Dear Pastor Laurie,
As someone who has lived in Orange County, California for about 25 years, I am well-acquainted with the annual Harvest Crusade you host in Angel’s Stadium every year.
After a local business pulled your ads for the event due to complaints, you took advantage of the slight to swing an interview on Fox and Friends to complain about religious persecution, and even wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times to bemoan “our intolerant culture” and Tweeted about how ads for your event were banned.
But that’s not what happened. Your event was highly marketed in the SoCal area. I passed several billboards as I drove down Interstate 5 and the 55 freeway, and the 22 freeway for weeks prior to your event. There was no “ban” on advertising for your event.
As you well know, there were a series of complaints about your ads at Fashion Island and Irvine Spectrum – both owned by the Irvine Company. In those two locations – and only in those two locations – your money was refunded in full and your ads were removed.
That is not a ban. That is free speech at work.
In your article in the Los Angeles Times, you attempt to paint a picture of persecution and to make yourself the victim of intolerance. But the article itself refutes your claims of being marginalized and silenced by the liberal media or an intolerant secular culture. For example, you point out that:
“This week, my church is holding its SoCal Harvest event for the 29th year in a row. Formerly known as Harvest Crusade, this annual gathering is one of the largest evangelical outreach events in the world. As many as 100,000 people will fill Angel Stadium this evening and the following two days…”
I have to ask you, does that sound like a marginalized, persecuted minority event to you? You’ve held this crusade for 29 years in a row…at Angel’s Stadium…with 100,000 people attending…?
Is that really what it looks like when a persecuted religious group holds an event? Can you imagine Hindus or Jains boasting such numbers and then claiming they were persecuted because few people didn’t run their ads?
What’s more, you freely admit that there were complaints about your ads – not about your event – and that those ads were offensive to non-believers. But your response to this fact is what disturbs me the most. Instead of taking a step back to ask why your ads offended non-believers, you doubled-down. Your response was to start a Twitter campaign called #IStandWithTheBible and asked believers to post videos and photos of themselves holding their Bibles over their head – as you were doing in the “offensive” ad – to flood social media with even more offensive imagery.
How is that helpful?
Instead of saying, “Oh, I apologize. My intent was never to offend non-believers. I love non-believers. What can we do to make this right? How can we communicate the love of Jesus to non-believers in a way that won’t offend them?”, you instead turned around and said, “Oh, you’re offended are you? Well, if that image of me with my Bible held over my head like a hammer offended you, then wait until we flood social media with thousands more images of people doing it!”
How very un-Christlike.
Your article, and your interview on Fox and Friends, readily acknowledged that some people must be offended by the Bible, but you never asked why. In fact, your Times article was entitled “Why Is The Bible So Offensive?” but then made absolutely no attempt to answer that question.
Wouldn’t it make sense for an apologist and evangelist like yourself to find out why the Bible is offensive to people? Maybe you should send a few thousand people from your Harvest Crusade down to Fashion Island and Irvine Spectrum with clipboards to conduct a survey and find out why people are offended by the Bible. That way, you’d understand what was offensive and you’d have some actual, thoughtful, intelligent responses to offer people – like an apologist or an evangelist might do if they truly cared about the people they were supposed to evangelize.
For example, your article points out that: “The abolitionist movement was led by men and women who believed the words in the Bible and took them to heart”, but fails to note that it was opposed by an equal number of Christians who also used that very same Bible to support slavery. In fact, it was the failure of the Christian Church in America to reconcile the conflicting messages of the Bible over slavery that led to the bloodiest war on American soil – the American Civil War.
Maybe that’s one reason some people find the Bible offensive? I’m sure if you start digging, you may find a few more reasons why.
Later in the L.A. Times article you also say:
“We can find Bibles in nearly every hotel room in America, and most Americans have at least one Bible in their home. In fact, 80% of Americans, including 71% of college graduates, believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.”Yes. You’re correct. The Bible is everywhere. And that’s why you don’t get to claim that your church, or your massive Christian event, is marginalized.
As you admit, your event – which is held in a major league baseball stadium and has been running for 29 years – “is one of the largest evangelical outreach events in the world”, with over 100,000 in attendance over a three-day period.
You are not being persecuted, my friend. Your faith is being celebrated in the biggest way possible.
To be clear: Your event was well-advertised on radio and on billboards across Orange County. You packed Angel’s Stadium with over 100,000 people. Your event has been running for 29 years in a row. Your religion is the dominant faith group in America. Your Holy Book is in nearly every hotel room across the nation. You are not being marginalized if one local business decides to refund your money and chooses not to run your ads in their shopping malls.
Your ads for this event were not banned. One local company simply declined to run your ad. That’s all.
Now, I do have to wonder what reaction you and other Evangelical Christians in SoCal would have had if you started seeing ads for an Islamic event all over Orange County featuring an Imam holding a large Quran over his head. Would you have just smiled and said, “That’s cool”? Or would you have rallied together to get those ads pulled down? Or would you have organized another Twitter campaign to warn Americans about the dangers of Sharia Law?
Based on my previous experiences, I’d have to say that, in all likelihood, you and other SoCal Christians would have freaked out over ads for an Islamic event of the same magnitude as your own.
In conclusion, I only hope to communicate to you that your reaction to this minor event with the Irvine Company says more about who you are and why non-believers continue to react negatively to you and other Evangelical Christians.
It’s not only that they find some things in the Bible offensive, it’s that Christians like you continually stoke the “Us vs Them” mentality that increases the divide between them and your faith.
Your calling, and mine, is to be an ambassador of Christ. Our mission is to be working towards reconciliation with those who do not know Christ, not furthering the tribalism that keeps pushing them farther away.
If we’re really interested in the ministry of reconciliation, I’d suggest taking the time to apologize for being offensive, asking why you offended people, and working humbly to build a bridge – not a wall – between us and them.
Please also keep in mind that success for your event is that one day no one will show up for it. Are you really working towards that end? Is your goal to make disciples, plant churches, and teach people to follow Christ daily?
If so, I’d love to hear your plan for discipling those 10,000 new converts who came forward at your most recent event. How many churches will you plant out of that number? How will you follow up with every single one of them to make sure they know who Jesus is and how to follow Him in their daily life? Do you know their names? Do you have a team of people who are following up with them to help them put their faith into practice? Are you setting up Bible studies for them to join all across Orange County?
Or, is your plan to re-evangelize those same 10,000 people again next year, and the year after that?
Overall, I’m not impressed by those large numbers, because to me it betrays the fact that, after 29 years, your event has created a lot of repeat customers, but not many true followers of Jesus.
I know you didn’t ask me for my opinion. I know you most likely will never actually read this letter. But I needed to say this, for my own sanity, and for the sake of all of those other Christians who can’t see through your smokescreen, and especially for all those non-believers who wonder if anyone cares to understand why they find your event so offensive.
If you want to talk about this in person, I’ll buy lunch.
Keith Giles new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”.
Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.
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