Early this year I asked the question, what will replace evangelicalism. I think evangelicalism the movement is dead (or approaching death) because the brand has been catastrophically destroyed. I am connecting labels and brands because outsiders consider them interchangeable. The damage happened as the media conflated ‘white evangelicalism’ with everything ‘white Republicans’ represent, then passing it off as the whole of evangelicalism. It happened again after the recent senate election in Alabama.
Unfortunately, it makes no difference that black evangelicals, particularly women, are value based voters and swung the election for a Democrat win, evangelicalism is currently, and perhaps permanently, tied to the white Republican version.
This is important because I’m hearing a lot of good, lifelong evangelicals, declare they’re not going to lose their identity without a fight.
You can do what you want but I’m not giving up without a fight. We’ve let evil overtake the entire reputation of Evangelicalism. The lust for power is nauseating. Racism, appalling. The arrogance, terrifying. The misogyny so far from Christlikeness, it can’t be Christianity.
— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) December 11, 2017
Trouble is, the fight is over. Evangelicalism is not worth saving because the damage is too deep. I’ll explain by using two examples.
The first is from my experience in marketing. When brands suffer catastrophic failure they have to discard and reinvent. Equifax will do this (and it won’t be their first time re-branding). They can’t save their image from the harm inflicted. They have to start new to regain public trust. However, in this example, the the identity or DNA of the organization doesn’t change (and they’ll make the same mistakes, just that the public will forget the first ones).
The second from my work in the NGO sector, specifically human trafficking. HT coverage is routinely sensationalized for attention. What happens on the ground is far more complex and nuanced. Yet combating sensational reporting is almost impossible. Seeing this impediment to improved messaging, I sought the advice from a retired UNICEF communications expert. He basically said you can’t control the message once it goes mainstream. When the media adopts terminology you have to work within the flow. You can try to shape from that starting point, but there’s too much inertia to displace mainstream thinking once it gets moving.
You may be thinking that evangelicalism isn’t a brand, it’s a movement. Insiders know this. (Although even the insiders argue over what constitutes ‘evangelical’. Case in point, the polarizing spectrum of evangelicals appalled with Trump or Roy Moore, and the 80% who continue to vote for party over country.) However, more importantly, OUTSIDERS do not.
This is critical. Once a mainstream cultural connection was made between Trump, Moore, et al., with (white) evangelicals, the entire movement was equated with the worst of these beliefs and people. The entire movement was branded (which is the same as a label, both have to go). Where Christendom offered inherited privilege and say in the day to day lives of people, evangelicalism today can’t control the narrative (despite how hard they try to legislate their way to change). Wielding little power beyond their own associations is a situation the majority church is unfamiliar with. The brand, whether rightly or wrongly, has been caricatured at the expense of those who defy the mainstream characteristics. And there’s no turning back.
Contemporary culture by and large has made a connection that will take generations to forget. Ironically, evangelicalism is about (among other tenants) evangelism, something that has come to a crushing halt in a cultural age where people no longer have an assumed religious memory, and all they know about evangelicals are the worst possible associations. No newcomer would be caught dead associating with the current portrayal of evangelicalism. Any message becomes tainted as it moves beyond the closed church doors. It matters little what substance is behind the moniker, the brand perception has been lost.
It’s time for something new, new identity, new DNA, new movement.