An Atheist Goes to a Christian Men’s Conference (Part 2)

This is a guest post by Don Cook. Don lives in Burleson, TX (birthplace of the famous “See You at the Pole” event) with his wife and two sons. He works in the IT field.

You can read Zachary Moore‘s experience at a different Christian Men’s Conference here.

I knew I would be excited when the moment came, but as the hour of departure neared I found that I was actually nervous. In just a few short hours I would be driving north for forty-five minutes to do something that I haven’t done in over twenty years: visit a church.

A few questions ran through my head on the way there. What will I do if I’m put on the spot? Should I come up with an elaborate back-story just in case? In the end, I just decided I’d wing it, but I promised myself I wouldn’t tell anyone that I was an atheist –- I didn’t want to open myself to a barrage of proselytization. My friend Jonathan joined me on the trip — he doesn’t consider himself a “religious man,” but he does believe in a higher power. I wanted to bounce my thoughts off of him and get a second perspective. Also, if nothing else, I figured I could easily outrun him in case the torches and pitchforks come out :)

When we pulled up to Milestone Church in Keller, TX at 6:00p, the scheduled start time, I was surprised to see a large number of men already there: We estimated about 300 in attendance, though “official” numbers said there were closer to 500. They were all here for a men’s event titled “Meat, Message & Mayhem.” Even though we arrived at the listed starting time, it seemed like everyone else had come hours earlier. They were right in the middle of what I would call a “Man Carnival.” There was a large JumboTron type screen playing the Broncos-Packers game, a pretty elaborate football throwing contest with stand-alone targets, a large target hung from the church building itself, a beanbag toss, and a mechanical bull (hey, this is Texas after all). As expected, there wasn’t a female or child in sight — it would stay that way for the remainder of the event.

Not really knowing what was going on at this point, Jonathan and I made our way to the church entrance where a few other guys were hanging out by the doors. Inside I could see the local barbeque restaurant that was catering the event preparing the food. Shortly after 6:00p they opened up the doors, instructed us toss our $10 in a large trash can, get a plate of food, and find a seat in the church auditorium. We found a table near the front and center of the stage — a perfect seat, as far as we were concerned.

Before I even had my first bite of brisket, I had a small “What the hell…?” moment when a guy came walking through the room with a shotgun. For a second, I thought I had been identified and that Jonathan was going to become my human shield… until they said that the gun was a prize for whoever managed to win the football throwing contest outside.

We were joined at our table by three other guys. As we engaged in some small talk, a “man montage” played on a loop on the two large projection screens on either side of the stage — Basically, just Internet clips of various sports plays and random hunting videos. I’ll admit, though, it was a bit strange eating barbeque while watching a man get mauled by a cheetah… The guys at our table asked us a few questions. Where are you from? Have we been to their church before? and What church do we attend? I just replied with, “We’re in between churches at the moment” and they let it slide.

As we chatted, I noticed some small cards on the table. We were supposed to fill them out with our names and email addresses so that they could be entered into a raffle for the opportunity to win “manly” prizes: a $500 grill, a TV, a golf club… and that shotgun. We finished our meal and that’s when the pastors came up on stage.

They started by announcing the winner of the grill, which was the man who stayed on the mechanical bull the longest (56 seconds). The winner of the football throwing contest was announced and he won the shotgun (a Remington Model 870). The golf club had to be earned — they drew some names from the box and those guys had to get up on stage and try to hit a practice golf ball across the room into the camera area.

Things became far more elaborate when it came time to give away the TV (a 40” Sony Bravia). Two names were drawn from the box, and it was announced that we were all going to see a real MMA fight on stage. They brought up two amateur MMA fighters — one of whom was a member of the church — and the two fighters were matched up with the raffle picks. The fighter who won the match was going to win the TV for his partner. Even if the fighters were amateur, the staging was not. There were fancy lights, entrance music, and a referee.

Since this wasn’t a sanctioned event, they weren’t going to beat each other to a pulp, but to make it more interesting, they were each given comically huge boxing gloves which made the whole event a little more entertaining.

After the fight was over and the prizes were gone, there was a small break before the head pastor, Jeff Little, came on stage. At this point, I’d been at the event for over an hour and a half and had only heard one remotely religious statement, and even that was a just lame joke about a golf club. Because of that, I expected to be listening to the head pastor preach for the next two hours… Thankfully, he was just there for 30 minutes. With that, the event was over.

I predicted he was going to continue with the “manly” theme during his sermon and that’s exactly how it played out. As he walked up on stage, a clip from the movie Gladiator played on the screens — somehow, he tied it into the Bible. I’m still not sure how, since I didn’t see any connection between the two. As he spoke, he kept trying to convince the crowd that he knew what we, as men, had to deal with. I heard a lot of “I know what you go through” and “dude” (because, you know, he was hip.) He spoke a lot about marriage and our careers, sounding more like a therapist than a pastor at times. He even made a joke about men telling their wives during an argument, “But the Bible says you are to submit! It says it right there! It’s in the Bible!” He followed that up with the sarcastic question, “Yea, how’s that working out for you?”

