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Christians’ response to freethinkers ‘unsettling’

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POSTED January 21, 2014 1:16 a.m.

Editor, Manteca Bulletin

When our atheist and Humanist groups decided to hold an event in Manteca, we had no idea we would be welcomed with a Christian force more than four times our size.

It was unsettling to say the least.

We were excited to listen to Sacramento State’s Matt McCormick explain how the “evidence” for Jesus’s resurrection is underwhelming… especially when compared to the courthouse testimonies and documented “evidence” for Salem witchcraft.

In response to our event, local churches asked their congregations to convene in the park adjacent to the Manteca Library a half-hour sooner. A reported 200 flocked to the neighborhood, consuming all available parking and filling the air with amplified music and a lengthy sermon. They told the press they were there to offer hot cocoa and coffee, and we welcomed their presence.

Then a half-dozen church members, calling themselves “volunteer security”, stood at the back and side exit of our reserved meeting space wearing FBI-style ear pieces and walkie-talkies. They claimed they were there “in case things got violent”.

Halfway in to Professor McCormick’s presentation, the religious congregations took to the Manteca Library and encircled it, chanting and praying, at one point loud enough to disrupt our guest speaker.

Pastor Joshua of the Christian Worship Center told us their presence was “tit for tat”, but this was hardly equal.

Just days earlier, Bishop Steve Perea of the Christian Worship Center addressed his congregation in a recent sermon. “This is our city” he and a second pastor announced before leading into a prayer that called for our event to go unattended… and for God to “cause a storm” the evening of our event.

An invitation called “Warship in the Park” suggested a “Call to Arms”, asking their congregation to attend the neighboring event planned deliberately to disrupt ours.

But the Walls of the Manteca Library did not fall that evening. And unlike the Israelites (Joshua 6:20), the churches’ immature response and violent undertones strengthen perceptions that religion gives its followers a license to be troublesome, exclusive, and disrespectful to others in their community.

You won’t see hundreds of atheists descend upon a church service, surround the congregation, and infiltrate them with “security volunteers” while reciting passages from Dawkins and Darwin.

We know not all Christians and pastors behave this way. We know that persecution is a sensitive topic for Christians. Thus I would expect Christians to sympathize with us – rather than persecute us – for gathering around a shared worldview. If you are appalled by the actions of these churches, we ask you to stand with us and loudly denounce their behavior.

On March 12, we’ll invite New Testament historian Richard Carrier to address our group about the historical claims of Jesus. We will be collecting food to donate to the Second Harvest Food Bank and offering cookies from local Girl Scout Troop #1696. While our colloquiums are intended for fellow atheists and Humanists, neighbors of all worldviews are welcome to join us.

David Diskin
Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers
Jan. 19, 2014

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