Secular Strategy, Christian Strategy, and How To Focus on Our Strengths To Win
“Our religion doesn’t believe in hitting children.” — The Satanic Temple
Boom! Just like that, with seven words and a signature, Satanism steps up and stands on the moral high ground. The town of Three Rivers, Texas had just voted to allow corporal punishment in its schools. Satanism answers with an short message packing a powerful punch: Our religion is kind to kids. (Other religions probably beat their children.)
You could almost admire their strategic savvy. You certainly have to respect it, the way you respect heavy weather on the high seas, or a fire slipping out of control in the woods. It works. It’s powerful. And it’s destructive.
It works even if it isn’t true. It doesn’t have to be true; the message gets through regardless.
And this is just one example of the opposition strategy Christians have to deal with every day. It isn’t just this sign. It’s all the accusations of “hatred” and “homophobia.” It’s the charge that we’re “intolerant.” And on and on. See how easy it is for them? See how they can score points with just a word? How can we counter a strategy like that?
How Do We Answer?
First Baptist Church of Three Rivers put up a sign reading, “Satan doesn’t own all the signs in TR — Don’t let him own you.” That’s thirteen words, and it doesn’t hit nearly as hard as Satanism’s seven. Where it does have some effect, it’s in leading people to think about it.
And there, I believe, is the key to Christian strategy in response to secular sloganeering. We have to focus on thinking. If we do that effectively enough, we can turn the battle our direction.
Sloganeering Relies on the Gut
Thinking is the last thing the Satanists want you to do when you see their sign. All they want is to plant an unconscious impression. They’re aiming for the gut, really, not the head. Powerful slogans, like effective images, hardly ever aim for the head. They get their power from the associations they bring forth.
You see the “swoosh” logo, and Nike comes to mind. You don’t have to think about it; it just happens. Nike has placed that image next to its name so many times, in so many places, you can’t see it without making the connection. Effective slogans work the same way: They call forth thoughts and images already planted in easily accessible locations in virtually everyone’s mind.
Secular slogans can do this with the greatest of ease. Hollywood, the universities, other media, in fact virtually all our most influential voices speak a continual message that runs counter to Christian belief. We all hear it constantly, so it sits right at the top of everyone’s minds. Even if you don’t agree with it, it’s there. You can access it without even trying — and so can the slogan writers. They can get to it with just a word or two.
Then from that mindless place in your memory, their message jumps straight to the gut. There’s no mental processing required; in fact, the more you think about what they’re saying, the worse it is for them. Satanists sure don’t want you asking, “Okay, then, what actually is Satanism? I want to look into that.” They want a gut reaction, not a head response.
The Christian Message Is For the Mind
We have to work toward the mind. Then from there we can access the heart.
The Christian message, in contrast, requires real explanation. Very few people have it sitting in easy mental reach; few even know what it really is. That means we can’t possibly get to it in people’s minds through using mere slogans. Our answers have to be slow, patient and thoughtful. We have to work toward the mind. Then from there we can access the heart.
What we’ve got going for us, you see, is truth: truth that can stand inspection. Truth that’s true when you look at it from one angle, and another, and another, and another, … .
Sloganeering isn’t like that. Consider the Satanic Temple’s billboard. They’re implying lots of questionable things there: that “hitting children” is a religious belief; that corporal punishment belongs to the age of cavemen; that most religions are just awful, whereas Satanism is all sweetness and light. All of that’s wide open to question, once you’ve decided you won’t just settle for your gut reaction.
That kind of questioning takes time and thought. Real questioning won’t rest until it gets to the truth — and the truth is what Christianity is good at, or at least should be. For our truth — God’s truth — is strong and robust. It can stand up to all the questions you can throw at it. Their slogans can’t.
Christian Strategy: Building On Our Strengths, Not Theirs
So yes, secular slogans can score points at the level of the gut. The Christian message won’t often win the gut using slogans that way, but that’s okay; it’s strong enough to win at the level of the heart, via the mind. That means Christian strategy needs to look toward our own strengths. Our main strength in the world, besides the power of God and the visible demonstration of his love, is the truth we bring. We’ve got to capitalize on that strength.
Which is going to require change in the way we do things. We desperately need a renewed Christian emphasis on the life of the mind. We need it for strategic purposes, to grow into operating from our own strengths, rather than the other side’s. And we need it because Jesus commanded us to “love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37, emphasis added)
It may slow; it may be difficult. That doesn’t matter: It’s essential anyway. We must develop among us the intellectual apparatus to turn the strategic battle into a contest for the head, not the heart. Then we can bring a different kind of battle to the field. We’ll be competing on our own turf.
Not Just Schooling; Sunday Morning, Too
The Church has an incredibly strong tradition of education throughout its history. That tradition lives today in the classical Christian education movement, in rigorous home schooling and in some of our colleges.
Generally speaking, though, it’s weaker than it should be where it counts the most: Sunday mornings, where most of us are present, and where the morning message defines what it means to live as a Christian. Churches need to start acting as if the life of the mind belongs to everyone. This needs to be sermon material.
Over Time We Can Win
I’m talking about a serious culture change in Christianity, which I know is going to be tough. We’ve all grown up in the same unthinking culture, so turning ourselves into a thinking people isn’t an easy, overnight project. Our game is a long game. It has to be.
Our opponents are really, really good at the fast game. Let’s play it our way instead. Over time, with God’s truth as our standard, and with robust thinking as our strategy, a true Christian strategy could win.