This week a sparkling new digital billboard went live on Times Square. On the corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, the large sign features white letters on a blue background reading:
The animated billboard in Times Square joins several low-tech stationary versions in New York and San Francisco funded by Ken Ham, the founder, CEO and President of the creationist organization Answers in Genesis. Ham’s organization, which teaches young-earth theory and disputes evolution, also funded construction of a creation science museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Ham hopes that busy commuters will see these new billboards and will visit AiG’s website to read articles and watch a video that present the case for God’s existence.
Ken Ham hopes to change hearts and minds with his billboard campaign. In a statement released Monday, he explained,
“In a friendly way, we want to reach out to people in secularized parts of the country and share the hope we have in Christ. Atheists live in a world of ultimate meaninglessness and purposelessness. But the good news is that God sent His Son to offer the free gift of salvation. There is purpose and meaning in life. And we thank God for that.”
When critics challenged Ham regarding his abrasive approach, he fired back on Tuesday against what he termed “ridiculous accusations”, insisting that:
“This culture needs to hear from Bible-believing Christians who stand for the truth. We continue to make public challenges and statements to get people talking about God and His Word…. Right now the national news is focused on politics—we need to get people focused on the real issue: this nation has turned its back on God in so many ways.”
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The whole story drew just a “ho-hum” from me, until I read a column in the Huffington Post by blogger Cynthia Jeub. Jeub, who is a Christian, took offense; in her estimation, this is exactly the wrong way to approach a non-believer. Jeub wrote:
“…My immediate reaction was one of shock and shame, and I left a quick comment on both my friend’s post and the original post from Ham. Ham deleted my comment, but what I said to the small group of friends was this: ‘This is an awful idea and I’m ashamed that any Christian supports it.’
The first reason I don’t think Christians should support this photo should be obvious. To say ‘you’re wrong’ is unconvincing. It’s also unloving, but while being loving should be first on the list of priorities for people who follow Jesus, my experience with supporters of this kind of thing would say something like “speaking the truth is the most loving thing you can do.”
I’m bothered by three other elements of the billboard campaign. First, it points to Genesis 1:1 to make its point, which means the argument is between young-earth creationism and evolution. Second, it says ‘thank God’ on it. Third, it calls atheists ‘our friends,’ and proceeds not to treat them in a friendly way.”
Cynthia got me thinking about it in a new way: I guess she’s right, that the billboard is the sort of “in-your-face” provocation that religionists have wielded against one another without good effect.
So, what of the billboard? Is it counterproductive and offensive, is it lighthearted humor, or is it just another billboard on a crowded street in Gotham? Or is it a merciful truth-telling, which might, as Ham hopes, lead to the person’s investigating the faith and possibly converting?
What do you think?