Forget I Am Episcopalian. The Episcopal Church has a new marketing slogan: “Come watch us argue over gay people.”
OK, not really. But wouldn’t it be funny? I came across this nugget of a marketing statement in the midst of an NPR story on the continuing battle in the Episcopal Church over gay bishops. The statement comes at the end of the article and isn’t actually a potential new slogan, but a bit of frustration over the conflict. But I think it presents an important marketing insight.
Susan Russell, a liberal priest in California, thinks it is time the Episcopal Church moves forward:
“A church that is obsessed with fighting over whether or not gay and lesbian people can be bishops is not real attractive. I mean, ‘Come watch us argue over gay people’ is not a great marketing scheme. And I’m of the mind the decisions we’re making are going to encourage church growth rather than decline.”
Edward Little, a conservative bishop in Indiana, thinks allowing gay bishops and priests will speed up the flow of denominational defectors (the church lost 19,000 members last year):
“It will accelerate individual departures, it will accelerate the number of parishes that decide to leave, and it may perhaps push another diocese or two over the edge. So I think it’s going to increase the fragmentation.”
The danger of these comments is that they sound like marketing justification for a theological decision. I doubt Russell or Little intend them that way, but it’s easy to make that conclusion.
Let’s be clear: Make your theological decisions on theological grounds. Leave marketing out of it.
To do anything else is catering to the crowd. The message should drive the marketing, not the other way around. The message itself should never be changed because it won’t go over well. That’s contrary to the very nature of the gospel (which we’re told won’t go over well). How you deliver that message is open to all kinds of tinkering. Change your approach, change your medium, change your method. But we can’t change the message.
Of course the unique problem the Episcopal Church faces is that they can’t decide what the message is. Until they do, maybe they can go with Russell’s slogan.