An Apology For the Sign-Bearers

As a Christian minister, I apologize to the campus community for for my well-meaning but misguided brothers who bore the signs on White Plaza yesterday.

You recall them, no doubt. They bore such charming slogans as “The sin and the sinner go straight to hell together,” and “Warning: Fornicators, Drunkards, Thieves, Adulterers, God Haters, Liars, HOMOSEXUALS – JUDGMENT.”

I know you find it hard to believe, but they were under the impression that they were acting with kindness and even love. They were trying to tell you something important in the best way they could think of.

Unfortunately, their method undermined their message.

To them, and to all the sign-bearers scattered across the campuses of America, I direct the next few remarks.

I know you are doing your best to honor God, but when you bring such signs onto campus and provoke students you are not accomplishing your goal.

In fact, I suspect that a careful consideration of the Bible will lead you to rethink your actions.

Observe:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:15-16, NIV

Gentleness and respect may have been your aspiration, but the messages on the signs belied your intent. You may not understand why, but people found your messages extremely disrepectful. Respect is measured by the recipient, so if an entire community tells you that you are acting in a way that they find offensive and insulting then you must take them at their word and rethink the way that you communicate your message.

Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Colossians 4:5-6, NRSV

My brothers, I humbly suggest that you acted with a great lack of wisdom, as anyone who has spent time ministering on the college campus could have told you. Indeed, we would have made the point with great fervor. Something like this happens once or twice every year and it always detracts from the work of God on campus – I have never once seen it help.

If you doubt the effects of your visit, I direct you to the unofficial Stanford blog’s perspective on your actions.

If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them. Mark 6:11, NRSV

And this, to me, is the clincher. Jesus told his disciples to move on when people didn’t want to listen. And that’s the model we see throughout the New Testament, particularly in Paul. Paul, contrary to his reputation, was very canny and was a master at non-intrusive evangelism. He sought to preach in places where people expected to hear preaching. He went to synagogues, philosophical venues, and lecture halls and talked to people who were ready to listen.

And so while I applaud your intentions, I beg you to rethink your evangelistic strategy and see if there is not a wiser way to engage students with the claims of Christ.

And to the campus community I reiterate my apology. They meant well, but they acted in a way that caused many of you to have a lower opinion of Christ and His followers than you did before.

Earlier today I was reading an article about Einstein’s religious views and I was struck by the following comment: “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”

If your perception of Christ is shaped largely by the sign-bearers and others like them, then I urge you to look at Jesus yourself. Read the gospels and ask around in your dorm. I promise that you will find some Christ-followers who would love nothing more than to have a respectful conversation with you and help you to see why Jesus is still worshiped after these many years and across these many miles.