After talking about raising children and his own memories with his father, he told us that if a man lived for Jesus, it didn’t mean he couldn’t be masculine. In fact, the single best thing a man could do for his family was to give himself to Jesus. The last five minutes or so were spent with everyone’s head bowed while he prayed to Jesus for everyone there to be granted strength in their marriage and careers. He even “saved” a select few from the crowd if they had asked for it. This was the only part where he actually sounded like the quick-tongued pastors I’m used to seeing.

So why did this church put on the event? I had watched a few videos on Pastor Jeff Little’s blog and they gave me a little more insight into the answer. He wanted to draw more men to his church because he felt they have more things to bring to the church, like money and “man skills.” He also believes that if a man, being the head of the household, gave his life to Jesus, then his wife and kids would likely follow suit. However, from what I could gather, a lot of the people who were there were already members of his church, so I’m not sure if he accomplished his goal.

In any case, they went to great lengths to “man” up the whole event. Even though I knew there was going to be preaching involved, I was very surprised that it only amounted to about 20% of the total time. This was the first time they had done anything like this, but they plan on making it a twice-a-year event. Honestly, if they could draw hundreds of men to a first-time gathering complete with barbeque, mechanical bulls, football, guns and Jesus — in Texas — I doubt they’ll have trouble getting more men to come the next time around.

Hell, I like most of that stuff myself.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    Meat, sports, hunting – just a few of the things I have no interest in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Now can we can criticize a woman’s conference that boasts that women are great because they’re women?

    • Spencer

      Yes.

    • Anonymous

      We can if it plays in to stereotypical female interests like shopping, manicures, kids and Celine Dion. Throw religion in with that and you’ve got my worst nightmare.

    • Alex

      Yes, and can we now get you to examine your privilege?

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        So we can all criticize a conference for men in the interest of equality, but as soon as anyone mentions affording equal critique to a woman’s conference it becomes all about men’s privilege?

  • Anonymous

    Nothing there seems to be about men, it all seems to be about pandering to a sexist stereotype of men.  Not all men like killing, violence or golf (a good walk spoiled) so why try to sell the idea that this represents men?

    • ACN

      I have played golf exactly once, and that quote about spoiling of a good walk just reverberated in my head the entire time.

      Now miniature golf…that’s a whole separate ball-game :)

      • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

        Miniature Golf, oh yeah!  Throw in a Go-Kart track and a climbing wall and it’d make a fun afternoon for me and my nieces!

  • Rick Evans

    While I in no way support this event, I must admit to getting a weird vibe off of the author’s reactions to guns. Were you really scared by a man walking in with a gun? As it was a prize, I willing to bet he wasn’t holding it in a threatening manner. That coupled with the “… and that shotgun” comment make it seem that you believe that only boorish misogynist Xtians want anything to do with firearms.

    This appears to be an assumption that all atheists are not into hunting, sports, martial arts, guns, etc. In the same way that you don’t need to be into these things to be a “man”, you don’t need to be not-into them to be an atheist.

    • Anonymous

      I think I might have been concerned with someone walking in with gun at this event too. A gun would seem to be out of place.

    • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

      People who don’t grow up in “gun culture” areas tend to ALWAYS be startled and worried by the unexpected appearance of a gun.

      A sanctuary allegedly dedicated to the Prince of Peace, place of the Agape Feast, is a pretty unexpected place to see a gun. Of course, I’m not Texan. 

      • Donniecook

        It was more of a joke about being found out as an atheist among 300-500 christian men. I was raised around firearms, and own many myself. I know a lot of the comments revolve around cliche men doing cliche things, but I guess I might fall in that category, as I like many of the things that seem to go on at these events. I’m not a big hunter, and I’ve never played golf, but I do consider myself to be a “man’s man” type. I think anyone that knows me would agree.

        The main issue I have is all this “man stuff” being used as a marketing tool to sell religion.

        • Rike

          I am wondering if religion is all they are trying to sell? To me, it looks much more like they are trying to point out (without pointing directly at it) how “manly” a (“straight”) man must be and act as opposed to gay men, who in their biblical imagination cannot possibly be “manly”. Obviously they cannot conceive of a gay man hunting, bull riding, boxing or whatever other “man-thing” they want to think of.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

      Who in their right mind would just give away a gun to someone without a waiting period and presumably without a thorough record check?

      • Don Cook

        I assume you’re not from the south?

      • Justin

        Are there places in the US where the receipt of a typical shotgun requires either of those?

        • Don Cook

          I know there are some pretty stict gun laws in some states, but I believe even here in Texas you have to have a background check to purchase any firearm, whether it be a pistol, rifle or shotgun, if it’s purchased from a dealer. There isn’t a waiting period though, assuming your background check goes through without a hitch.

          There are not really any regulations for person to person transfers though, as far as background checks and stuff go (thus, the infamous “gun show loophole”, which isn’t really a loophole, it’s just one person selling a gun to another like anywhere else)

          Just to reiterate, my comments in the article about the shotgun were meant to be humerous. I was not alarmed at all, as I’ve been around firearms my whole life. I just thought it was funny given the environment I was in.

