New York, New York — A sign outside of a small Baptist church in New York City has been drawing much attention recently, both from the locals and the national media.
Madison Avenue Baptist Church is led by Susan Sparks, a stand-up comedian. Recently, Sparks placed a message on the church sign that some found to be laughable — others not.
“God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts,” it reads.
Sparks, whose church motto is “Not your average Baptist church,” told the Huffington Post that she created the sign to make a statement about inclusivity.
“Our church is a place that welcomes all people; a place that is safe from the shame and judgment of religious ‘nuts’ and therefore a rich ground to bear spiritual fruit,” she said.
In an interview with Read the Spirit, Sparks stated that her theology is different from other Baptists.
“We put a face on the church that’s very different than what many of them have experienced. We’re inviting them back to a tradition they has alienated many of them,” she said. “We offer a theology that’s more compassionate and opening.”
Sparks stated that she wants people to see God as being more than just one to be feared.
“Many stories in the Hebrew Bible that we heard when we were growing up presented a powerful figure who is judging, destructive, punishing,” she explained. “I’m encouraging people to look past the fearful images of God we’ve encountered. God is much bigger than that one mask we’ve seen.”
Sparks, who has performed on stage with Muslim and Jewish comics, advised that she draws information from other religions.
“I had frankly been very disconnected from my own Christian tradition from an early age. And I hadn’t turned to the church in any substantive way for about 25 years,” she outlined. “The irony is that my path led back to Christianity through the teachings of the world’s other great religions.”
“Hinduism has many wonderful teachings about the many faces of God. That broke open a lot of new ways of relating to my own faith,” Sparks continued. “Zen Buddhism opened up a lot for me, including the potential of laughter as a part of religious practice.”
While some have found Spark’s recent “religious nuts” sign to be humorous, others have voiced concern.
“I believe that homosexuality is a sin. I also believe that abortion is murder because life begins at conception, not at birth. I could go on and on. For these beliefs I will be considered a ‘religious nut,'” one commenter stated. “Jesus did tell us that since the world hated Him, the world would also hate His followers. So that brings another question. Who are the real haters now?”
“That sounds like ‘come as you are’ — a Scriptural truth and reflection of God’s mercy; all are welcome — but it also sounds like ‘stay as you are,'” another commenter remarked in regard to Sparks explanation of meaning of the sign. “While Jesus took all comers, he also taught repentance of sin — not affirmation and acceptance of it.”
Other signs posted at Madison Avenue Baptist include “Hipster Jesus loved you before you were cool” and “What would Jesus Tweet?”