there’s no such thing as bad publicity

newspapers“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Those words have been attributed to a few different people, most notably the American showman PT Barnum. But even though we might be tempted to agree with the sentiment (like Oscar Wilde’s “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”) in reality it is wrong.

Colchester is in the national news at the moment. Over the past couple of months there have been two brutal murders in Colchester. That’s definitely not good publicity. There has been a lot of speculation in the media about this. That’s definitely not good publicity. A local newspaper ran the headline “Maniac in our midst”. That’s definitely not good publicity.

It’s not good publicity when someone publicly falls from grace. It’s not good publicity when Christians make crass statements about the end of the world being on a particular (now past) date. It’s not good publicity when a footballer bites another one during a match at the World Cup (allegedly – it’s not proven yet despite what we saw on TV).

So what are we to do in those cases? We have a couple of choices: we can be interested as impartial observers. We can relish the details, especially if they are salubrious. We can become fearful, upset or angry. We can speculate about those parts of the events that we don’t know, filling in the gaps. We can spread the news (aka gossip). We can take the moral high ground, tut loudly, and denounce those who are (in our minds) guilty.

Or we can pray. I want to invite you to do that now for our town (even if you don’t live in Colchester).

Please pray for the families and friends of James Attfield and Nahid Al Manea – the victims of these savage attacks.

Please pray for the communities of Colchester and the University of Essex, particularly those who live near the places where the murders took place.

Pray for the police and those investigating the crimes.

Pray for those who are gripped by fear.

Pray for the perpetrators.

Pray for God’s peace and love.

How will you respond to the next bad publicity you hear?

Be blessed, be a blessing

toxic church

‘News International’ has become ‘News UK’ in an attempt at what the BBC News website is calling “brand decontamination”. Following a procession of bad publicity and scandals the organisation has changed its name. A change of name won’t change much. I suspect it will not make much difference unless there is an associated change of culture and attitude, and even then it will take a long time to change the public perception and erase the residual collective memory we have about News International. 

WARNING ICON GLOSSY 14The concept of ‘brand decontamination’ is an interesting one. It suggests that brands can become toxic and become a liability. I wonder whether ‘church’ might be in danger of heading that way and need decontamination? There have been too many scandals (one is too many) associated with churches in recent years. The public and painful debates in the Church of England have also contributed to this effect, particularly given how they were portrayed in the media. It doesn’t help that lazy journalism talks about “the Church” when it means “The Church of England” or the “Roman Catholic Church”, but I suspect that potential toxicity cannot be attributed only to that.

So what can we do? I suppose the first thing is to work out whether we should be bothered about it at all. After all, Jesus warned us that our reputation would be tarnished as his followers and that we can expect opposition (and persecution). But those are because of who he is, not because of our failures. We should be concerned not because of our reputation but because of how it reflects on his. If churches are the visible representation of Jesus today (his body) then we should be worried if people think his character to be ugly, cruel, even evil because of us.

Should we change our name in order to effect a brand decontamination? Suggestions for a new name are welcome (just hit ‘leave a reply’ above)! But unless we undergo a corporate character and culture change it may be as ineffective as I suspect News UK’s re-branding will be. And that is where we have a distinct advantage. We are followers of the One who is able to change us. We are disciples of the forgiver, the reconciler, the fresh-start-giver, the transformer. He has filled us with his Spirit who will bear fruit within us that will help us to be more like Jesus.

On balance I don’t think we need a brand decontamination. What we need is openness to God’s Spirit, a willingness to change, and a desire to be the best free samples of Jesus that we can. And surely admitting our mistakes, seeking forgiveness and starting afresh is a much better approach than re-branding – that goes for us as individuals and as groups of Christians (aka ‘church’).

Be blessed, be a blessing.