          • Sulris Campbell

            handing guns top people at random is irresponisble

            do they know how to use it?  how to clean it safely?  do they have children in their house?  if so do they have a locked area to house their fire arm?  a person who makes a decision to buy a gun must consider all those questions.  handing guns out randomly = a bad idea.

  • Annie

    These “men” events are so fascinating.  I wonder if the participants know they are being grouped into such a primitive stereotype for the benefit of the church?  And if the men must fall into these stereotypes, I’m pretty sure there is a set of characteristics the women folk are expected to exemplify. 

    Thanks for the story, Don.  Was that church really in an old grocery store???

    • Don Cook

      I’m not 100% sure what used to be there, but grocery store is a good bet.

  • Our Downward Spiral

    Am I the only one to find it a little funny that the church looks like a Walmart?  They really do put churches just about anywhere in Texas, don’t they?

    • http://twitter.com/Mystery_Donut Mystery Donut

      There’s a number of them like that in NC, too.  It’s probably just cheaper to pay rent on a vacated space than to construct a new building. 

  • http://twitter.com/TortugaSkeptic A secret red slider

    My favorite part is the quick comment from the preacher that seems to bemoan how wives just  don’t submit like the bible says.  It seems the event is more a thing to make men feel better about their place in the world.  Sadly, I would have enjoyed most of the events, especially the bull riding.  They have the bulls in Vegas and Mexico too-One more thing you have to give up during pregnancy.   

  • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

    Giving away TVs and guns? Watching commercialized sports on a jumbotron? Way to glorify consumerism and a worldly mindset, failchurch. 

  • Ronlawhouston

    Part of the reason for these events is that men generally attend church much less than women.  Pastors have known this for a long time.  Heck some even keep their sermons short to not interfere with the kickoff of the local team’s game.

  • Anonymous

    This event seems to be less about proselytizing than the other one if this s all that went on. Sure, they ultimately want the men to come to church, but they don’t focus on the religion much at all here.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    “…instructed us toss our $10 in a large trash can”

    I am glad that they are being honest about what you are doing with your money.

    • Don Cook

      Haha. Yes, me and my friend Jonathan had a laugh about this after the fact.

  • Anonymous

    This event and the other one seemed particularly interested in promoting one thing other than Jesus.

    Violence.

    Violence permeates both events. Hell the promotional video even starts relishing the idea of killing pretty furry animals. This event includes the promotion of guns and hunting, and both events had fighting activities.

    I get the appeal to visceral cave-man brother-violence, even as I know there are plenty of men who have no interest in such things (but I’m sure the guys at this event have a particular word for those kinds of guys). What I don’t see is how this is compatible with Christianity. Isn’t peace supposed to be really important? They’re just making
    their Jesus character up
    .

    • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

      The “peace” part of Christianity only applies to other Christians, its all violence and death for everyone else; the Bible makes that abundantly clear.

      A good “Christian” man needs to be a strong warrior for Christ, hence the emphasis on strength, violence, and giving yourself up to Jesus that permeates these events.

      Its a shame really, many of the activities would be fun on their own (BBQ, video games, darts, and mechanical bulls [my sister would jump all over that] for the win) and would make a great way to spend the day with family.  But with the emphasis on violence, aggression, and submission to the all powerful imaginary sky zombie I’ll keep my family as far away from that as I can.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000070549477 Krista Yearwood

    The man thing aside, a weekend full of bar-b-q, mechanic bulls, shotguns, and TV giveaways is right up my alley. I must have left my estrogen in my shopping cart somewhere along the way.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I wonder what they would have thought of my pretty painted fingers if I showed up. I love firearms, I carry every single day. I love BBQ, football and the NHL. I even play ice hockey myself.

    I’m a proud father but I’m sure my pretty fingers would have negated all the above if I showed up to such an event.

    Then again, I’m sure a few of the guys would have ‘loved it” but never told me so.

  • Anonymous

    Another Jesus fail. Meanwhile, a child is dying every six minutes in the Horn of Africa.  I like the “One” campaign that we have to get rid of the “F-word” (famine). Who is going to get rid of this famine?

  • Tex

    Makes me want to start going to these kinds of events, I could use a new shotgun :-D

  • http://twitter.com/repetiteur John Kyrk

    Homophobe carnival

  • Dan W

    These Men’s conferences are clearly targeted toward a stereotype of men that I don’t fit into at all. Of the things Don Cook mentioned at this event, about the only thing I would find appealing is the food. And I could get good food with lots of meat in it without having to go to this sort of event anyway.

    Oddly enough, I’ve been to a men’s event at a neighbor’s church a few years back that was like a smaller scale version of this. There was preaching, prizes given to some men attending, and some football star talked about how he became all religious. About the only worthwhile thing there was the food- steaks that we grilled in the parking lot and mashed potatoes. I’m just one of those male atheists who doesn’t find stereotypical “manly” things all that interesting.

  • Susie

    A mechanical bull, jokes about wives submitting to husbands, BBQ, a “boxing” match, and GUNS!! Oh, those silly, misogynist boys!  They are truly caricatures of themselves.

  • http://republic-of-gilead.blogspot.com Ahab

    Meat-Message-Mayhem? Dear God . . .


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