If a young man curses his father or mother, his lamp will be snuffed out.'
This ancient Hebrew saying is displayed against the picture of a teenager's shining face on a billboard facing southbound traffic just north of the K-Mart store on North Nevada Avenue.
It's a message paid for by New Life Church, a mega-church in northeast Colorado Springs that draws thousands of worshipers every Sunday. The church recently leased that and six other billboards, 77 bus benches and 11 bus signs in order to spread 'a good message for persons of faith or no faith that bless Colorado Springs,' said Trisha Langley, Outreach Coordinator at New Life Church.
The billboards and bus ads are actually part of a larger campaign, Langley said. Church pastor Ted Haggard has a vision that no one in Colorado Springs will be able to drive more than ten minutes without seeing a similar New Life Church-sponsored 'Life Message' on a T-shirt, tote bag or sign.
Translated literally, the 'snuffed out' message has a clearly ominous undertone and Langley said she has received a few critical calls about the billboard. Still she would 'hate it,' she said, if abusive parents used it to justify cruel behavior.
'We realize that not everyone will understand (it) as we do. Its message is that there are consequences,' she said. 'If you can't learn to submit to authority, you won't be able to cope with society. Lamps of opportunity may be snuffed out.'
A very violent world
But not everyone perceives the church's assertion as life affirming. In light of the virulence of child abuse today, Monica Velasquez, case manager and instructor at the Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, wishes that New Life Church had selected a more positive statement that didn't imply children will be "snuffed" for their behavior.
"If you've been stripped of self-esteem by an abusive parent, this message just increases your sense of hopelessness," Velasquez said.
When polled, several kids at Children in Need of Supervision (CHINSUP) Star Mountain Academy school said they understood the point of the message.
"Don't disrespect your Mom. Listen to your parents until you are responsible enough to make your own choices," they agreed. But they also wondered what constituted "cursing" ones parents. Is it a curse to point out or protest a parent's abuse, for example?
Langley said a parent's position of authority should be honored "whether or not the individual deserves it." But should tyrants -- some of whom are also parents -- be given allegiance no matter how they behave, she wondered.
Not according to Rabbi Brian Glusman of Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs. Children are not required to honor thy father and mother if they are commanded by them to violate a commandment, or if the parents are abusive, Glusman said.
"There are difficult verses in Proverbs that are dangerous if taken out of context," he noted. "If we took all of the Bible literally, it would be a very violent world."
Glusman said the Jewish Torah directs adulterers to be stoned and putting people who violate the Sabbath to death, practices that few would condone in today's society.
Eye for an eye
The rabbi said he doesn't mind when churches cite passages for their purposes as "Hebrew sayings." But, he said, "my concern is that [Old Testament statements used by Christian churches] are misquoted.
"We need to understand the social context as well as the rabbinical view."
As an example, Glusman pointed out that the popular "eye for an eye" Biblical passage does not refer to vengeful action, but to paying "damages equal to the value" of the eye.
The rabbinical commentary on New Life Church's billboard indicates that cursing ones parents can "cancel out" or extinguish the merit one has earned by honoring and serving them previously.
That's a subtlety that could be missed by parents and people who inflict punishment or who have themselves been so afflicted.
And some children who have been abused view the warnings from New Life Church billboards as a message that the status quo condones the actions of the parents.
"You know, this is what the system thinks of us anyway," said one Star Academy student who said he is working hard to create a constructive life despite challenging circumstances. "They don't really look at us. They don't look at [our] potential."