May 9, 2012

Life After "The Jesus Shirt'

Well it has been rather interesting these past few days here in Nova Scotia. What began as a local school discipline decision over the appropriateness of a t-shirt ended as a international debate/discussion on the topics of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

If you want to read the events in detail simply Google the phrase 'Jesus T-Shirt Nova Scotia' and you'll find plenty of information. If you'd rather stick to the Coles Notes (CliffsNotes for you American readers) allow me to bring you up to speed;

1. A grade 12 student, William wore to school a shirt that read, 'Life Is Wasted Without Jesus' Philippians 3:8.
2. The school asked him to change into a different shirt a number of times as some students had complained
3. He refused and was suspended for 5 days.
4. He was originally told if he returned wearing the shirt again he would face expulsion, due to having a grand total of 7 previous suspensions.
5. The media descended on the story with a paparazzi like frenzy and the debate over the above mentioned freedoms began.
6 The school backed down on Friday saying they would allow him to wear his shirt to school.
7. On Monday the student went to school wearing said t-shirt.
8. His father, John took him home before he entered the school building.
9 Before leaving the school grounds John  made some rather passionate and somewhat odd statements about not wanting his son to participate in the assembly planned for the day to talk about religious tolerance. (You can listen to the fathers comments here)

For most this story is over; the stand off has ended and it is time for life to resume. But as Christians we can't let this simply fade from memory. We need to take some time to reflect on these events and ask ourselves what is life like after, the 'Life is Wasted Without Jesus' t-shirt story.

The Spark That Lit An International Fire

I want to offer a few suggestions;

1. If you work with Christian youth take time to talk with them about this. It is my sense that given the past week or so sharing ones faith this week is going to be harder then it was sharing it last week. Their non-Christian friends likely heard about this story and have potentially formed some negative opinions about people sharing their faith. We all want our teens to be bold in their faith, but I hope we don't want them to be the bold weird Christian kid that no one likes or talks too. I find it hard to believe that the kingdom of God will move forward if we make sure teens can't make friends outside of youth group.

2. This issue centered on the concepts of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Christians across the country and beyond were seemingly ready to fight to the death to defend this student's right to express his faith in this manner. And we were right to do that on those grounds. The school should not and cannot sensor speech in this manner. However the next time a freedom of speech and freedom of expression issue comes up we better be ready to defend that person just as hard, even if the message is one that goes against our faith. I want to believe that we all understand that we can't have it both ways; we can't have the freedom to spread our message while at the same time blocking someone else from sharing theirs. If someone were to wear tomorrow a shirt that read 'Life is Wasted When You Believe In The Sky Granddaddy' we better defend them as vehemently.

3. We need to ask ourselves do messages like 'Life Is Wasted Without Jesus' properly communicate the gospel of Jesus? My thought would be that it does not. While I think a case can be made that the concept the shirt is putting forward is theologically correct, this method is far removed from the life that Jesus and his apostles modeled. It is worth noting that the scripture verse this shirt is based on, "What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ"  points inward not outward. Paul is making the point that now that he has Christ he realizes everything else he greatly valued is junk in comparison. This slogan tries to do the opposite. It degrades everything you already have, do and are so that you would accept Christ. This is unquestionably rude and disrespectful and almost certainly ineffective. The gospel is already inflaming and challenging enough, we really shouldn't deliver it in the most rude wrapping possible.

Without a doubt sharing our faith will continue to be a challenge in the coming years. The world has changed. Many people feel, rightly or wrongly, that Christianity has been tried and failed. So when we share the gospel we are bring a message that can feel like we're asking people to take a step backward instead of forward. This doesn't mean we don't try. We must try. What it does mean is that we will have to try to do new things.