The Episcopal Church: Come Watch Us Argue Over Gay People

July 15, 2009 by

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.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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11 Responses to “The Episcopal Church: Come Watch Us Argue Over Gay People”

  • Hal
    July 16, 2009

    We seem to have forgotten that our ultimate goal isn’t growth; it’s reflecting God’s kingdom. I think if more churches focused on living out the kingdom, growth would probably be a natural result.
    Or maybe it wouldn’t. But that wouldn’t change our call to follow Jesus down the “narrow path.”

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  • Rick Wilson
    July 16, 2009

    Theology is very important but is divisive by its very nature. Focusing on Jesus, his character and nature and the unity in the believing community he prays for (John 17:21) will bring us together.

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  • larry
    July 16, 2009

    In the United Methodist Church, the marketing slogan “Open hearts, open doors, open minds” has gotten dragged into so many theological arguments that it makes me despair for the sanity sometimes of those who use it as the exclusive basis for a particular point of view. Like you said, I agree completely with the sentiment:
    “Make your theological decisions on theological grounds. Leave marketing out of it.”

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  • Joe
    July 16, 2009

    I’m not sure Bishop Little’s comments were driven by marketing. I think he was simply stating what the impact of a bad theological decision will be on the denomination.

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  • Andy Wittwer
    July 16, 2009

    Great post Kevin – Hopefully all denominations are able to hang on to your point of clarity.

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  • Michael Buckingham
    July 17, 2009

    So true Kevin, and one of the things that the naysayers of church marketing point as a problem with mixing marketing and church. We must not begin to customize doctorine based on “client demands”…truth is truth.
    While I absolutely agree that we all need to be living a life reflective of Christ, I have to disagree with Hal. Growth is indeed a task we have been given. Wasn’t it even Christ’s last assignment he gave to us? “Go and make disciples.”?
    I too often hear people turn up their nose at a church that is growing and adding people, and have that as a priority of the church. But folks, if your not growing your preaching the same thing to the same people and getting the same results. Growth isn’t a bad word.

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  • Charles Browning
    July 21, 2009

    This is a prime example of allowing a cultural trend dictate the church’s direction. I’m an Episcopal seminarian and the discussion of how and where gay and lesbian persons can serve the church is very much apart of our educational discourse. The theological ramifications of this recent move of The Episcopal Church (as is the case of all the rest of her “progressive” moves) have not been explored in favor of satisfying a societal critique. TEC is doing what most American institutions do: jump first and expect everyone else to follow suit and accept them for it.
    One of the issues I’m noticing in a lot of church circles is the idolizing of “inclusiveness.” The questions we need to be asking ourselves is whether or not we are placing secular conceptions of being inclusive above the call of Jesus Christ. Is the gospel “inclusive?” I don’t think it is. I believe it to be welcoming and free to be received by all who hear it. But inclusiveness is an idea that tries to make room at the table for everyone, something that the Gospel preached by Jesus Christ markedly does not (there’re some parables about goats and sheep and wheat and tares to illustrate this point).
    How far do we go to “include?” Should we have to preach a gospel easily received by secular humanists and atheists? Do we do what some of the fundamentalists do and force conversion on even those who do not desire it in order to make the gospel “inclusive?”
    I just wonder if there’s a danger of compromise inherent in the over-emphasis of being places of “inclusion.”

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  • Michael Robertson
    August 10, 2009

    Thank you, Charles Browning! I’m facing this dilemma in my church, where “celebrating differences” entails turning a blind eye to egregious issues of false doctrine, all for the purpose of inclusivity and unity among various churches in the city. They think the appearance of tolerance and unity among denominations will do the work of God despite it being compromising to the truth of the Word.

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  • Jim Elrod
    August 11, 2009

    Did anyone ask the 19,000 people why they left the Episcopal Church last year? If we knew the reason or the reasons, we might be surprised. Blessed are . . .

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  • Chad Lee
    January 9, 2012

    One things that I like about Jesus is that he was always direct and uncompromising when it came to the truth. He may have dinned with sinners and tax collectors so that they could hear the good news but he never bent the truth so that anyone would accept or like him more.

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  • Robert
    April 24, 2017

    I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I call on Him for my salvation. I like the Book of Common Prayer. I sadly confess i have given up on ‘The Church’ as a whole. I truly believe Our Lord is deeply saddened by the condition of the church.

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