EDITORIAL: Dallastown pastor uses sign to display true meaning of being Christian
St. Paul's United Church of Christ Pastor Chris Rodkey makes a statement with postings on the church signs. Bill Kalina
It is one of the bedrock commandments of the Christian faith.
"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
Unfortunately, too many professed Christians fail to live up to that commandment.
They tend to pick and choose who they consider to be their “neighbors.”
Neighbors of a darker skin tone or different faith may get precious little love.
Christopher Rodkey, the pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Dallastown, is not a pick-and-choose Christian. His faith, and his love, is much more universal and inclusive.
And he’s not afraid to profess his beliefs for all to see, even if it leaves him open to criticism from the less tolerant among us.
Rodkey likes to put messages on the sign outside of his church. Most of the time, they cause little or no controversy. They’re simply meant to inform or inspire his flock.
Occasionally, however, the messages that Rodkey chooses for the church sign stir up some controversy.
Ramadan message: That was certainly the case in June of 2016 when Rodkey approved a message on the church’s sign that read: “Wishing a blessed Ramadan to our Muslim neighbors.”
That seems like a relatively benign sentiment of friendship.
Unfortunately, Matthew Jansen, who was then a member of the Spring Grove school board, left a strongly worded voicemail message for Rodkey, in which he called the sign “despicable” and “unbelievable” and called Islam a “godless” and “pagan” religion.
Jansen later apologized in a since-deleted tweet.
"S*!*holes" message: Despite that negative reaction, Rodkey has again opted to put up a message on the church sign that could create some controversy.
On Jan. 14, a new church sign message was put up, reading: “Blessed are those from s*!*holes.”
That message was in obvious reference to recent vulgar comments reportedly made by President Donald Trump. In a meeting on immigration with lawmakers in the Oval Office on Jan. 11, Trump reportedly asked why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “sh—hole countries” in Africa.
Trump later denied using the vulgarity, but for Rodkey, that’s beside the point. He said the profanity Trump allegedly used wasn’t the big sticking point for him. Instead, the bigger issue is the way those around the president defended the underlying message.
“What I find racially problematic was the way in which those that (were there) defended it,” he said of the remarks that targeted majority-black nations. “Elected leaders actually justified the use of the language.”
Deciding to respond: That’s why Rodkey decided to respond on the church sign, despite the fact that it could cause some blowback from the many local Trump supporters. His message also included a biblical passage from the Gospel of Luke, 17: 11-19, which tells of Jesus healing lepers. He said he included that on the sign because it related to those seen as the most disposable in ancient Jerusalem.
“Lepers were literally the most abject people in that culture,” Rodkey said, but Jesus still showed them compassion.
Imagine that. Showing actual compassion for the less fortunate, rather than deriding them for being a “taker” rather than a “maker.”
Living his faith: Rodkey said he keeps three things in mind when putting a message on the church sign: length, connection to the Bible and thought-provoking value.
His latest message checks all three boxes, and then some.
The pastor is living his faith in the best way he knows how, by following — to the letter — one of Jesus' most fundamental commandments.
“Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.”