What is Our Brand?

By Doris Tegge –

Lutherans have been getting a lot of media exposure this year due to the 500th anniversary celebration of the Reformation, ranging from a feature length film on PBS television to articles in major news magazines.  More people are now aware of the term Lutheran as a Christian denomination than ever before.  We have brand recognition!  The dictionary defines “brand” as an identifying mark.  How then are we to be identified, or branded, as Lutheran, and more significantly, Christian?

St. Paul describes the attributes of a Christian community in Colossians 3:12: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

There are a multitude of religious denominations in the United States, each with a different view on doctrine and the role that the church should play in society.   Compassion and humility go a long way in fostering unity.   In his sermon at the Reformation Commemoration Service on November 1, Rev. Robert Rimbo reached out to the diversity of faith in the New York metropolitan area.   He said that it is not the business of Lutherans to insist that their opinions are the right one, but that we should be “transformed by encounters with others” who have different viewpoints.   Even if we don’t agree with each other, a respectful debate can help us to examine and more clearly define our own position.

Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that acts of oppression, intolerance, indifference and even violence are committed by persons who are labeled “Christians”.  This is nothing new.  The 30 Years War (1618 – 1648) between various factions of Christianity in Europe cost Germany almost a fifth of its population in causalities.  Sadly, there are all too many incidents of people who call themselves Christians behaving badly today.  If you are watching, listening, or reading the news, you know what I am talking about.   These actions hurt the Christian brand. They make a lie of the faith that is our foundation.  A faith that is based on the two greatest commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

So, how should a small Lutheran congregation in the middle of an outer borough of New York City identify (brand) itself?

Some enthusiastic members of our congregation have outfitted themselves in tee-shirts displaying Luther’s crest or historic Reformation sites.   In the Bible, Jesus tells us how Christians are to be identified: “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) This is clear and simple.  Trinity Middle Village may not get NY1 coverage, but we can show who we are by the way we treat our families, our neighbors, our colleagues, and the strangers among us.  Go ahead and wear your brand proudly, whether it is a tee-shirt or a cross around your neck.  But the biggest billboard we have is our actions and our attitudes.

I am reminded of a song from my youth group.  You can hum along if you like.

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

(Peter Scholtes, Jars of Clay)

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