exists at schools that train youth as Islamic fundamentalist suicide bombers. She says,"I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are in Palestine, Pakistan and all those different places".
  2. It certainly pits an us against them, we versus they, type of attitude that encourages 'secular culture/society' to disengage from what they may otherwise find to be interesting to listen too.  It appears to me that war-like language used to describe situations, issues, and or beliefs, is a way many Christians think they can heighten the intensity of their resolve.  In other words, sadly, some Christians think that merely strong language in society is not enough to bring change and gain listeners.  They feel they must use the strongest.  But few realize that in doing so they are shutting the ears of those who might otherwise be interested.  They are yelling to loudly in others faces.  Do we not hear enough about war these days and in history?  Perhaps that is why we use such language, simply because it is so prevelant in history and current events.  Perhaps it is so prevelant that it has become the only way we know of marketing the message.  But that is just the trouble.  The message needs to be lived as well as marketed.  If we don't bring anything new and orginal to the world what cause for seeing what we have to say does the world have?  

  3. I think what Battlecry is doing is focusing on the impact this imagery will make on the teenagers that go to this event. By using militant imagery and branding they are speaking to some of the major insecurities of our cultures youth. One of the number one needs of teens is to be accepted and part of something larger than themselves. Also so often teens are put down and told that they can't make a difference, that they won't amount to anything, and that Military feel gives them a sense of power. So they go to these events and say to themselves "Hey! I can be part of this powerful army where together we can prove people wrong and actually make a difference!" I've attended these events before and have close friends who have worked with the ministry and what they are doing is definitely WORKING.I think the question is  A) Is empowering teens more important then offending outsiders? or B) is their some other imagery that would have a similar effect?

     

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