Summer has left me with more than just a sunburn. The bi-annual family beach reunion was a bust this year, although not because of family, because of Jesus.
Everything was going smoothly on the road trip from Maryland to the South Carolina coast. My husband, eight-year-old son, and I were playing the license plate game and eating potato chips for lunch, keeping our eyes peeled for a Starbucks or Panera Bread exit. And then, we crossed into North Carolina, and the Jesus billboards began popping up.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Jesus or Christianity. But billboards with Bible passages on them rub me wrong in the current Trump era, when banning immigrants from Muslim countries has become a thing. Not to mention, how would Jesus feel to be advertised within a few hundred feet from the gentlemen’s playgrounds which dot the small towns along the 95 corridor? It’s a bit of a mixed message.
Raised an Episcopalian, I am a religious freedom kind of gal. I even married a Jewish man, which makes my son part Jewish. To emphasize, my eight-year-old child has Jewish blood running through his veins, and though we don’t push any one religion on him, he identifies as Jewish. So, when I see alt-right rallies forming in DC, a mere stone’s throw from my home in Maryland, forgive me if Jesus billboards make me nervous.
Whatever religion I am at this point in my life stems from love and acceptance, the premises of Jesus’ teachings. However, love and acceptance, to me, don’t include asking motorists to be bombarded with advertisements for any one religion. I’d likely be bothered, too, if billboards for Judaism began sprouting up – but at least I wouldn’t feel scared.
You see, Christian advertisements feel like a threat to me and millions of other Americans. Like we have walked right into the enemy zone, like my son and husband aren’t welcome in your states. (North and South Carolina, I am talking to you.)
I have never been happier to have a week-long vacation end, to leave the beautiful Low Country that I grew up loving as a kid, the place where I spent endless summers diving through waves, running after crabs, and taking moonlit walks as the ocean tickled my toes. But your beautiful tides and eggshell egrets aren’t enough to hold the magic anymore, Carolinas.
I prefer save havens in this tumultuous time, where Bible passages aren’t taped to walls of ice cream parlors. I want everyone to feel welcome, everywhere. Why can’t that be a thing?
Elizabeth Newdom teaches composition and literature courses at a community college in Frederick, MD. Her work has appeared on The Manifest-Station, Mothers Always Write, Mutha, Blunt Moms, Sweatpants and Coffee, and 50 Shades of Aging. Elizabeth writes honest tales about life as a forty-something wife, mother, and teacher on her blog, The Astronaut Wife: https://elizabethnewdom.wordpress.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/elizabethnewdom/