How To Deal With Preachers

There's a guy named Peter LaBarbera who runs what's being called a hate group. It's called Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, AFTAH, which is strange because all this group does is spread lies about homosexuality, about how it's perverted, about how it's like a mental disease, a mental illness of sorts.

And for some reason, he was invited to speak at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. And so he went to go speak there and it was strange because the whole room that he was speaking to you would think there would be huge protests or something. 

And the room was packed. It looked like everyone wanted to hear what he had to say. As soon as he started talking, the vast majority of the audience got up and left. 

And so there's this great before-and-after shot of him speaking to this full house of people. 

And then seconds later he's speaking to like a handful of people total. And I'm sure some of them are just saying like, "Alright, let me see what you got because I don't trust anything you're saying". 

Now, normally I would say, look, if you have a religious speaker at your school, a Christian speaker, a hateful speaker, and I'm not saying those two are identical, but if you have that, you should hear what they have to say and then you should ask good questions afterward. 

But I support what they did in Peter's case because that guy has nothing of value to say. But the question remains: What should you do when there's, say, a street preacher, or a Christian apologist who comes to speak at your school and you know that what they're saying is wrong. 

And you know what they're saying may be harmful as well. Are there ways to stage a powerful meaningful protest that will actually take all the focus away from the hateful things the speaker is saying and put them on the critical way of analyzing what they're saying, which is what you want?
Let me run through just a few ways I've seen student groups doing really amazing things to counter the speakers at their school.

3 Creative Ways to Deal with Preachers

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Bingo card

The first one is to create a bingo card. And this is perfect for those street preachers who magically appear on your campus. 

They're the fire and brimstone types. They're telling everyone what's wrong with them, why they're all sinners. But here's what you could do and I've seen a couple of campus atheist groups do this. 

They create in advance bingo cards with the things that the preacher is probably going to say. And then they stand next to the preacher and hand out the cards to students who are walking by. 

And it's kind of interesting because you see the preacher trying to tell everyone what's wrong with them and why they're all sinners, and you see a little circle forming around the preacher and everyone's just waiting for him to say the right words. 

So, you know, you can check off your box when he says, "Sodomizer", "fornicator", "homosexuality", "hell". "Hell" should really be the free space in the middle that everyone just gets. But they check these words off their cards. 

And as soon as someone wins, you could reward them with, say, a Richard Dawkins' book or some sort of prize. And it's kind of a way to say, "Look, we already know what this guy is going to say. 

We know it's ridiculous. So, let's have some fun with it and just show that this guy isn't saying anything interesting. He's not saying anything new. Let's just poke fun at the sorts of-- the rhetoric that he uses.

Raising fundraisers

The second way of protest is actually creating a fundraiser out of the preacher, the speaker. And what I mean by that is that Texas A&M in 2014, they actually staged something they called Donations for Damnations

And what they did is they knew the preacher was going to call them all out. They knew the speaker was going to be saying nasty things about the LGBT students on campus, the atheists on campus, the groups that supported Plan Parenthood, and pro-choice types of groups. 

So they staged a fundraiser, they stood next to the guy who was preaching and said, "Hey, students who are walking past, if you don't like what this guy is saying, why don't you give some money to the student groups on campus that are fighting for the very things he's against". 

They actually raised hundreds of dollars that were split up between the various student groups on campus that worked in those areas. 

It was a fantastic way to raise money. It was a great way to get students on their side, instead of having anyone who might get sucked in by what the preacher was saying. And it raised money for great causes.

Outpreaching the preacher

Finally, one way to really stage a good protest is to outpreach the preacher. So, for example, one atheist group not too long ago said, "You know what? We hear this guy holding up a Bible and talking about how everyone is a sinner, everyone's going to hell unless they repent". 

Well, guess what? We could pretty much create a religion out of any inanimate object and make our own religion and we can start preaching that alongside this guy. 

We'll have dueling preaching going on. And the only object they could find or the one that seemed the most ideal for the scenario was a rain boot. Like a giant boot. 

And this guy held it up and he started preaching the religion of the boot, and how this thing protects you from water, and it's useful, and you should worship it, and if you're wearing Crocs, you are going to hell. 

Basically, he was using the same rhetoric, the same languages the preacher was doing. But kind of out-- doing it over the top.

He was doing it to the point where everyone was seeing these two guys, they knew what the boot guys were saying was silly, but totally in the same vein as the guy who was using the bible to say the same silly stuff. And it just goes to show like, "Hey, if that guy can mock the whole idea that everyone else is a sinner, why should we pay attention to the guys holding up the bible and doing it? 

What's really the difference? Why should we pay attention to the bible guy when the boot guy makes equally as much sense? 

Find any good inanimate object and start preaching the religion of that object just to show that, "Look, it doesn't matter that this guy is holding up a Bible. 

It doesn't make what he's saying anymore true, or credible, or reliable, and just you should ignore it altogether.


Again, I'm not saying you should always stage your protest. Not everyone deserves a protest. I think there is a value to hearing what someone has to say and then countering what they have to say afterward or even asking them good questions. 

But in some cases where there's no desire for a debate, there's no desire for an honest conversation of ideas, I think you should fight fire with fire. 

Go ahead and expose the sort of awful thinking that's going on there by staging your own protest and showing students, "Look, there's an alternative to what this person is saying". 

And the funny thing is when I've seen student groups staged protests against preachers especially, and people like Peter LaBarbera, they get a lot of religious students on their side. It turns out a lot of religious people are like, "That guy doesn't represent me. I want no part on that". 

They end up supporting the groups that are-- that are kind of mocking what the preachers are doing. Moral of the story: never let a good proselytizer go to waste.

Originally published by Hemant Mehta on the Atheist Voice. Published on Fadewblogs by Dave Martin.

Disclaimer: This article is published on Fadewblogs with the permission of the author.

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