I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine regarding all things church related. In this conversation, I used the phrase ‘the Anglican brand’ to refer to my own understanding of Anglicanism as opposed to other liturgical traditions. I have used this phrase quite a bit. I have even questioned whether we need to‘re-brand’ the Anglican Church. To this phrase, my friend cheekily but insightfully quipped:
“You mean, like a pair of Jeans?”
That comment got me thinking about the notion of brands. Brands are everywhere. We see it on the billboards we pass, the magazines we read, the programs we watch, and the clothes that we wear. Not only are brand everywhere, but they are directed to all people. Over the past few years, my wife and I have noticed that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find ‘brandless’ attire for our son. It seems the notion of a ‘plain white t-shirt’ is almost non-existent these days. Every shirt contains a reference to a popular toy, or a famous movie, or a current trend. And guess what? My six year old son notices. I can still remember when he came home asking for something with ‘Spider-man’ on it. Followed came the statements ‘I wish I had a backpack with X on it’ or ‘why can’t I have a toy that does y’. For my son, the identification of brands brought also the understanding of what it meant to be devoid of the brand. Even at a young age, our son intrinsically picked up the culturally-conditioned mandate that to wear a shirt without Disney characters, comic book heros or avians with anger-management issues, was to be different from those who did.
And in the world of branding, different equals bad.
This is why big manufactures, large-scale companies, and even celebrity stars and starlets spend countless resources on the developing, honing, and marketing of their brands. In doing this, they create completely fabricated notions of popularity and quality. The shirt with the brand is deemed more valuable than the one without. By extension, those who wear the branded-shirt are seen as more valuable, more in tune, more popular than those who do not. What is more, every time we identify ourselves as ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob’, ‘ House of Gryffindor’ or ‘House of Slytherin’, we buy into a specific brand as it is sold to us.
It’s interesting isn’t it? Essentially, the brand is not about the product what-so-ever, but about how the product is thought of, commodified, and ultimately consumed. A white t-shirt depicting the image of a web-slinging super-hero is no different than a plain white t-shirt; it’s just that we have been told to value one more than the other. The not-so-subtle suggestion in all of this is that our identity, worth, and value as individuals is found in the brands that we consume. The self is abdicated in place of the brand.
All of this is a preamble to say that I have now started to question whether speaking of an ‘Anglican brand’ is appropriate, given what a brand represents within our current culture? If we understand that a brand is more about how something is sold and bought, rather than the actual fabric or identity of something, should I be using this phrase to speak of my involvement in church? Does speaking of my Anglican tradition as ‘a brand’ move me away from the call to community and into the commodification of the church? What is more, if it is true that the branding serves to link our sense of self-worth and value to the identification with product and merchandise, do I unwittingly suggest that ones God-given individuality is of less importance than their acceptance of all things ‘Anglican’?
These are definitely things that need some deeper pondering. Thus, the question for us might be: how can we look beyond a sense of Anglican brand, and into the full nature of Anglican identity? While brands are ultimately self-focused, we as the body of Christ are to be focused on the other. While brands are dedicated to the proliferation of their own identity, we are called to give ourselves in service to those beyond our own borders. “Our attitudes in this world should be the very same as Christ Jesus, who being in the very form of God, did not consider his identity with God as something to be wielded, but made himself as nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” (- a loose translation of Philippians 2:5-7) More so, how do we communicate to a world that can be so ‘brand-centric’ that our value and worth is not found in the images in which we attire ourselves, but in the image of which we are cast? After all, our call in this world is to be a people of God, not just a product.
I await your thoughts.