It’s true! During my recent trip to Seattle, a local Methodist church invited me and a Seattle Atheists member to speak at their church. I must admit that I walked in feeling a little odd and concerned that this might be an ‘ambush’. Based on my past, it’s a valid assumption. But, this is ain’t Alabama so I dispelled my fears, mostly, knowing that Seattle is more accepting than good ol’ Bama.
Actually, the youth pastor at this particular church was doing something amazing for his students. He devoted several weeks to intentionally exposing the group to different belief systems and world-views. Giving the teens a chance to meet and understand other religions opens their minds and teaches them, at a young age, to be more tolerant. With the #NormalizeAtheism campaign buzzing around social media, this was a perfect opportunity to show religious youth ‘what an atheist looks like’.
The night was amazing! Vicki Williams, a Seattle Atheist member, began with a brilliant exercise. Each student was given a chance to answer a simple question: I believe _____. What they didn’t know was that the Seattle Atheist board had participated in the same exercise the day before. Using their responses, she created a word cloud illustrating the answers. Words used more often displayed larger in the word cloud, while lesser used words were smaller. Moving to the large TV at the front of the room, Vicki displayed the atheist word cloud beside the Christian word cloud. The attendees were amazed at the number of similarities! Check it out below.
Piggy-backing on Vicki’s activity, I shared my story with them. With so many young people in the crowd, I tried to present the facts without painting the story in a way that would unduly influence the kids. Allowing others to use the information presented, grapple with their convictions, beliefs, and experiences and THEN come to a conclusion is, in my opinion, the best way to make a solid choice. That’s how it happened for me. I went through an intense process to make an informed decision. Honestly, I wish that my youth pastor would’ve done something like this! Instead, my years were spent being taught that any others who were not Baptist were wrong. At one point, our group had a semester dealing with cults. According to the lessons, Methodists, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and practically everyone else were cults and bound for hell. Learning apologetics and evangelism bred intolerance and superiority. It’s no wonder that it took me so long to resolve my questions!
These fresh, young minds received a precious gift… the freedom to think. Each student came up to me after the presentation offering their gratitude. Many indicated that their past view of atheists was filled with misconceptions, prejudice, and ignorance. Meeting an atheist face-to-face coupled with the opportunity to ask questions changed their perception drastically. Honestly, I was blown-away by the entire evening! Seeing a person’s attitude shift right before your eyes is beautiful! These young people now posses not only a new view of atheists, but they’re equipped the tools necessary for greater tolerance and compassion.
Many times we overlook the value of quiet activism. We forget that atheism exists in many forms such as, activism, separation of church and state issues, fighting the religious abuse of children, engaging in debate and counter-apologetics, supporting those leaving religion, and many, many more. Each and every one are vital to the movement. But these are just the tip of the iceberg. In order to continue moving atheism forward, new avenues must be employed.
As a former pastor, I have a unique opportunity to educate believers and dispel misconceptions by building relationships with church leaders, believers, and parachurch leaders. It’s possible that I may have an easier time arranging these types of events because of my former profession. Even if it’s just because I’m an oddity (female pastor turned atheist), or because they feel that they can re-convert me it’s still worth it. Stepping outside the box, using whatever status I have, and being open to the opportunity benefits us all! This is my way of building a better future for the next generation.
In order to create a safer world for non-believers, each person must identify and develop their unique place in the movement. Being YOU brings balance within freethought and extends our reach exponentially. My ability to build community is one piece of the puzzle. The other pieces are in your hands and when you plug-in we all benefit!
An atheist, ex-Rev spoke in a Methodist church. One single activity that produced a mountain of profit. So what are you waiting for? Get out there, be you, and let’s #NormalizeAtheism! You can do it! I believe in YOU!