Wearing your faith on your car

Florida lawmakers debate offering a Christian license plate:
proposed Florida license plate

I raise three questions:

(1) Do you think the state should approve this as an optional design, if people want to pay for it?

(2) Why do Christians today, when they finally DO get interested in expressing their faith through an artistic medium, have such a fondness for not the sublime or the beautiful but the tacky or banal?

(3) But wouldn’t this license plate be a witness tool, so that someone seeing the message as your car tears past them might get converted? (Hint: The answer is no. Explain why.)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • EconJeff

    I’ll start.
    1) I think it will raise unnecessary legal issues and will likely result in different license plates for all religions and secular groups.
    2) Don’t know.
    3) No. There is no Word or Sacrament. It is a statement about the individual, not the Gospel.

  • EconJeff

    I’ll start.
    1) I think it will raise unnecessary legal issues and will likely result in different license plates for all religions and secular groups.
    2) Don’t know.
    3) No. There is no Word or Sacrament. It is a statement about the individual, not the Gospel.

  • http://wayofthemasterradio.com TV

    Let’s see…
    1) Why not? It’s all about choice and wearing your faith on your sleeve (or vehicle)…we seem to like that sort of thing.
    2) Culture is leading us around by the nose…didn’t someone write about that??
    3) I disagree…in the mall parking lot, I’m sure other vehicles will ask yours about the hope within once they see this rascal.

  • http://wayofthemasterradio.com TV

    Let’s see…
    1) Why not? It’s all about choice and wearing your faith on your sleeve (or vehicle)…we seem to like that sort of thing.
    2) Culture is leading us around by the nose…didn’t someone write about that??
    3) I disagree…in the mall parking lot, I’m sure other vehicles will ask yours about the hope within once they see this rascal.

  • Kyralessa

    1) No. (But I think most custom license plates are tacky and annoying; among other things, it’s hard to tell what state the license plate is if there are 20 different designs.)

    2) Because most people in general have a fondness for the tacky or banal. Yet another reason we don’t own a TV; at least it’s one fewer avenue for tackiness to enter our home.

    3) As much as fish symbols and the like; which is to say, not really.

    The imagery makes me think of the title of this article:

    http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/2008/03/bland-meaningless-and-unthreatening.html

  • Kyralessa

    1) No. (But I think most custom license plates are tacky and annoying; among other things, it’s hard to tell what state the license plate is if there are 20 different designs.)

    2) Because most people in general have a fondness for the tacky or banal. Yet another reason we don’t own a TV; at least it’s one fewer avenue for tackiness to enter our home.

    3) As much as fish symbols and the like; which is to say, not really.

    The imagery makes me think of the title of this article:

    http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/2008/03/bland-meaningless-and-unthreatening.html

  • Bob Hunter

    1. As long as we’re prepared for Islam license plates, Atheist license plates, etc.
    2. Don’t know.
    3. “I believe” in what? Doesn’t mean a thing.

  • Bob Hunter

    1. As long as we’re prepared for Islam license plates, Atheist license plates, etc.
    2. Don’t know.
    3. “I believe” in what? Doesn’t mean a thing.

  • http://www.poporthodoxy.com Pastor Matt

    1.) Nope. Do we really want the government’s assistance in helping us express our faith – or any faith for that matter?

    2.) Because grabbing garbage clip-art is easier than being an artist; and because so many evangelicals have bought into the idea that “art” is evil and cheesy equals Jesus.

    3.) No. It will tell them that I’m the kind of person who pays extra for license plates but doesn’t tithe a dime.

  • http://www.poporthodoxy.com Pastor Matt

    1.) Nope. Do we really want the government’s assistance in helping us express our faith – or any faith for that matter?

    2.) Because grabbing garbage clip-art is easier than being an artist; and because so many evangelicals have bought into the idea that “art” is evil and cheesy equals Jesus.

    3.) No. It will tell them that I’m the kind of person who pays extra for license plates but doesn’t tithe a dime.

  • Rachel Smith

    Oh – how ugly. I’m ashamed that came out of my state!

    Even though it isn’t pretty, though, I think the state should approve the design. The state isn’t supposed to be an artistic police – it seems like saying no to this would be suppressing free speech.

    I just wish Christians would come up with art that summons others to God, instead of anti-summoners that cause faith to look ugly.

