E-petitions, Ice Cream, and Blasphemy
by Mark Penninga
Earlier this year, e-petition maker Citizengo.org posted a petition and call for a boycott in response to a Toronto-based chain of ice-cream stores called “Sweet Jesus.” More petitions like it quickly followed.
It isn’t only their name that is blasphemous. The company mocks our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in their marketing, symbols, and even the names they use for their ice-cream flavours.
The mainstream media, always on the look-out for examples of perceived Christian fundamentalism, were quick to pick up the story of the petitions and boycotts. TV networks and newspapers across Canada and beyond covered Christians’ reactions, along with pictures of the tasty treats. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us to see the chain is expanding to Alberta and BC.
Blasphemy has consequences. The Lord will not hold them guiltless who mock His name. As Christ said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
How should we respond to “Sweet Jesus” and the many other public examples of blasphemy? A friend suggested to me that “we should use this as an opportunity to make the world aware of the Holiness of the Name of Jesus.”
Question and Answer 100 of the Heidelberg Catechism makes it clear that the 3rd Commandment also applies to “those who do not prevent and forbid [blasphemy] as much as they can.” One choice we don’t have is to not care and do nothing.
Why was this e-petition done? According to the petition writers, “[W]e are concerned for their souls, and we want to make them aware of the offence they have caused. And we will not sit quietly by as our God is publicly mocked and ridiculed. We will stand for Christ.”
These are all good intentions. And I’m guessing this is also what motivated thousands of people to sign it. We care. And we would rather do something than nothing.
But does an e-petition accomplish these good intentions? Is this really better than doing nothing?
We need to be ready to give a defense for the hope that we have. But our defense has to be done “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Good intentions don’t necessarily translate into good actions. I’m concerned that e-petitions like these have the potential to do more harm than good. In particular:
- Where is the love? Our Lord commanded “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). So let us put ourselves in the shoes of the people being targeted by the petition or boycott. They, like you and I, are real human beings. An e-petition does not require us to learn about them as people, or to communicate with them in a personal way. A better alternative would be, if possible, taking the time to reach out personally and try to open an avenue for reciprocal communication. Ask questions. Listen carefully. And if the opportunity arises, help them to understand who Jesus Christ is. If it isn’t possible to do this face-to-face, a well-thought-out letter or email could also be an appropriate means to do so. You may certainly take guidance from what others have said or written, but try to put it into your own words.
- Is this really for God? A second reason the petitioners gave is that “we want to make them aware of the offence they have caused.” I’m not sure whose offense they are referring to here. The reason we are concerned about blasphemy is because of God’s name and reputation, not ours. Unfortunately, we so easily give the impression that we are concerned about our own reputation. We can come across as people who want our identity affirmed, looking a lot like a special-interest group that wants its cause publicly validated. And when this is tied to a petition, the standard of success is just numbers. What does it say if we get 20 signers? How about 200,000? At what point will we have accomplished our supposed goal of honouring God’s name? Do we need to reach 2,000,000? I hope you can see how ridiculous this is. God is holy, whether we add our name to a petition or not. Even if the entire world opposed him, that would say nothing of God and a lot about us.
- What are we doing with our pearls? It is admirable that the e-petition makers want to “stand for Christ.” But Christ calls us to be wise when doing so. He warned, “do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6). Although I don’t know the hearts of the owners of “Sweet Jesus”, their conduct and the way they’ve responded to criticism show that they seem to take delight in their blasphemy and see it as a great way to get attention and business. So be careful not to give them more satisfaction, attention, and exposure.
- What does an e-petition accomplish? I’m concerned that e-petitions are becoming simply a tool for organizations to grow their database (you sign the petition, they get your email and hopefully more). A big contact list can be used for good, or for personal gain. In the e-marketing world, numbers generally correlate with money and power. So to get more people, petitions are created on hot topics that attract attention. Both petitioners and signees should ask: Is this petition likely to achieve anything, besides a bigger contacts list?
Sure, a petition may get noticed by the intended recipient. But does Disney really care that over 17,000 people don’t want them to make Elsa a lesbian in Frozen 2? Or do they expect the controversy to get them some publicity?
God put us in this real world with real people who have real hearts, souls, and minds. God calls us to love with heart, soul, and mind – not just our mouse clicks.
There are legitimate uses of e-petitions, especially when there is solid plan in place for how to communicate the results to a specific audience that legitimately is interested in hearing about it.
Parliament’s e-petition service is one example of a legitimate tool. Such petitions are read in Parliament and become part of the public record. There is a process in place to recognize the authenticity of the petition. And the audience is MPs, who, as elected representatives, ought to hear through various channels about what the public thinks on current issues. Here too, however, we should be careful not to give Parliamentary petitions too much importance.
Before you sign and forward the next e-petition, consider what it will accomplish and whether there is a better and more Christ-like way to achieve that goal.