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Raging Billboards


Credit: Stefan Georgi/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: Stefan Georgi/Flickr/Creative Commons

Someone put a religious message on a sign beside a freeway near Indianapolis. You can see what they wrote in the picture.

The message is a summary of some things conservative Muslims believe about their founder. In the twenty-first century, these ideas don’t look good, but people are outraged that the sign is critical and hateful.

There are some lessons for us in this story.

You can’t win against the critics: Every human organization or movement has skeletons in the closet, historical things we wish would go away; and the Internet lets the critics dig out those facts and tell the world.

In Canadian and Australian history, people who called themselves Christians forced native children into residential schools, away from their families. Today this is a national embarrassment. The Mormons have many things to explain.

In the U.S. the Democratic Party was the political base for slavery, segregation, and ugly racism. They are trying to do better now.

The message on the sign was skillfully written and researched. If the author is sued, he will probably win.

Some things go away if we ignore them: Guess how many people will read a temporary sign as they drive by at freeway speed, understand the message, remember it, and tell all their friends?

None.

We know about the sign in Indianapolis because Muslims complained about it, and then journalists took a picture and told the world. Sometimes journalists are wolves in sheep’s clothing. The original sponsor made a small effort and got a huge pay out; free advertising that should have cost millions.

The original story is nothing, the spin-off is everything.

No one asked for my advice, but here it is: Use all the attention to talk about yourselves today instead of ancient history. When the microphone is on you, ignore the bait in the trigger message and tell the world how great you are. That is free advertising for you.

Humbly apologize: We like to think that our human organizations are perfect, but they are made out of imperfect people, just like us. The controversy will go away when we apologize.

Here is more of my advice: Have you heard of the “Jesus was a Muslim” signs?

Those hostile signs from Muslims are common and they probably provoked the anti-Muslim sign in Indianapolis. Someone is trying to impose their ideas on Christians and we could be offended. But no, those offensive signs are a great starting point for a conversation with a Muslim friend. We could see the signs as an attempt to reach out to Christians, although it probably isn’t, and we can reach out to them.

We can be secure in out beliefs. Jesus put power behind these words “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18 to 20)

Emotional outrage is an expression of fear, and Jesus had a better idea.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14: 25 to 27)

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