A fellow pastor and I commiserated last week about our "branding problem" as Christians who actually do think Jesus called us to love everyone. As Dan Clenendin wrote last week, a recent book by the Barna group documents "how an overwhelming percentage of sixteen to twenty-nine year olds view Christians with hostility, resentment and disdain." Huge percentages in this age group believe that Christians are antihomosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and insensitive.
What most frustrated my colleague and I was not simply that this caricature of Christians predominates our culture, but that we see these same stereotypes accepted by young people in our own congregations. Here are a control group, you could say. These are teenagers who have never belonged to a congregation that wasn't accepting of gay and lesbian folk, that didn't address social issues. As long as they have been alive (in the case of ECLC, which has been Reconciling for 25 years), welcome of gay folk has been policy, not just a nice ideal. And yet these young people allow this negative (and, may I say it, judgmental?) portrayal of "Christians" in general to define their own picture of what "Christians" are like.
What we have here is not just a branding problem. What we have, it seems, is a world where personal experience plays second fiddle to -- or maybe even gets defined by -- a story told by forces far beyond the confines of our congregations. Makes you wonder whether you are truly preaching into a void. I'm sure someone with more media savvy than I (Chris? Andrew? Ryan?) could help us unpack this.