  • Rachel Smith

    Oh – how ugly. I’m ashamed that came out of my state!

    Even though it isn’t pretty, though, I think the state should approve the design. The state isn’t supposed to be an artistic police – it seems like saying no to this would be suppressing free speech.

    I just wish Christians would come up with art that summons others to God, instead of anti-summoners that cause faith to look ugly.

  • Richard Lewer

    Do you really want God’s reputation to be dependent on your driving habits?

    “Honk if you love Jesus” is bad enough.

  • Richard Lewer

    Do you really want God’s reputation to be dependent on your driving habits?

    “Honk if you love Jesus” is bad enough.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Why is the state of Florida doing the work of the bumperstickermaker?

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Why is the state of Florida doing the work of the bumperstickermaker?

  • http://sheepministries.blogspot.com Marsha Rae Hughes

    1. Yes
    2. Not many want tacky or banal, but there isn’t much else available. See below for a starting solution.
    3. Personally, although finding poor quality art irreconcilable with service for our Lord, I must say that there is a positive affect whenever our faith is expressed openly. It does help counter the constant bombardment by the liberal media that the Christians are few and far between. The issue I see in a license plate or bumper sticker is the driver of that vehicle has declared loud and clear that he represents our Lord and Savior and is held to His standard of behavior. No tailgating nor road rage for him!
    There is a group called SHEEP MINISTRIES,located in the liberal bastian of western Washington State. It is a non-profit, Christian Arts Ministry with its foundation in conservative Baptist distinctives. You can check it out at sheepministries.blogspot.com

  • http://sheepministries.blogspot.com Marsha Rae Hughes

    1. Yes
    2. Not many want tacky or banal, but there isn’t much else available. See below for a starting solution.
    3. Personally, although finding poor quality art irreconcilable with service for our Lord, I must say that there is a positive affect whenever our faith is expressed openly. It does help counter the constant bombardment by the liberal media that the Christians are few and far between. The issue I see in a license plate or bumper sticker is the driver of that vehicle has declared loud and clear that he represents our Lord and Savior and is held to His standard of behavior. No tailgating nor road rage for him!
    There is a group called SHEEP MINISTRIES,located in the liberal bastian of western Washington State. It is a non-profit, Christian Arts Ministry with its foundation in conservative Baptist distinctives. You can check it out at sheepministries.blogspot.com

  • K G

    If I have this plate what will my neighbor (i.e. the police and other drivers) think of me when I speed or cut them off in traffic? Will the police be nicer or sterner with me when I’m pulled over for doing 45 in a 25 because one kid is late for practice?

  • K G

    If I have this plate what will my neighbor (i.e. the police and other drivers) think of me when I speed or cut them off in traffic? Will the police be nicer or sterner with me when I’m pulled over for doing 45 in a 25 because one kid is late for practice?

  • Don S

    1) I think it’s really sad that people feel they need personalized license plates and that they pay the state an extra $25 or $50 per year for the privilege. A license plate is to assist the authorities in identifying a vehicle in the event of a crime, an emergency, or other traffic incident — let’s leave it at that.

    2) Christians aren’t unique in this. It’s a tacky and banal culture and Christians often follow the crowd, as they have in all eras.

    3) No. Others above have already mentioned how your poor driving habits could reflect negatively on our Lord. Besides that, why should anyone care what an unknown person flashing by them on the freeway believes? We witness by engaging personally with those God places in our path.

  • Don S

    1) I think it’s really sad that people feel they need personalized license plates and that they pay the state an extra $25 or $50 per year for the privilege. A license plate is to assist the authorities in identifying a vehicle in the event of a crime, an emergency, or other traffic incident — let’s leave it at that.

    2) Christians aren’t unique in this. It’s a tacky and banal culture and Christians often follow the crowd, as they have in all eras.

    3) No. Others above have already mentioned how your poor driving habits could reflect negatively on our Lord. Besides that, why should anyone care what an unknown person flashing by them on the freeway believes? We witness by engaging personally with those God places in our path.

  • Chilibean

    1.) No, because it opens the door to any group who wants to be recognized (immorality).

    2.) Don’t know this one.

