I read a news article about a Georgia high school forbidding certain Christian statements and Bible verses being painted on banners that the cheerleaders made for the football team. (School bans Bible Verses) Having played football and served as a coach for 20 years, I have seen my share of cheerleader produced banners. Most of them are wonderful and inspirational. Occasionally they cross the line, like the one that encouraged our team to “Castrate Trinity” the opponent for the night. What it gained in poetic flow it lost in the details of the encouraged activity. But such was not the case at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. Instead the banners said things like, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me in Christ Jesus” (Philippians) and “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline” (II Timothy).
The problem arose when someone who loves Jesus raised a concern. According to the law of the land, since the cheerleaders are a school sponsored group serving at a school sponsored event, they could not “promote” a particular religion with the clearly Christian sentiments. So the cheerleaders had to stop making and displaying those kinds of banners and resort to the more typical ones encouraging determination and teamwork. I assume they did not call for the other team to be castrated or even circumcised.
But a law that applies to the cheerleaders does not apply to the fans. They can say whatever they want on their banners. As a result this town of 9,600 people now has not one but dozens of Bible verse banners at every game. Of course there are also lots of banners about not being silenced and not be ashamed of Jesus. So in one sense by following the law they went from one banner about their faith to dozens. I think that most people following Jesus would think that the added number of Bible verses was a good thing. The more scripture people see and read the better.
Of course there are some people who are furious with the person who raised the concern about the banner. Some of the reactions are less than charitable. What they don’t understand is that the woman who raised the concern was trying to do the school a favor and save them from a law suit that was sure to come someday from people who really objected. It would be a law suit that the school would certainly loose. You really can’t have cheerleaders at a football game holding up a banner about Jesus for the team to run through. Imagine if by some twist of fate most of the cheerleaders happened to be Hindu and they made a banner that said “Shiva is our strength, He will destroy our Opponent”. I suspect that lots of Christians would freak out over that. Well there is that old saying about something being good for the goose as well as the gander. Jesus said something about loving your neighbor as yourself.
What is appropriate is not that the cheerleaders, but that private citizens exercise their first amendment rights and make whatever banners they want. One of my deeply held convictions is that for far too long Christians have leaned on the government and government related institutions to help prop up and promote our faith. Arguments about prayer in school and “In God We Trust” on our money fall into that category as does cheerleader produced banners. The idea of being a Provocative Christian is that our lives are such a compelling witness for Jesus that we don’t need such artificial supports for promoting Jesus. According to 1 Peter 3:15 people should see the hope we have in our lives and be provoked to ask us about the reason for it. So I like the fact that the Christians of Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School are relying on their on ability to witness and not that of the cheerleaders.
What I find a bit disconcerting is that the banner production and overwhelming displays have taken on a defiant tone. It seems motivated more by outrage that the cheerleaders have been silenced than out of a love for God and neighbor. Unfortunately that is usually what motivates many Christians to start speaking out for their faith. We get outraged at some perceived injustice to our faith, some supposed removal of rights we think we have, and we react just like an indignant world reacts. We protest. For starters I am not at all convinced that such displays and protests really lead anyone to ask about the reason for the hope we have in Christ. In fact I think most people who don’t follow Jesus are more put off than brought in.
So while I am glad that the proclamation of the faith has not been left to a cheerleader produced banner that a group of teenage football players run through and tear to shreds at the start of a game, I am concerned that we still haven’t gotten it right on how we should proclaim Jesus. I am thinking that having hope in the face of economic downturns, cutting the lawn or shoveling the snow of the widow next door, sitting for hours with the person grieving a death and simply being a strength with your presence, inviting international students to your home for Thanksgiving Dinner and using the opportunity to tell about being thankful to Jesus, these are the things that will change the world for Christ. But I forgot, it is easier to let the cheerleaders make banners, and if that fails we will make banners and hold them up in a crowd of other people with similar banners and be certain we are standing up for our faith and showing what it means to be a follower of Jesus.