#218 – Sign Man

My good friend, Ron, a Christian nerd in his own right, observed the above man on his college campus yesterday. His sign was similar but it read “Go To Hell” in large letters. The sign drew a crowd and he preached the gospel as he sees it. Ron asked the sign man about what he was doing. The sign man was persistent that his job was speaking the truth and that doing so is loving.

After reading his sign, I don’t find much loving about his message. After checking out his website, he seems to adhere to the same kind of angry rhetoric that a lot of sign people embrace. Though, to be honest, I haven’t seen a lot of “mouthy women” rhetoric before.

I don’t find this form of evangelism very effective. And, in some of the angrier and more hurtful cases, this kind of evangelism isn’t honoring to God. What I find more interesting, though, is how followers of Jesus, who believe in love and grace and sin, respond to people like sign man.

Ron told me that there was a large group of angry people gathered around sign man. Some of them were non-Christians but a lot of them were Christians. The Christians were upset at sign man and responded with anger and contempt.

Is that the best response? Shouldn’t we do better?

I’m the first to admit that people like sign man frustrate me to no end. I believe that people without Christ in their lives go to hell. But I also believe that a life with Christ is about more than getting out of hell. But just because someone else is angry and unloving does not give me the right to be angry and unloving towards him.

An angry and unloving response to someone like sign man will only produce more anger and a greater lack of love. And a loving, well-reasoned response might not produce more anger but, to be honest, it won’t produce any change either. It’s sad and difficult to say, but most people entrenched in sign man rhetoric will stay there, no matter how many conversations they have about grace, love, compassion and a new life.

So to respond with anger and attempt to debate someone fully entrenched in sign man rhetoric is a waste of breath, it’s throwing pearls to swine. The best response is to live a life of joy and pray that the Spirit would bring opportunities for you to share the reason for that joy to non-Christians who are turned off by sign man.

We get most angry about sign people because we think they give followers of Jesus a bad name. Well there are lots of things that give followers of Jesus a bad name. But it’s up to those of us who follow Jesus to offer a new definition.

If people think Christians are angry, then we should be joyful.

If people think Christians are unloving, then we should be loving.

If people think Christians are hypocritical, then we should be uncompromising in our integrity.

If people have a negative definition of Christians then it’s up to us to redefine what Christian means, one person at a time. We should live in such a way that when people find out we’re Christians, they’re pleasantly surprised because we have exuded love, acceptance, grace and integrity.

I also like the response of a Muslim student who was standing around sign man.

He wasn’t yelling and he wasn’t arguing, he was just open to having a conversation. So maybe a better response than anger is just a sign that says, “Ask someone who loves Jesus” and a life that actually shows you love Jesus.

How would you respond to sign man?

Please check out Ron’s excellent post about his experience with sign man.

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4 Responses to “#218 – Sign Man”

  1. I came across one of these guys while heading out to go surfing. By surfboard had flames painted on it and the guy shouts out at me “You are going to burn in hell, just like those flames on your surfboard.” I laughed at the guy and replied, “I don’t think I am going to burn in hell.” To which he responded, “Repent or you will spend an eternity burning in hell.” This is when I informed him that I was a Christian, who was also a youth pastor. His final comment to me was one I will never forget, I was expecting him to apologize for condemning me to hell, or at least show some concern for his quick judgment and unwarranted comments, but this is not what he said. His final remarks to me were, “Great, you get them in the water and I will get them up here.” The guy was completely disconnected from reality. I believe that many of these “sign preachers,” have never thought about the people they are showing their signs to and shouting at. They are in many ways trying to live a “Christian life” by doing exactly the opposite of what Christ did.

    • It’s easy to demonize and dehumanize sign people but they are doing what they’ve felt called to do. A lot of Christians don’t do anything. Obviously, though, their approach isn’t very effective and perhaps even deleterious. It was a pretty good segue using the flames on your surfboard, though. 🙂

  2. Hey Scott,

    While I don’t really advocate sign-man’s specific approach for some of the same reasons, I do think that the Gospel itself is inherently offensive and scandalous to many unbelievers. Many of the same people upset with sign man would also be upset with you or me for believing that without Christ, people go to hell. We don’t go around advertising this belief (and for good reason; even though it’s true, it’s a truth that needs to be presented in the fullness of the Gospel, especially the news of God’s Grace and Christ’s freely given act of rescue), but if people knew it about us they’d come up to us on the street and get angry with us as well.

    • I agree. The Gospel message can be offensive. It’s exclusive but also the most inclusive message available. Sin and the second death are totally a part of a complete view of the Gospel. When we live lives of love and grace, though, people are more willing to hear what we have to say about hell and damnation. Living lives of love and acceptance gives us the relational credibility and social capital to have a beneficial discussion about sin and hell. Marching around with signs does nothing to earn that social capital and only creates ineffective discussions or, more likely, arguments.

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