    3.) No, it gives a message, but not one that can be witnessed for. For this reason I don’t attach “Christian Bumper Stickers”, or “FISH” to my vehicle. I’m human, and even though I try to have the best driving skills available, I make mistakes.

    If I cut accidentally cut someone off, they see the license plate, what witness does that give other than driver other than a negative one against the name of Christ.

    I had a similar one I had to ask the Lord to forgive me on. A state trooper was in the right lane going slower than the posted 65mph. I was going 65mph, and was beyond his right rear door. He decided he needed to chase another vehicle, and without signaling, or turning his emergency lights on, he moved in on me (in the left lane). At the time I thought (self righteously), boy and they want citizens to obey the law.

    That, I believe, would generate the same effect as a Faith Plate.

    Thank you.

  • Chilibean

    1.) No, because it opens the door to any group who wants to be recognized (immorality).

    2.) Don’t know this one.

    3.) No, it gives a message, but not one that can be witnessed for. For this reason I don’t attach “Christian Bumper Stickers”, or “FISH” to my vehicle. I’m human, and even though I try to have the best driving skills available, I make mistakes.

    If I cut accidentally cut someone off, they see the license plate, what witness does that give other than driver other than a negative one against the name of Christ.

    I had a similar one I had to ask the Lord to forgive me on. A state trooper was in the right lane going slower than the posted 65mph. I was going 65mph, and was beyond his right rear door. He decided he needed to chase another vehicle, and without signaling, or turning his emergency lights on, he moved in on me (in the left lane). At the time I thought (self righteously), boy and they want citizens to obey the law.

    That, I believe, would generate the same effect as a Faith Plate.

    Thank you.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    (1) No. I don’t want the state teaching people what I believe — that’s my, and the rest of the Church’s, job. Nor do I want the state inevitably telling me what members of other religions believe (or don’t), either. What I want is a way for the state to identify a car for purposes of the law. Rejecting this design would have nothing to do with free speech — you are free to slap what you wantn on your car, you’re just not free to have the state produce it for you.

    (2) I’ll agree that Christians aren’t alone in their loving banal things, but I disagree with Don (@11) that this is simply the fault of the whole culture. I mean, our culture has produced more attractive license plates than this! The problem is that most Christian art is indistinguishable from Office Depot art or sympathy card art.

    (3) It’s obvious that this license plate alone wouldn’t convert anyone, but nor would I completely discount the potential for it to serve as an aid in starting a discussion (say, in a parking lot). But overall, it really lacks any teaching of substance. As EconJeff pointed out (@1), it puts the focus on the driver, not Jesus, and could be said to put the focus on the work of his belief, not Jesus’ actions (or the Spirit that gave him that faith). It could just as easily have said “Jesus died to take away your sins” and still would have communicated that the driver believed that. Plus, then it would have at least had touched on the law and the gospel.

    I disagree, however, with those who worry that a car bearing this plate might reflect poorly on Christianity if it were seen speeding or driving rashly. I mean, yes, that is a possibility. But since when does a Christian think, “I don’t want to reflect poorly on my faith, so instead of acting correctly, I will simply not tell people I am a Christian!” The solution is to repent of your bad driving, not to hide your belief.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    (1) No. I don’t want the state teaching people what I believe — that’s my, and the rest of the Church’s, job. Nor do I want the state inevitably telling me what members of other religions believe (or don’t), either. What I want is a way for the state to identify a car for purposes of the law. Rejecting this design would have nothing to do with free speech — you are free to slap what you wantn on your car, you’re just not free to have the state produce it for you.

    (2) I’ll agree that Christians aren’t alone in their loving banal things, but I disagree with Don (@11) that this is simply the fault of the whole culture. I mean, our culture has produced more attractive license plates than this! The problem is that most Christian art is indistinguishable from Office Depot art or sympathy card art.

    (3) It’s obvious that this license plate alone wouldn’t convert anyone, but nor would I completely discount the potential for it to serve as an aid in starting a discussion (say, in a parking lot). But overall, it really lacks any teaching of substance. As EconJeff pointed out (@1), it puts the focus on the driver, not Jesus, and could be said to put the focus on the work of his belief, not Jesus’ actions (or the Spirit that gave him that faith). It could just as easily have said “Jesus died to take away your sins” and still would have communicated that the driver believed that. Plus, then it would have at least had touched on the law and the gospel.

