‘Hell-Bound Pope’ Sign Not a Good Idea

April 15, 2005 by

Church sign: No truth, No hope Following a hell-bound pope!Hilltop Baptist Church in Newport, Tenn. has been getting lots of attention for a statement on their church sign that appeared a few days after the funeral of Pope John Paul II: “No truth, No hope Following a hell-bound pope!” On the other side it reads: “False hope in a fake pope.”

Pastor Clive Franklin said people are misunderstanding the sign and that it was not meant to be offensive to Catholics. “Hell-bound pope” is supposed to be a cheery phrase for Catholics? Um, try again.

An assistant pastor at the church said that the sign’s point is that people shouldn’t put their hope in a pope. He reiterated that people are misunderstanding the sign and said the church isn’t trying to say the pope is in hell. So what does “Hell-bound pope” mean? He was going to hell, but got distracted and ended up in heaven instead? Um, try again.

Church sign: Censured, Thanks TV6Just about everyone interviewed has blasted the church sign, and under increased pressure, especially from WATE 6 News, Hilltop Baptist changed the statement on their sign. Now it says “Censured, Thanks TV6.” Ooh, the bitterness comes out.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this isn’t the best way to represent your church to the community.

A church sign is rarely a good place for public discourse. Now I try to be an understanding guy. Maybe you think you have a valid point—the church is often called to make unpopular statements. But is blasting those statements in the most offensive manner possible from a public sign limited to a phrase with no possible chance to explain your stance a good idea? I doubt it.

How about a sermon? A study series? An op-ed piece for the local paper? How about a less offensive title like: “Pope Pointed to Jesus” or “Jesus: He Saved the Pope, How About You?” (neither of which are very good, but you get the idea). Offensiveness can be effective (we should know), but unintentional offensiveness is poor planning.

And for the love of all good things, don’t blame your poor choices on the local news. (links via CT’s weblog)

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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11 Responses to “‘Hell-Bound Pope’ Sign Not a Good Idea”

  • Teevio
    April 15, 2005

    Yeah, I would agree. It is people like that who fan the flames of resentment and anger toward Christians. Someone said, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” I think Jesus said that ; )
    I would suggest that if you are going to put something on a church sign try, “Come in for a tasty treat. Try our Sundays.”

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  • Noah
    April 15, 2005

    Wow. Guess the pastor missed the little bit on Grace. Always good when childish conflict is promoted in God’s name. He missed his calling as a publicist. Or perhaps he needs to take a long drive in the G-Bus (Family Guy/Simpon’s reference, couldn’t help myself).

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  • Kelbe
    April 15, 2005

    It’s precisely this kind of behavior that helped me decide to leave the baptist faith. I’m now UMC and happier than I’ve ever been. But for something better seen on a church sign, I’m partial to “Give your mom something she’ll never forget XXX” I think they meant XOXO, but I still laughed hard and pulled over to take a picture…

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  • Kevin Powell
    April 15, 2005

    According to these types of Baptists, it’s as if the Roman Catholic Church is not allowed to have a leader. I know many Catholics and I see myself as a pretty up-to-date kind of guy, but NO WHERE in Roman Catholic dogma does it say that the faithful to place their hope in the pope and not in Jesus. Not only is the sign offense, it’s misleading.

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  • Ben Fulton
    April 15, 2005

    Sadly, such negative signs seem to be common in my area. “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”, “KJV is the only true word”, and “God loves everyone except Freemasons” are some of the ones I’ve seen.

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  • Sam I am
    April 16, 2005

    What you did not say, is that no one really knows who goes to Hell or doesn’t. It isn’t the place of the church, the pastor – or anyone – to imply that a certain individual will go to Hell. To do so is very judgmental and arrogant. A person’s eternal life is in the hands of his or her Maker.

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  • kevin
    April 16, 2005

    Absolutely, Sam I am. I agree completely. Several of the articles I linked to quoted multiple people making that claim. I thought it was covered pretty well, so I didn’t think to repeat it. But you’re right on.

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  • Critique
    April 17, 2005

    Church Signs

    Church Marketing Sucks: ‘Hell-Bound Pope’ Sign Not a Good Idea First of all… Introducing churchmarketingsucks.com. It is a good site and will be added to our links shortly. Usually very well written. I have wanted to do a project for some time that b…

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  • Paula
    April 21, 2005

    We once had “Ex KKK Leader” followed by the times he was speaking (Johnny Lee Clary). I was working switchboard, and received a call from a jewish couple who drove past the sign, and called to complain as the sign made them uncomfortable. I explained that he was EX KKK, not currenltly involved, and that he was now saved and an ordained minister, but they still wanted us to change the sign. (My pastor had no intention of changing the sign – he loves controversy!)

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  • Matt
    February 23, 2007

    It’s definitely not a positive and encouraging statment. It is not welcoming to new comers. It’s probably not one that will atract Catholics. It’s a freedom of speach issue though. Some Protestants do believe the Pope (while he may be a Christian himself) is anti-Christ in his position. In fact the bible teaches that those who put themselves in the place of Christ, and make Christians bow down to them, are anti-Christ. I’m very uncomfortable with anything that tends toward religious censorship
    (As long as it isn’t dangerous)
    If something is untrue, or against Scripture, o crazy, or negative, let people judge for themselves, whether it is kind and politically correct or not.
    Ultimately, yes the sign was tastless.

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  • tabatha
    June 5, 2007

    I have heard their new pastor preach and he does good then goes to some off the wall comment about blacks and whites or something racists. I can’t wait till we get to Heaven and they and everyone else gets to see what real love is and that God is blind to the outward appearance of man, and only looks at the heart.

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