The 51-year-old organization, American Atheists, is a group committed to “fighting for the civil liberties of atheists and the total, absolute separation of government and religion.” This December, they have a message for their fellow Americans (prominently displayed on billboards in key areas of the country): There’s no need to go to church this Christmas.
The campaign is set to launch in strategic locations: several southern states in the “Bible belt” and the ministry-hub city of Colorado Springs, Colorado. This is not the first time the group has rolled out its anti-church Christmas campaign. In fact, the group drew some attention last year from the hosts of the show The View.
This year’s billboards take a slightly different approach, though, hitting a couple sore points the church has sought to address over the last several years. The focus of the first of two billboards the group plans to unfurl is the rising disconnect between the younger and older generations over the topic of religion.
On their website, the group explains the premise of this first billboard:
“The first billboard shows a text message exchange between two young women. One tells the other about her plans to skip church this holiday season and that her parents will ‘get over it.’ This billboard will be up the entire month of December in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Lynchburg, Virginia; Augusta, Georgia; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Georgetown, South Carolina, a short drive from the site of the upcoming convention in Charleston.”
The second billboard plays off President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again!” This billboard urges Americans to “Make Christmas Great Again!” by not going to church this year. As they imply on their website, the group is purposefully taking a jab at Trump, who has “pledged that stores would say ‘Merry Christmas’ rather than ‘Happy Holidays’ if he were to win the presidency.” The “Make Christmas Great Again!” billboard will be featured in only two cities: Lynchburg, Virginia, and Shreveport, Louisiana.
One could argue that American Atheists poked at the American church by addressing the two most concerning issues we debated, deliberated and sought solutions for in 2016: Youth leaving the church and who to elect for our next President.
So, how should we respond to the billboards? When asked last year about her take on the campaign, Candace Cameron Bure said she felt the billboards provide a great opportunity to share the gospel with someone.
The billboard with the teenager on it would make a great discussion point for a youth group or between a parent and child. If we’ve learned anything from the research done by Kara Powell and the team at the Fuller Youth Institute, we’ve learned never to shy away from an honest discussion with a young person about tough issues of faith and doubt.
Perhaps these billboards could provide the perfect opportunity to do just that.