    I disagree, however, with those who worry that a car bearing this plate might reflect poorly on Christianity if it were seen speeding or driving rashly. I mean, yes, that is a possibility. But since when does a Christian think, “I don’t want to reflect poorly on my faith, so instead of acting correctly, I will simply not tell people I am a Christian!” The solution is to repent of your bad driving, not to hide your belief.

  • WebMonk

    A point of agreement with tODD – I see lots of concerns about bad driving will be a bad witness. I think that the solution is to curb the bad driving, not hide the fact that you’re a Christian while you’re ticking people off.

    I’m not trying to defend the license plate, but rather point out that if you’re embarrassed to be publicly known as a Christian while you’re driving, then it would behoove you to change your driving.

  • WebMonk

    A point of agreement with tODD – I see lots of concerns about bad driving will be a bad witness. I think that the solution is to curb the bad driving, not hide the fact that you’re a Christian while you’re ticking people off.

    I’m not trying to defend the license plate, but rather point out that if you’re embarrassed to be publicly known as a Christian while you’re driving, then it would behoove you to change your driving.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    1. No. For that matter, your license plate should be just a number that doesn’t necessarily even indicate the state it’s registered in. You don’t need your own state listed to identify a car.

    2. For the same reason that many Americans watch American idol, many American Christians like dreck art. 85% of us are educated in the government schools, and not all of us overcome it.

    3. Does this preach the Word? Might point a few towards the preaching of the Word, but might drive a few away, too.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    1. No. For that matter, your license plate should be just a number that doesn’t necessarily even indicate the state it’s registered in. You don’t need your own state listed to identify a car.

    2. For the same reason that many Americans watch American idol, many American Christians like dreck art. 85% of us are educated in the government schools, and not all of us overcome it.

    3. Does this preach the Word? Might point a few towards the preaching of the Word, but might drive a few away, too.

  • PeteS

    I have to admit, I was thinking along the same lines as tODD and WebMonk. We should be concerned with what others think whether we have a Christian symbol on our cars (or backpacks or jean pockets or t-shirts) or not. We also should “sin boldly” as Dr. Luther said. Like it or not, there will be times that I will be a poor witness for Christ in my words and actions. But I can use my sin as an opportunity to speak of sin and grace as I ask forgiveness from my neighbor.

    To get back to the point and answer Dr. Veith’s questions:

    1) I guess I really don’t care. If I had my druthers, I’d say, “Don’t do it.” I think it’s rather useless. However, God can use even the banal as an opportunity for us to give verbal testimony.

    2) Besides the reasons others have given, and to expand on part of Pastor Matt’s answer, I think a significant reason is that it’s easy. It takes work to do something creative and beautiful. In general, easier = better in our society.

    3) I guess I’ve already addressed this one. I also agree with EconJeff @ 1 and tODD @ 13: In general with this type of thing there’s too much emphasis on me and my faith – “I Believe” – than on the object of my faith. I’ve heard too many people who call themselves Christians show themselves to simply be deists when their confession came to light. This license plate says very little.

  • PeteS

    I have to admit, I was thinking along the same lines as tODD and WebMonk. We should be concerned with what others think whether we have a Christian symbol on our cars (or backpacks or jean pockets or t-shirts) or not. We also should “sin boldly” as Dr. Luther said. Like it or not, there will be times that I will be a poor witness for Christ in my words and actions. But I can use my sin as an opportunity to speak of sin and grace as I ask forgiveness from my neighbor.

    To get back to the point and answer Dr. Veith’s questions:

    1) I guess I really don’t care. If I had my druthers, I’d say, “Don’t do it.” I think it’s rather useless. However, God can use even the banal as an opportunity for us to give verbal testimony.

    2) Besides the reasons others have given, and to expand on part of Pastor Matt’s answer, I think a significant reason is that it’s easy. It takes work to do something creative and beautiful. In general, easier = better in our society.

    3) I guess I’ve already addressed this one. I also agree with EconJeff @ 1 and tODD @ 13: In general with this type of thing there’s too much emphasis on me and my faith – “I Believe” – than on the object of my faith. I’ve heard too many people who call themselves Christians show themselves to simply be deists when their confession came to light. This license plate says very little.

