The pendulum swings, and Christmas returns: unconscious Gospel marketing

LDS have at times emphasized uniquely LDS characteristics, and at other times focused on what we have in common with other Christians. Armand Mauss talks about this in terms of maintaining optimum tension with the surrounding culture;  I can’t decide if what I’m about to describe is simply a restate of that principle, or a parallel principle in a different realm.

Effective marketing demonstrates how the item or idea being sold is different or better than what else is out there.  This, I think, plays a role in cultural doctrinal emphases.  As explained in this post examining the new LDS market outreach, this is

Advertising 101: Same will get you no where.

Differentiate. Differentiate. Differentiate. In branding, the message should not be ”we’re just like you,” A) because this is never entirely true, and B) because this is a fundamentally bad way to brand.

This principle in marketing-speak is called Unique Selling Proposition. It layman’s terms: What is the thing that makes your brand better than every other brand?

A friend of mine served a mission in Thailand, where Christians tend to be few. Consequently, the way the missionaries present the gospel is not a “Mormonism vs other-Christianity” binary framework, but a “Mormon-Christianity vs. non-Christianity.” In the latter, Christ (as interpreted through a Mormon lens) is the focus, because the primary differentiatior between Christianity and non-Christianity is Christ. In the Judeo-Christian world, though, preaching Christ doesn’t differentiate us much from others, and so we tend to focus heavily on those aspects of Mormonism that do: Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, etc. When my friend returned to the US from Thailand, he felt a bit shocked over just how much we hear and talk  about Joseph Smith because he’d become accustomed to a different culture.

I see from LDS Media Talk that has a Christmas section, It seems that every year, someone’s ward ends up having the Sunday nearest Christmas focused on Joseph Smith and the Restoration instead of Christ and Christmas, leading to the snarky/upset/confused discussion of “Smithmas” a term rightfully labeled “nasty and pejorative” by RJH in this excellent post. He points out that, first things first, that “Joseph Smith deserves to be celebrated. He is the founder of a major religion, a bona fide historical heavyweight, and revered prophet of millions.”

Mormons can and should emphasize Joseph Smith and the Restoration, but I think we’re becoming stable, self-confident and mature  enough that we can equally those things we share with our co-competitors in the religious market, such as the Bible.

We recently had our Stake Conference in which the visiting 70 reported that as part of his training in SLC, he’d been told something along the lines of “We don’t use the New Testament as much as we should be, so go home and read it!” He had taken this to heart, and most of his sermon focused on some of the NT. We also seem to have heard more about the Bible and its worth in General Conference in the last few years. I’m glad to hear this kind of rhetoric, and hope that it spreads.