Turning Stereotypes Upside Down
Stereotypes are powerful and pervasive. All of us, consciously and unconsciously, hold on to certain stereotypes. Visual images that intentionally challenge those stereotypes can provoke strong feelings of inspiration, outrage, intrigue, or curiosity. These images force self-evaluation and reflection.
For example, a recent series of images ‘Let’s Talk about Race’ by Chris Buck in O Magazine provocatively challenges racial stereotypes, assumptions, and expectations with the hope of sparking a broader discussion on racism. Similarly, in his series ‘Lamentations’ artist Kehinde Whiley re-imagines contemporary black figures in the style of Renaissance-era European oil paint and stained glass artists, explaining, “…if Black Lives Matter, they deserve to be in paintings.” Likewise, artist Harmonia Rosale's 'Creation of God' re-imagines Michelangelo's 'Creation of Adam' with the central figures depicted as black women. Writer Cecilia González-Andrieu explains, "God is a black grandmother who creates humanity in her image."
Earlier this year, the cover of the New Yorker featured 'Operating Theater' depicting an all-female team of surgeons, an image that challenges a gender norm in a profession that is still disproportionately male. Artist Malika Favre was thrilled to share on Instagram the social media response of women doctors around the world who recreated the cover image in a show of solidarity with their surgical sisters.
Images have the power to expose our deep-seeded stereotypes, and sometimes, images can begin to dispel those same stereotypes.
What Christian stereotypes exist?
The answer isn’t positive. In his book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters, author David Kinnaman reveals that young people most often associate Christianity with being:
- too political
How can we dispel negative Christian stereotypes?
This negative perception has profound implications for digital ministry and the imagery we use to tell our stories. Certainly few of us would show images that intentionally reinforce negative stereotypes but how often do we share images to intentionally dispel the negative perception? When scrutinized, what are the stories our images tell? What do they reveal about the demographics of our congregations? Our priorities? Our leadership? Our engagement in the broader community?
Two of my favorite images from my church reflect a willingness to embrace young people and our ability to carry on ancient traditions in a meaningful way in the modern world. One is a picture of our women’s choir. Robed, hymnals in hand, they are shown singing – a group of mature women and one teen. Make all the jokes you want about older ladies with blue hair, it is in fact the teen who has blue hair – close-cropped, total punk Superman-blue dyed hair. Singing her heart out. The second picture is similar – it is a closeup of a teen holding a basket of palms. Wearing traditional acolyte garments and clutching this most ancient symbol of the arrival of Christ, her nails are painted the exact same green as the palms. The juxtaposition of traditional church and contemporary culture pleases me. It captures who we are as a church – and that we aren’t always who you think we are.
These images have transformative power. I've witnessed cathartic reactions to pictures of clergy marching under a rainbow flag at Pride parades. I've heard a woman with tears in her eyes explain her decision to leave a more patriarchal denomination after seeing an image of a female priest, in vestments at the altar, celebrating the Eucharist.
So what are your favorite church images? What are the images that show the church you love and how it is the opposite of judgmental, anti-homosexual, hypocritical, too political, and sheltered? How can we use these images to reframe the negative stereotypes that persist? How can we provoke a dialogue about what it means to be a Christian in the modern world in a way that is invitational and not off-putting?
And if you don’t have any images that you can use to dispel negative stereotypes about Christianity, then isn’t time to start taking pictures?
- Lisa Brown, Director of Digital Ministry
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at email@example.com or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.