Saturday night, I visited the Moody Church (a typically conservative place) in downtown Chicago to participate in a dialogue with members of a youth group there known as The Venue.
This is the third in a series of events where they invite people to speak to them about communities that Christians don’t have a great relationship with. For example, a couple weeks ago, they brought in a gay-friendly Christian who talked about what Christians could do to communicate better with the GLBT community.
This weekend, it was me and a Christian apologist (Ronald Danatus, on the right in the pic below) answering questions about our beliefs and where we’re coming from, with the help of a moderator.
This was one of the better events of this nature I’ve ever participated in.
Here’s what I think made the evening work:
- Ground rules were set beforehand. We’re not there to debate theology or prove who was right and wrong. We were there to help the other side understand our position better.
- While a few pre-planned questions were in the mix, a phone number was put on the screen behind us so that audience members could text their questions to the moderator. He then filtered through the incoming texts and spent most of the time asking the questions which were most popular. It was a very good use of technology and it solved the problem of someone abusing the mic to share a ten-minute rant.
- The people there were awesome. How many church youth groups willingly ask an atheist to talk to them so they can learn how to see things from our point of view in order to connect with us better? I was impressed. The fact that no one tried to convert me afterwards was an added bonus. (After the event, they had only kind words and thanked me for coming.)
- There was a very positive vibe felt by other atheists who attended the event. No one I spoke to felt uncomfortable being there or felt like they would be shunned if they said they were an atheist. A few even stuck around and had conversations with the Christians. I’ve been to similar events where the atheists would want to leave immediately.
- Some of the people who spoke to me afterwards had excellent questions that they genuinely wanted answers to (e.g. What does love mean to an atheist?) and they listened as we gave answers. There was no ulterior motive or snarkiness to it.
Jeremy Witteveen was one of the atheists in attendance and you can read his thoughts about the event here. He answered questions (remarkably well, I might add) for Christians after the event, too.
While he has some criticism for the Christian panelist, he agrees that the event was a good one that should be replicated:
It was definitely a positive event. And if you’re a Christian reader of this blog, and you are involved in a church group… I think it would be an important and reasonable idea to encourage your church group to invite an atheist to speak to your group. Follow the lead of Moody Church. They seem to be doing something right.
***Update***: The Church also wrote about the event here.