There’s something just not right about a religion launching a national advertising campaign. But this is exactly what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has done. The goal? To demonstrate to the world that the contemporary Mormon church is not “your father’s Mormon church.” Indeed, this ad campaign is designed to reinvent Mormonism for a younger, hipper generation of religious seekers.
One of the characters enlisted to help recast Mormonism for today is Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the band The Killers. Let me be clear: 2004’s “Hot Fuss” was a great album (c’mon, you loved Mr. Brightside, too). And I’ve logged many a mile with 2006’s “Sam’s Town” on my shuffle. Even if 2007’s “Don’t Shoot Me Santa” was more than a little creepy, I have to admit I’ve appreciated Flowers’ music. But that doesn’t make me want to become a Mormon. However, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is hoping the “hip” factor Flowers brings to the ad campaign will help in the church’s recruiting effort. Consider this compelling video that ends with Flowers stating, “I’m a father, I’m a husband, and I’m a Mormon.”
Noting that “the boundaries of Mormon style are expanding,” the New York Times picks up on this story and explains the reason for the Mormon church’s rebranding effort:
The highly visible “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign (the subject of a major push on television, billboards, the subway and the Internet) seeks to quash strait-laced stereotypes by showing off a cool, diverse set of Mormons, including, besides Mr. Flowers, a leather-clad Harley aficionado, knit-cap-wearing professional skateboarder and an R & B singer with a shaved head.
My guess is that this ad campaign is going to be very successful. It will help reinvent the image of Mormonism for a new generation. It will attract people to Mormonism that otherwise would not have been interested. It will win the church new members and help deepen the commitment of those already within the fold. All of this through an advertising campaign.
Of course, evangelical Christians are in many ways doing the same thing–just not on an organized, national level. Individual churches and professing Christians appear desperate to show a watching world (are they watching?) that we can be cool, too. But there are unintended consequences of this effort to make Christianity “hip.” When image becomes paramount it is at best a distraction from the gospel and at worst a distortion of it.
Nobody is “cool” before the cross. At the cross we are undone as we recognize our desperate need for a Savior. If we are to stand before the God who is described in Scripture as “holy, holy, holy” (Rev. 4:8), then the “image” we need is the renewed image of Christ in us (2 Cor. 3:18). The gospel crucifies our swagger and kills our pride. The gospel is not about us becoming more “hip” but more loving as we walk in humble service to our King.
An account executive on Madison Avenue would never draw up an ad campaign like this for Christianity. But that’s just fine because at the end of the day we want people to come to Christ, not to a brand.