When we first found out that a member of the Atheist Community of Lubbock would be delivering an invocation before a city council meeting a few months ago, the reactions from local Christians gave you a hint of how unusual this would be. Lubbock is a very religious city, and any acknowledgment that atheists exist in the region is cause for controversy.
One pastor questioned why an atheist would want to give an invocation, before suggesting that the atheist was obviously pushing her godlessness on everybody else: “Atheists are not just accepting the right that they don’t believe in God, but they don’t want anybody else to believe in God!” Who knew some secular words of encouragement amounted to preaching atheism? That pastor failed to recognize the difference between what Christians actually do and what atheists only did in his imagination.
A local news website even posted a poll asking readers to vote on whether the city should have offered an atheist the opportunity to give the invocation… or, in other words, whether non-Christians deserved fair treatment under the law. They eventually took down the poll.
The invocation finally took place last night, and you won’t be shocked to learn that Tracey Benefield did a fantastic job. She was uplifting, inclusive, and unabashedly non-religious.
You don’t get to see the full invocation in the news video, but here’s the transcript:
I want to start by thanking the council for having me here today. I am honored to be able to open today’s meeting. Today is the first regular city council meeting of the year and I cannot think of a more wonderful way to begin the year than with a show of unity and a willingness to listen. In other cities, in other states, when Atheists such as myself request to give an invocation of this kind we have had to fight to be heard, but here in Lubbock we were welcomed. I applaud the city council, for their open mindedness in having me here today.
Today I will not ask you to bow your heads as I speak with you, but rather to keep them raised and look around to your neighbors. We do not all agree. We come from different backgrounds, we believe different things, we have different traditions and cultures but we all share this community in common. This city represents us all.
We call ourselves the friendliest city in America, and I have always found this to be true. It’s why when I moved here to go to college 11 years ago I fell in love with this city and never wanted to leave. No matter what our differences, Lubbockites have an ability to come together and treat each other with respect and dignity. We help strangers put on a spare when they have a flat and we never ask what religion they are. We take time out of our day to pull people out of snow and mud, because we all know how Lubbock weather can be and we’ve all been there. We talk to each other in line at united to pass the time, never caring about what side of the isle they are on. We invite one another to break bread with us at our BBQ’s if someone looks hungry, and we never stop to concern ourselves with who they voted for. And we encourage our children to play together and make new friends at the park without worrying about what their culture is. We share our riches and we share our sorrows. This cities strength is in its ability to come together. This is what it means to be from Lubbock. We find a way to connect, no matter the barriers placed before us.
An invocation is defined as calling upon someone or something to offer help or support. Most people are probably used to these invocations taking the form of prayer, however today in the spirit of the 42% of Lubbock citizens who identify their religious affiliation as “None,” I would like to ask the council to look within themselves and invoke their own capacity for compassion, civility, and reason and let these things guide you as you reach decisions that are beneficial for all of us who share this community. I ask that this council consider all points of view and all of Lubbock’s many citizens when deciding how our city will move forward. As you look around to your neighbors I encourage you to look beyond the differences and find that which unites us. Let our city be an example of how people from all walks of life can live and work together with the respect and dignity each of us deserves.
As an Atheist, I am proud to call Lubbock home, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak before my community. I want to end my time today by thanking the council and everyone in attendance today for having the courage to listen.
How awesome is that? More to the point, who could possibly argue with that?
[Cut to angry Christian in the audience.]
“There is no reason to put her in that position of authority at the front of the line to give the invocation,” said Skeet Workman, a member of Pray America. “I am not being hateful, it’s just that an invocation should be a prayer.”
Workman insists Benefield should be allowed to speak at the meetings as a citizen commenter, but the invocation should have been led from a faith community.
“The council should have let her come, but also say that we are not going to give up our prayer to God for wisdom in the decisions we make,” said Workman.
Yeah! She’s not hateful! Also, Benefield should use a separate drinking fountain because the other ones are reserved for the privileged.
That last line is telling. Workman says she wants prayer, not your damn wisdom. On that, we agree. Religious and thinking rationally don’t go hand in hand.
That Christian bigot aside, Benefield said most religious people were very kind to her:
“There were a lot of Christians that would come up to me and say good luck, and overall there was so much support for us,” said Benefield.
She also released this video to supporters shortly after her speech:
One news source said there was talk of a possible second invocation after Benefield’s — a Christian one to “undo” the damage of the actual one — but the mayor put a stop to that chatter:
Following her speech, Mayor Dan Pope quickly quelled rumors of a suggested ‘second’ invocation during Citizen Comments by reminding residents council rules allowed for comments only on agenda items. “We’ve had our invocation for tonight, we’re not going to have another invocation.” Pope said before moving on.
Good on Pope, and may there be several more atheist invocations in the months to come. If some Christians can’t handle it, they need to hear other ones until they finally get used to it.