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 Christian 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 Christian event on the news and hear statements from the speakers that sound more like they’re coming from a radical mosque.
Leaders often 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.