Inside-outside jokes not always appropriate

Several times over the past few months I have had someone direct my attention to a bumper sticker (or T-shirt) that has, apparently, become quite the rage among politically conservative Christians.

The message seems positive enough. “Pray for Obama,” it says.

So far so good. However, this legitimate concern is linked with a Bible verse, Psalm 109:8, and is thereby subverted.

Christians have drawn my attention to this thinking it was funny. Psalm 109:8 reads, in part, “may another take his office.” To them it is like saying, “Pray for a different president.” It’s safe to say that many politically liberal Christians prayed a similar thing from 2000 to 2008!

The problem in this case is that my friends ignored the full text, which bases the prayer upon this desire: “May his days be few.” Understood properly, then, this is not the prayer that Paul enjoins, but a prayer for God’s judgment and the sentence of death.

I’m not normally a humorless curmudgeon. But it is this portion of the verse that leaps out and is deeply offensive to those outside our Christian “club.” To their ears, this call for Obama’s death is highly offensive and only confirms in their minds the radical extremist desires of evangelical Christianity.

Let me assume the best, that these products were produced as a joke (like “baseball” being mentioned in Genesis 1, “In the big inning …”) and never intended to be taken in a serious way.

The problem is, that which may be funny when told inside a closed culture may not appear as funny when broadcast outside that culture. To take the inside jokes outside without considering how insensitive they will sound to those not on the inside is very, very careless. It is not loving to those we are called to serve, and it is damaging, further damaging, to the very testimony of love and grace that we believe is integral to the Christian message.

We need to learn to hear with “alien ears” and therefore speak with more gracious lips. And that requires constant repentance and repeated draughts from the fountain of God’s grace.

In the meantime, ditch the bumper stickers and burn the T-shirts. Please.

Oh, and by the way, pray for Obama. That’s always a good idea.

The Rev. Randy Greenwald, senior pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church, 4455 30th St. E., Bradenton, writes a blog at For information about the church, visit Faith Matters is a feature of the Herald, written by local clergy.