20 December 2006

God speaks? Really?!

On my way home from Abilene to Atlanta, I kept a tally of how many Christian billboards I saw. I don't have a final count (I'm too absent-minded to produce a good count anyway), but I do have a small complaint. I had several hours of lonely, mind-numbing driving to think about this. Mind if I vent?

Maybe you’ve seen these signs too: solid black with white messages signed “- God.” Some of them are kind of okay, but most of them make me cringe. They're as obnoxious as insulting t-shirts! (One of my biggest pet peeves.) The one on my way out of Abilene says, “If you must curse, use your own name.” Another quips, “They’re commandments, not suggestions.” Still another (my least favorite): “Don’t make me come down there.” (Sort of turns the spirit of Advent upside down, doesn't it?)

Um… what is the point of these?! At best, they make God sound like a condescending, even petulant, parent. They're a sort of heavenly “Don’t make me pull this car over.” At worst, they remind me of the retorts of a sassy teenage girl who’s being shunned by the in-crowd, struggling to pull herself out of the social margins. They're like bad bumper stickers on steroids.

I realize that some churches may consider these billboards a part of their outreach and evangelism. I really wish they’d reconsider. None of these fiesty quotes actually has content that can properly be called Good News. Besides, are moralistic threats on highway billboards really the best way to go? That's a lot of money to throw away on signs that make non-Christians roll their eyes. Why would they want to be associated with a faith that casts judgment on the passengers of every car that drives down the highway? And do we really want to advertise Christianity in the same way that the used car lot down the street promotes their product? One of these things is not like the other! Following Christ is not and should not be a consumer product, so why stoop to using the methods of commercialism?

Let's be honest: these signs are more for the sake of self-expression than they are for evangelism. We are the ones who feel increasingly marginalized by our culture. (That might be true in parts of the country, but still smacks a bit of religious hypochondria in West Texas.) If God is concerned about us always being in the majority, then God's choice of people in the Bible is quite baffling! Cultural marginalization shouldn't be our greatest fear - it's nothing new for Christians across the globe and throughout the centuries. The New Testament presupposes that Christians are a (persecuted) minority. Instead of fighting marginalization, what if we focused on how to faithfully live out the Gospel regardless of what our social status is? That might just be the best evangelistic move we can make.


Jared Cramer said...

i think your interpretation of what's really going in with these billboards is probably spot on. we do indeed need to find a different way to deal with marginalization.

however, as conservative christianity has gained power over the past years, they come off even more arrogant than before

Kelli said...

As always, good point, J. C. Arrogance is definitely reflected there, too. And unfortunately, the religious right seem to be the only Christians who get any press. A lot of people think that this arrogance is characteristic of Christianity (when it should be just the opposite!), and with billboards like these littering the streets, who can blame them?

It's Christmas - let's take a lesson from the birth of our Savior: salvation entering the world from the margins, from the most unlikely of places.