In-Your-Face Christian Crusading: I Told You It Wouldn’t Work!

Just a few days ago, I posted a story about Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham’s anti-atheism billboard in Times Square.

Was this, I asked, the most effective way to reach out to unbelievers?

Well, I guess it wasn’t!  Now there’s a full-fledged war between vociferous Christians and vociferous atheists.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has rented space on the same billboard for their rebuttal.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of FFRF, says, “A fifth of the U.S. population identifies as nonbelievers. We don’t thank a nonexistent god, we put faith in each other and human ingenuity. “We believe in deeds, not creeds. We believe the only afterlife that ought to concern us is leaving our descendants a secure and pleasant future.”

Julia Sweeney, actress and comedian, is featured on the billboard.  She is the playwright of “Letting Go of God,” her powerful and humorous one-woman show about starting out as a good Catholic girl and ending up an atheist.

So there you go:  The creationists and the atheists have both spent a lotta bucks on this billboard campaign, and who wins?  The outdoor advertising company, I suppose!

Here, the two messages which are competing for space on the same sign:

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  • Another Christian renter of the billboard would have likely put up a more winsome message. That looks like advertising to the choir to me.

    This reminds of my youth here in Greenville, SC. Every Saturday there were Fundamentalist preachers yelling hell and damnation on downtown streetcorners. The message was plenty abrasive, but having it being delivered live meant the preachers were putting their skin in the game, and were ready to account right then and there for their abrasiveness. Being abrasive on a billboard doesn’t carry that personal credibility, and I expect it’s mostly counterproductive.

  • Kelly Thatcher

    Kathy, you agreed with this statement by a Huffington Post blogger: “I’m bothered by three other elements of the billboard campaign. First, it points to Genesis 1:1 to make its point, which means the argument is between young-earth creationism and evolution. Second, it says ‘thank God’ on it. Third, it calls atheists ‘our friends,’ and proceeds not to treat them in a friendly way.”

    My problem with Cynthia’s statement—and the fact you agreed with it—remains: The Bible is the Word of God. Every word of it. Even the words that rankle. I have no idea why the term “thank God” is so “bothersome.” And I find no rancor or unfriendliness in telling atheists that they’re wrong. The *are* wrong! This isn’t Saint Paul preaching to the men of Athens about the Unknown God. These aren’t people who’ve never heard of God. These are people who, like Sweeney, *have* heard of God and have come to reject Him…and to strive (via, in your words, for example “powerful and humorous” stage productions) to persuade others to do likewise.

    The fact that an atheist (who has a show to publicize) would lend her name to a billboard attacking God and those who believe in God is hardly evidence that quoting the Word of God “doesn’t work.”

    May God continue to bless you.

    • CatherineA

      You really find no rancor or unfriendliness in telling someone they’re wrong? How do you like being told you’re wrong? Let’s try it and see: YOU’RE WRONG. You need to educate yourself so you won’t be wrong anymore. May God continue to bless you.

      • Kelly Thatcher

        Ah, CatherineA, I’ve been told so many times that I’m wrong! Especially from my confessors! No, absolutely, I find no rancor or unfriendliness in this at all…in fact, I consider those people who point out my errors to be especially good friends. I’ve been saved many times, from many situations, from many good people, by two simple words: “Kelly? You’re wrong.” (Actually, that would be three words.) 🙂 Thanks for the response. Yes, of course I need to educate myself…I’ve always believed that and try my best to continue to do so.

        In this case, though? I don’t believe I’m wrong, although I do thank you for trying to educate me. I appreciate it…it didn’t bother me at all. I’m sure that if you were to unwittingly put yourself in danger, you’d be happy to have someone not shilly-shally around, but rather point out your error ASAP. I feel the same way.

        • moseynon

          Kelly, when friends or confessors point out our errors, they are doing us a personal favor. They are persons we know and trust. And they are providing us their perspective, when we were previously unaware of it.

          Those elements are missing from the AnswersinGenesis billboard. A relationship of trust does not exist between them and atheists. Moreover, atheists already know that Christians disagree with them. The billboard presents no new perspective.

          The billboard was a taunt, and little else. It wasn’t very Christian, and was unlikely to convert anyone.

          • Kelly Thatcher

            Dale, thank you for commenting. I consider atheists my friends…no, more than that: my brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of my best friends (I know this sounds like a cliche, but it isn’t) are atheists. Members of my family also are.

            The Bible is filled with words from the prophets in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures, whatever your preference) which are far more “taunting” than those on this billboard. If you pray the Divine Office, or read the Psalms, you certainly know this.

            While it is certainly our duty—our obligation—to convert the world, it is not commanded that we do so according to some “Hoyle” who makes up the rules of the game. It’s not a game. These people quoted Sacred Scripture. Sacred Scripture is often harsh. You may be right that it is a taunt, but I personally don’t believe it is. In any case, I stand by my guns in saying that Cynthia’s statement, in which Kathy has evidently agreed with:

            “First, it points to Genesis 1:1 to make its point, which means the argument is between young-earth creationism and evolution. Second, it says ‘thank God’ on it.”

            Is simply not right. It’s definitely not Christian.

            Thanks again.

  • who wins?

    Isn’t a more inclusive dialogue about an important aspect of society a good thing?

    • kathyschiffer

      A billboard war is not what I would consider “inclusive dialogue”, Bob.

      When I was not a Christian (yes, there was such a time), I was more than a little irritated to have to admit that I had an attraction for Christians. As I moved from one company to another in the business world, I made new friends—only to find that wherever I went, the people I seemed to like the most, who had the biggest smiles and who were generous to the new kid, were the Christians. At the time, I imagined I was too sophisticated for stuff like that. The objective kindness of actual Christians on the street—now THAT was a positive witness, and it was one of the factors which led me to faith.

      See, you and I should sit down together over a cup of coffee and talk about our deepest convictions. But screaming billboards? Meh.

      • I was seeking the good in this situation, but I see your point. I still maintain that maybe there’s some good here in that it prods the conversation, but I’ll grant you that this isn’t the best approach.

        • kathyschiffer

          This is like ringing your doorbell, then running away. A better idea: Let’s talk! 🙂