How to Handle a Christian Audience Member May 4, 2009

How to Handle a Christian Audience Member

The Knoxville News Sentinel‘s Jessie Pounds has an article about American Atheists president Ed Buckner speaking to a local atheist group.

At first glance, nothing seems particular striking in the article, but I did catch one bit that made me do a double-take.

I suspect very few Christians were in the audience for an event like this — the paper notes that of the 15 people who asked questions, only one was openly Christian.

I *love* the way Ed handled his question, though. I hope everyone who gives talks to atheists follows his lead (Myself included. I’ll make a note of it):

James Swenson of Knoxville, a born-again Christian, asked several questions, including how Buckner felt about self-sacrifice and of Jesus dying on behalf of Buckner.

Buckner requested that the audience clap for Swenson, for being willing to come and ask his question, but said he did not believe that there had ever been anyone who had died to save all people.

First, a show of respect.

Second, a simple answer. Ed handled it very nicely.

I gave a talk about atheism a while back; during the Q&A portion, someone began his question like this: “How do you evolutionists explain…”

You could see the eyes roll and the snickers make their way around the room. I don’t remember how I handled the question, but it definitely wasn’t as smoothly as Ed.

The article notes that Swenson didn’t like the bluntness with which Ed spoke, but he “learned from Buckner’s talk and [has] been inspired to do further research into the extent of Christianity’s role in the country’s founding.”

Sounds like a positive outcome to me.

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  • Oh my, that’s really awesome! I live in Knoxville actually. Haven’t read the News Sentinel yet, but now I suppose I have a reason to 🙂

    I’m really surprised to hear about this, given how religious this area is. Nonetheless I’m thrilled. Now I’m off to go read the paper!


  • andrew

    nice idea, but i think you have to be careful not to sound patronizing asking the audience to clap for him. if done incorrectly, it could come off as really mean and disrespectful

  • Tom

    The other concern I would have about asking the audience to applaud is that it risks feeding into the whole martyrdom complex that right wing christianity has been pushing really hard for a few years, trying to convince their constituents that they’re persecuted by mainstream america, as if they weren’t in charge. It risks sending the message of “you’re so brave to come ask this question because of course we’re actually monsters.”

    Were it me, I would tell the person that I thank them for coming to ask their question, and explain that it is only through talking and listening to each other that we will ever achieve truth and peace, and that I am grateful for the question because it shows that he is listening with an open mind. Even if I don’t believe that, thanking him for having an open mind might surprise him enough to make him actually listen to what else I have to say.

  • JSug

    I wish more Christians would spend time researching the role of their religion in the founding of the US. I get so tired of correcting people when they claim “this country was founded on Christian principles!” But they’ve heard it parroted so many times, they just take it for granted that it’s true. Frankly, the average knowledge of US history among US citizens is appalling. Most of the people I get into this discussion with don’t even realize that the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are two separate documents.

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