Decreasing Numbers and Increased Negative Perceptions Need To Be Changed
If I told you to close your eyes and imagine a Christian, what is the first image that comes into your head? Did you see a khaki-wearing individual with conservative viewpoints, a hipster with tattoos, or just another person? What views would you immediately put in their heads?
Studies have shown Americans are more likely to associate Christians with anti-homosexuality, abortion, and negative viewpoints. This could partially be why the population of non-Christians is on the rise and a particular group that is becoming less religious is millennials. They are finding less connection with religion and have too prejudiced a view on what a Christian is.
This trend has come from a couple of factors. The most important is the increased political involvement of Evangelical Christians. The so-called “Culture Wars” have becoming a losing battle for conservative religious groups. The general population of the United States has become more open to drug legalization, gay marriage, and women’s rights. Therefore, the shifting nature of opinion creates a clear identification for individuals of Christianity with these policies.
The changing publicity given to social media and information technology has also has been a factor. Organizations like the Westboro Baptist Church, which protests military funerals because of gay marriage, among other horrible acts. Groups like these hurt imaging in two ways. First, other Christians get grouped in with them, which is unfair. Second, these are the type of stories that go viral. And so negative attention becomes expanded, especially to younger generations that are more likely to use social media. Mother Teresa said that “if you judge people, you have no time to love them.” This is the perception issue for Christians. The focus on attacking means that the universal principle of love is ignored. If you talked to individuals about their personal ethics you could easily find an equivalent in the New Testament and many of the quotes from Jesus.
What can be done to improve the message? Individual communication within churches and congregations. Christian groups need to create more of a counter-narrative. The best example of this is the actions of the Pope and the public reaction. He just had a pizza party with sick kids from a Catholic hospital. Focusing on the social ethics of Christianity is a way to appeal. It also is more likely to be shared among media outlets. It can also happen on a personal level, by working more on community service you can build goodwill. During this holiday time would be an excellent opportunity to do this.