An advertisement for a trip in May 2022 to Israel and the West Bank

Recent proposals by lawmakers in South Carolina and Florida to offer state-sponsored, overtly Christian license plates should have one group particularly offended.

 

And it’s not the atheists, secular humanists or other supposed antagonists to the faith. The group that should be most alarmed and the most vocal in opposition to these developments is the Christians.

 

For now, the measures appear to be going nowhere. South Carolina’s plan is being held up by a district court’s injunction, and Florida’s proposals have died in the legislature.

 

There’s no question that such proposals ask for some mild form of an official political endorsement of a particular faith. Supporters believe it is in line with the courtesy given any other special-interest group in the community. Religious groups should not be exceptions and should be granted the freedom to choose brand loyalties like everyone else.

 

But I would hope Christians might resist comparing loyalty to Jesus as equal to loyalty to one’s favorite university or the saving of the manatees or a number of other vanity plates (Florida alone now has more than 100 options) dedicated to specific causes.

 

Shouldn’t one’s faith seek a dwelling place at a much higher realm? Doesn’t the church have more important societal issues to address with state legislatures instead of getting bogged down in just another promo sticker among a kaleidoscope of options?

 

Is this truly the best we can offer for the church’s moral responsibility to lift up communal values of integrity and benevolence? Can we really invest our limited energies in this as the chosen destination to focus public discussion on the relevancy of our religious perspective? Or is this a wasteful diversion and an ultimate dead end?

 

Even if successful, is there any assurance that the faith has been advanced? Based on my observation of the behavior of drivers of cars with other religious iconography, I doubt it.

 

I have been cut off and cursed at by plenty of vehicles sporting the “Jesus fish” and have eaten the dust of many speeders who have flown by me under the shadow of a decal depicting a child bowing at the foot of the cross on their rear window.

 

Just one bad apple—even while driving a borrowed car—flicking a cigarette butt out the window of a vehicle decorated with a Christian identity symbol can do more damage than a month’s worth of Sunday morning sermons can repair.

 

Why risk such a trivialization of our faith for the sake of an empty and prideful proclamation that so often resembles very little of the humble service Christians are called to engender as the hallmark of authentic faith?

 

I call on my fellow Christians to allow the wisdom of Christ to become something far more superior than just a devotional alternative sporting the face of a state-required bumper sticker.

 

Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.

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