September 7, 2014

Church Billboards

English: Smithville Christian Church and its b...
Smithville Christian Church and its billboard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many of the larger churches around here have billboards on the larger roads around town, and many of the smaller ones have electronic signs that are visible to passing drivers. Some of these signs are merely advertisements, announcing what time services are held; however, most of them seem to be more general and appear to have the goal of getting people to believe in someone named Jesus. Using as few words as possible, they try to sell this Jesus character in much the same way any other advertiser sells goods or services.

Who is the intended audience for all this signage? I'm guessing it probably isn't atheists. Many of us are ex-Christians who have read their "holy" book and found it lacking. We're familiar with the pitch, and we aren't buying. I suspect many Christians must know that, even if they are reluctant to admit it. Perhaps the audience for these signs is more likely to be the sort of "cultural Christians" who profess belief when it suits them but live lives that are not appreciably different from non-Christians. Maybe the hope is that these signs will make them feel guilty or fearful enough to return.

The signs of the more fundamentalist churches often seem to include messages designed to induce guilt or fear. Hope is a popular message too, but it is usually linked to fear or guilt. The idea usually seems to be that Jesus will "save" the audience from their sins. Few of the signs I see offer messages as blunt as "believe or burn," although I have seen a few of those (and some with even more disturbing messages). Still, this sentiment seems to underlie many of them. You better accept this Jesus character soon because you are running out of time. And you don't want to know what will happen to you if you die without believing! Accept Jesus or else.

One of the things that surprises me about these billboards is how few of them seem to be aimed at providing positive, affirming messages to Christians. My favorite atheist billboards have always been those with a message like, "Don't believe in gods? You are not alone" (here's one example and here's another). I wish we had a few of these billboards around here, as there are certainly days when I could use such a reminder!

Maybe the Christians responsible for the church billboards and signs recognize that the Christian faithful do not need such messages in a region where Christian privilege is so pervasive. Such messages might be helpful for Christians in some parts of the U.S., but Mississippi is unlikely to be one of them.

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