I recently discovered a new church in the town where I live. It’s a full gospel type of place–where they say “We do not teach man’s philosophy or our own ideas. We simply teach the Bible as it was originally written.” That aside, they seem to be doing some good things: prison ministry and a spoken commitment to fight racism right on the website (It probably helps that the church is led by two black pastors who are married to each other.) And it’s located in a neighborhood that needs the resources that a church can offer. The group meets in what looks like a small abandoned apartment building or the kind of motel where you are likely to get murdered. Many of the businesses nearby–a barber, a plumbing supply company–are missing windows. Not exactly an upscale place, but a place where there is need and where a church can make on-the-ground changes in people’s lives. I was pretty heartened when I saw it there.
Then I turned the corner and saw a series of banners on the side of the building, including this one:
Above, a banner with the words “Legalize Jesus” written in white on a red background. A clenched fist rises from the bottom, a bloody hole in the wrist suggesting that it belongs to a crucified Jesus. The URLs at the bottom direct us to legalizejesus.com and godsten.com. Other banners on the church wall promote the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation and that, only by honoring God publicly, can we thrive as a nation, typical themes in conservative Christian churches.
It’s a product of an organization that promotes the public display of the 10 Commandments. Of course, displaying the 10 Commandments is not “illegal,” as the banner suggests. Battles over displays of Christianity on tax-payer supported property, though, are really battles for Christian supremacy in the US.
What struck me about this sign on this particular church, though, is that the church really is on a battlefield. All around it, there is poverty, homelessness, addiction, violence, and sadness. Instead of keeping its focus narrowly on meeting the needs of those right in front of it, it turns its attention–and makes it entire visual identity about–the promotion of Christian nationalism. It enters a pretend war with “liberals” and “the government” rather than caring for actual victims of real oppression who are actually going hungry, thirsty, and naked. To be explicit: I don’t think anyone this church could be reaching would be better off if we had more displays of the 10 Commandments in town.
I don’t mean to pick on this congregation, which I’m sure has many good-hearted people doing important work. It’s just a particularly visually striking example of so many churches’ decision to prioritize a culture war over the needs of the people they could be serving.