This small-town minister traded his white collar for a cape.
If you’ve ever read the Bible, you know it can be dense, dull and hard to relate to. After all, it was written 2,000–3,000 years ago, before phones and computers existed, when humans and the societies they created were primitive. As a result, Christians have struggled for decades to make the Bible relevant and engaging.
But they seldom do it with the enjoyment or creativity of pastor Scott Bayles, who uses comic books and superheroes in order to spread the gospel.
Bayles, who is a minister at Blooming Grove Christian Church in Palmyra, Illinois (pop. 800), said he wants to help people connect with what he calls “the timeless truths of God’s word.” To do it, he and a coterie of church volunteers dress up like superheroes.
“I like to think of superheroes as modern-day parables,” Bayles told me. “Jesus often used parables?—?that is, fictional stories?—?to illustrate spiritual truths.”
Plenty of pastors have hobbies and interests outside of the church. How many times have you heard a priest make a football reference during a sermon? I’m Jewish, and even I know how common that is.
But have these men of the cloth ever dressed up in a full football uniform and preached to the masses through a face mask? Not that I know of. Bayles, however, sometimes delivers entire sermon inspired by the latest Marvel or DC movie. And in 2013, he founded a non-profit ministry called Costumers for Christ, where he uses his love of comics and cosplay (the practice of dressing up as a fictional character) to promote Christianity. He and the group’s other volunteers dress up as their favorite superheroes and visit comic conventions all over the Midwest, where they give out copies of “The Amazing Gospel,” a comic book adaptation of the New Testament.
“We’re never aggressive or obnoxious about it, though,” said Bayles, who’s known to his friends and family as “Pastor Scott.” “We just ask people if they’d like a copy or not.”
“The Amazing Gospel,” which is beautifully illustrated and broken down into digestible components, tells the story of Jesus in a way that Bayles said is relatable and relevant for young people.
“Jesus is the ultimate superhero,” said Bayles, who has the uncanny ability to connect any superhero story back to the Bible. “He came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond mortal men, he stood for truth and he ultimately gave his life to save ours.”
Costumers for Christ doesn’t just evangelize at conventions: Since being founded three years ago the ministry has visited cancer patients at two major children’s hospitals, participated in fundraisers for local charities and read to children at local elementary schools.
Bayles said the reception to his superhero antics is well-received, both at his own church in central Illinois and on Costumers for Christ trips out of town.
It might be hard to imagine your pastor dressing up as Superman and telling you about Jesus?—?it sounds like a conversation you might have with a lunatic in Times Square rather than with an ordained minister. But who are we to pass judgment? A true superhero is someone, usually disguised by a costume, who’s willing to stand up to the forces of evil in defense of those who are too weak or afraid.
Well, check, check and check.