Christine and I drove past a church sign tonight that said something like “Forgive your enemies. It will annoy them.” It was easy enough to groan and roll our eyes as we drove on…and it would be easy enough to chalk up another hashtag for ‘church sign fails’ or ‘corny jokes’.
But, since I committed to blogging through Lent and I still need one for today, this unfortunate sign has given me fodder.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that all church signs with moveable type should be banned, across the board, with no exceptions. Churches all across the country should be required to have painted signs containing nothing but information about the church.
Messages such as the one I’ve identified above contribute more to the noise and the clutter of an already noisy and over-cluttered world than anything else. You can disagree (and you’d be wrong)…but let’s examine this one case and see if I can’t persuade you to see the light of day. (Truth be told, this particular sign really isn’t all that bad compared to others I’ve seen).
Ready? Here we go.
First of all, whoever put this particular sign up is obviously trying to be funny. But it’s really not that funny. It’s corny. Corny I can deal with…but when you try to mix a corny joke with a set of beliefs that many people (both within and outside of the church) already associate with Ned Flanders from the Simpsons…let’s just say you’re not helping the cause.
Forgiveness isn’t funny. The work of Jesus on the cross isn’t funny. Reconciling with your enemies isn’t funny. It’s all really meaningful stuff (which in itself can be funny, but let’s remember that the meaning comes first).
Secondly, like it or not, church signs (as in the example above) always try to communicate something theological in a drive-by manner. This just shouldn’t be done, for the same reason that you should never (ever) try to have a theological conversation (or convey spiritual truths) on Twitter, or Facebook, or instant messaging. It just doesn’t work.
If you need proof, let’s examine what’s behind the phrase “Forgive your enemies. It annoys them.”
First of all, it’s about forgiveness. Forgiveness is something we should expect to hear about from a church…even a church sign. Even the phrase “Forgive your enemies” is a phrase one would expect to hear in church, even though how we interpret that line varies greatly between one church and another (even within a single denomination). This is not all bad, as forgiveness is a rich topic, and practicers of it (forgiveness, that is) are constantly seeing it in fresh ways, redefining it as the situations where it’s needed change, and so-on.
So actually, had this particular church sign left the words of scripture to speak for themselves, and those of us driving by to wrestle with their meaning, it actually would have achieved far more than it actually did.
As it stands, the final four words on this particular sign (it will annoy them) subtract from the explosive power inherent in the interplay between ‘forgiveness’ and ‘enemies’. They reduce the complexity and the mystery of scripture to a mere joke. So in effect, the statement, while trying to be funny, or edgy, or hip…actually ends up making a mockery of a central tenet of what it means to follow Jesus.
If this were an isolated event, I might not feel as I do about church signs.
But far from being an isolated event, church signs in general make me cringe, or snort, or roll my eyes, because the quality of the thought that’s conveyed is generally so low.
Will you help me in this? If you attend a church that has a sign where somebody has to change the phrase every now and then…can you talk to them, and encourage them to let the scripture speak for itself if they’re tempted to use it as advertising?
Doing the weekly work of speaking truthfully about God is hard enough without drive-by distractions minimizing the work of the One who died that all might live.
Once we conquer church signs…the next thing on my list is Christian bumper stickers.
Let’s do this.