  • http://www.timbaron.com Tim Baron

    I appreciated Pastor Matt’s “Garbage clip art” comment.
    The thought that an unbeliever who knows nothing of Christ and the Gospel could see this kitschy thing and think “that is what Christianity is all about” sends a cold shiver down my spine.

    It has such a bad coffee breath/retirement home feel to it.

  • http://www.timbaron.com Tim Baron

    I appreciated Pastor Matt’s “Garbage clip art” comment.
    The thought that an unbeliever who knows nothing of Christ and the Gospel could see this kitschy thing and think “that is what Christianity is all about” sends a cold shiver down my spine.

    It has such a bad coffee breath/retirement home feel to it.

  • Carl Vehse

    “But wouldn’t this license plate be a witness tool”

    City folks who regularly commute to work on multi-lane parking lots might employ the witness potential of the Martin Luther license plate:

    “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen!”

  • Carl Vehse

    “But wouldn’t this license plate be a witness tool”

    City folks who regularly commute to work on multi-lane parking lots might employ the witness potential of the Martin Luther license plate:

    “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen!”

  • Bror Erickson

    livign in Utah has somewhat changed my perspective on the little fish adorning so many cars. There aren’t as many fish in this pond. And so when you see one drive by sometimes it is refreshing to know your not alone. But it isn’t evangelism. I still wouldn’t do it. Most people who have the fish, don’t know why it is a Christian symbol or the meaning behing IChThUS.
    I imagine if they offer this in florida they will offer it to other faiths soon enough. It’s just a money makeing scheme for the state that is all. And you are right it says something about the driver, nothing about Christ.
    This might be kept in mind in all of our conversations. It’s much better to talk about the Cross, and proclaim Christ to you neighbor. Than point at yourself and say I’m a Christian. The answer to that is “good for you now leave me alone.”

  • Bror Erickson

    livign in Utah has somewhat changed my perspective on the little fish adorning so many cars. There aren’t as many fish in this pond. And so when you see one drive by sometimes it is refreshing to know your not alone. But it isn’t evangelism. I still wouldn’t do it. Most people who have the fish, don’t know why it is a Christian symbol or the meaning behing IChThUS.
    I imagine if they offer this in florida they will offer it to other faiths soon enough. It’s just a money makeing scheme for the state that is all. And you are right it says something about the driver, nothing about Christ.
    This might be kept in mind in all of our conversations. It’s much better to talk about the Cross, and proclaim Christ to you neighbor. Than point at yourself and say I’m a Christian. The answer to that is “good for you now leave me alone.”

  • http://fivepintlutheran.blogspot.com/ David

    Passive witnessing does not accomplish a thing. Things like this plate, bumper stickers and fish symbols I fear will give a Christian another excuse not to walk and talk Jesus.

  • http://fivepintlutheran.blogspot.com/ David

    Passive witnessing does not accomplish a thing. Things like this plate, bumper stickers and fish symbols I fear will give a Christian another excuse not to walk and talk Jesus.

  • Rose

    I remember being an 11 year old girl taking the bus downtown. I admired the public service ad on the bus that said “Worship Together This Week”. The picture was the same simple artwork as this license plate. A father, mother, daughter and son in a pew with a stained glass window behind them. This message became an inspiration for my life. It’s that simple. I remember it clearly 50 years later.
    As my husband says when I over-analyze things, “You think too much.”

  • Rose

    I remember being an 11 year old girl taking the bus downtown. I admired the public service ad on the bus that said “Worship Together This Week”. The picture was the same simple artwork as this license plate. A father, mother, daughter and son in a pew with a stained glass window behind them. This message became an inspiration for my life. It’s that simple. I remember it clearly 50 years later.
    As my husband says when I over-analyze things, “You think too much.”

  • Pinon Coffee

    I’m with Rachel Smith… it’s pretty tacky, but the state ought to give us the freedom to be tacky.

    Eh, much as I approve of “sinning boldly,” I don’t have an ichthus or anything on my car because I’m sure to do something stupid while driving, and hate to reflect badly on Jesus…

  • Pinon Coffee

    I’m with Rachel Smith… it’s pretty tacky, but the state ought to give us the freedom to be tacky.

    Eh, much as I approve of “sinning boldly,” I don’t have an ichthus or anything on my car because I’m sure to do something stupid while driving, and hate to reflect badly on Jesus…


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