Texts: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23; James 1:17-27
I must begin with a confession: I find being religious – in the way described by our scripture text this morning – to be very difficult. James’ instruction to “bridle the tongue” is something I am convinced I need more practice to do well. Today, as we stand at the intersection of our society’s two major political conventions, the danger that loose words can inflict upon the soul of a people seems especially poignant. While the subtle half-truths and brazen lies of candidates and campaign organizers capture headlines, some of you may have followed a smaller, though not entirely insignificant, war of words that has taken place in our state during the past two weeks.
As preparations for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte got underway in August, billboards intended to ridicule Christianity and Mormonism — the faiths of the two major presidential candidates — were raised high in the city to greet convention workers and early arrivers. One of the billboards displayed an image of Jesus on burned toast alongside the accusation “Sadisitc God: Useless Savior. Promotes Hate, Calls it Love.” The other billboard design takes aim at a Mormon ritual by showing an enthusiastic man wearing glowing underwear, accompanied by the words: “God is a Space Alien. Baptizes Dead People. Big Money, Big Bigotry.” Both billboards include the ironically evangelical call to “Join American Atheists!” As you can expect, the billboards drew the ire of angry believers who threatened advertising company employees with violence, prompting workers to bring the signs down a few days ago, before the convention gets underway later this week.