Pithy phrases on church marquees (like “Dusty Bibles Lead to Dirty Lives” or “Stop Drop and Roll Don’t Work in Hell”) have become a trademark of Christian faiths around the country. So common are these church signs, in fact, that passersby will often get little more than a little chuckle out of the creativity of the phrases.
Once in a while, though, a pastor will come up with a phrase so eye-popping that people have to take a second glance. Or maybe a third or fourth.
Nashville Tennessee pastor Bill Campbell’s church sign (which touts “Jesus Had Two Dads and He Turned Out Just Fine”) has done just that. In fact, his sign has gone viral, having been featured on many major news outlets, including CNN.
What makes Campbell’s sign so intriguing, though, lies in the ambiguity of his message. The sign, at first intake, might immediately seem to be yet another controversial pro-gay statement coming from a conservative Christian church. But there is a particularly powerful nuance to Campbell’s sign: no Christian can deny the claim.
Theologically speaking, Christians do believe that Jesus had two fathers: the God of Heaven who sent his son from above and Joseph, who, with Mary, raised Jesus in mortality.
But the subtlety of the message makes for a fruitful conversation about something perhaps far more compelling than advocating gay marriage: thinking about the kids raised in non-traditional family settings.
Campbell claims that he is not making a statement about gay rights, but rather about how children can cope with diverse family situations.
“It’s about children and people who grow up in homes that…they are blended families, the parents are separated, they have a stepdad,” he says in an interview featured on CNN.com. “I think the assumption is,” he continues, “that we’re taking a stand relative to the position with regards to same-sex marriage. For me, it’s more a concern about, what do we do with families?”
But regardless of how Campbell interprets his own message, to those driving by the sign, eyebrows will likely be first raised in surprise, then lowered in contemplation. The phrase doesn’t exactly imply that Jesus’ dads were married, but it does subtly suggest that it wouldn’t really matter; after all, according to traditional Chrsitian doctrine, Jesus was raised simultaneously by two father figures.
The ambiguity and intrigue of the message is so effective that it almost requires Christians to stop, think, and discuss. Such a message forces Christians to evaluate what family dynamics mean for children and how, if at all, Christians should differentiate between multiple father figures in a broken home or in a same-sex environment. Of course, the obvious caveat in all this is that Jesus’ situation was exceptional: after all, who else on this earth has been raised by a god?
Responding to that question and the doctrinal implications that might circumnavigate it will be the continued task of the theologians. But for the people who are simply intrigued by how to create a lively discussion with an arguably innocuous statement, take note of this pastor’s powerful rhetoric.
In one pithy phrase, Pastor Bill Campbell was able to state a doctrinally indisputable fact to connect a heated, contemporary socio-cultural debate without directly making a claim. This relieves him of any pressures his church or congregation may put on him yet it effectively gets people to talk about issues as difficult and diverse as family, divorce, child psychology, homosexuality, and Christian doctrine. And, with all the attention, he’ll probably even bring a few more people to his church!