Restored Church ‘Disagreement =/= Hatred’ sermon

Pastor Dan Nichols and Justin Vacula Photo by A. Elizabeth Baumeitster
Pastor Dan Nichols and Justin Vacula
Photo by A. Elizabeth Baumeitster

I offer my thoughts on Restored Church’s ‘Disagreement =/= Hatred’ sermon in which I was mentioned

Today, Pastor Dan Nichols delivered the final sermon in Restored Church’s September sermon series dealing with the topic of sex. Local newspaper The Times Leader reported on the sermon and Nichols was kind enough to provide me with a PDF — uploaded here Disagreement _ Hatred — of his sermon prior to the release of the sermon podcast which is now available.

Nichols’ newest sermon particularly addresses the LGBT community and argues Christian belief that God designed sex to be within the marriage covenant between one man and one woman does not constitute hatred of LGBT individuals.

Nichols acknowledges that some Christians hold bigoted and hateful perspectives toward LGBT individuals, but state that this should not be the case; Nichols encourages Christians to ‘love thy neighbor “regardless of race, religion, background, financial status, or whether [they are] gay or straight” and states that “disagreement should not produce hatred.”

Nichols also mentions what he perceives as some hatred coming from communities arguing for tolerance – particularly mentioning outrage directed at Tony Dungy who said that he would not draft gay football player Michael Sam because, in part, media attention that would come with his drafting would be “a distraction” from football.

Midway through the sermon, Nichols mentions me — saying “[w]e disagree on almost every issue imaginable, but we do agree that disagreement =/= hatred.” Nichols recounts his reaching out to me in 2012 following an incident in which a Christian vandalized a banner I had hung and some hate mail I received from Christians. He also mentioned my defense of him concerning people claiming he was bigoted for his views about marriage and homosexuality quoting a blog post in which I suggest that disagreement does not constitute hatred.

vandalized banner
vandalized banner

I agree with sentiments throughout Nichols’ sermon and especially enjoy his rebuke of Christians being nasty toward others who disagree with particularly religious viewpoints. I don’t, though, however, think that a religious message and/or appeals to God will be a sufficient resolution to this problem because it is often the case that often at the heart of religion — whether it be practiced in Restored Church or not — is divisiveness. Indeed, not all Christians will be nasty toward others, but as an out atheist, I have received a fair share of nastiness almost certainly because of peoples’ religious views and my challenging of them – no matter how civil I would be in my criticism or activism.

Just two months ago, I wrote about a woman telling my mother, “What’s wrong with your atheist son?” at a graduation party. Family members (1, 2) have shunned me — posting nasty comments on my Facebook profile and their own — and a local bus driver posted nasty messages taunting me. In 2009, I received a deluge of hate mail including one threat of violence I reported to campus security. There’s also this, this, and this. I mention this not to ‘play the victim’ [I recognize that taking controversial public positions will often result in some backlash], but rather to note that religious belief inspires this sort of behavior.

more hatred from Christians...
more hatred from Christians…

Obviously, Nichols rebukes this activity, but there’s a considerable way to go for Christians whose religious beliefs lead to vitriol. Atheists are demonized as people trying to take away others’ rights, agents of Satan, immoral, sociopathic, incapable of love, and many other caricatures – many of which were on display on the 2014 movie ‘God’s Not Dead’ which I recently wrote about.

The Bible, too, likely inspires nasty caricatures of atheists calling them corrupt, fools who commit abominable works; wicked and dark while also suggesting that believers should not be “unequally yoked;” and suggests believers not greet atheists or let them in their houses. There is also, of course, the doctrine that people, simply because they do not believe the Christian God exists [that they disagree with Christians], will be condemned to eternal torment. There’s also lack of civility in God’s countless commands for tribes in the Old Testament to commit genocide, shebears killing youths, flooding of the world…

The divisiveness that often comes with religious belief limits the success of Nichols’ intentions to promote civility. As Nichols mentioned, though, it is not only religious perspectives which lead to hatred; people may hate for reasons wholly unrelated to religious beliefs. Personally, I find the issue of tone to be very important and, although I am not in the futile business of ‘policing the internet’ or heavily restricting comments on my social networks [I do almost no moderation], make a good effort to be civil toward others.

My message may be biting at times — specifically to Christians who take disagreement personally, considering challenges of their religious beliefs to be offensive or personal attacks — but I wish not to attack people. Instead, I am very concerned with framing conversations so that communication is not broken down and so healthy debate can flourish. Don’t hate. Debate!

Although I disagree with the religious framework Nichols presents as a solution to hatred, I can agree with Nichols’ intentions for people to have conversations and be more respectful toward one another.

Thanks again to Dan Nichols for mentioning me in his sermon and providing me a copy of his sermon so that I could write about it. I look forward to a response and the next time we eat together.

As always, feel free to comment below.


Another discussion with Pastor Dan Nichols

I recently spoke with Pastor Dan Nichols whose church, Restored Church in Wilkes-Barre, received national media attention following its display of a billboard reading “I Love Sex” – God.

In a recorded audio clip, we speak about the billboard, sex, sexuality, marriage, abortion, politics, marketing Jesus, Christian belief, atheism, philosophy, and much more.

Consider also watching our first recorded discussion — an open-to-the public conversation which took place in Restored Church — here. Also consider reading some of my recent pieces which are follow-ups (1, 2, 3) to the discussion we had.

As always, feel free to comment below and/or on the YouTube video.

Restored Church to display ‘God is the author of sex’ billboard

Justin Vacula and Pastor Dan Nichols
Justin Vacula and Pastor Dan Nichols

I respond to the upcoming Restored Church billboard reading ‘God is the author of sex.’

Yesterday, an article in The Times Leader highlighted Pastor Dan Nichols of Wilkes-Barre’s Restored Church who will display a billboard displaying a message reading — in part — “God is the author of sex. He loves it, and He has a very specific design for it.” Nichols’ view about sex, though, is limited to being loved by God in, according to the article, “the proper context” and in marriage – “a covenant between a man and a woman.”

I have become familiar with Pastor Dan Nichols following his reaching out to me in 2011 following an incident in which a banner I displayed, with the help of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, was vandalized. Since then, Pastor Dan and I had an open recorded discussion in his church and have eaten several meals together discussing a plethora of topics inside and outside of religion.

Some reactions to Dan’s comments about the billboard — particularly surrounding LGBT individuals — are of the reactionary ‘Nichols is a bigot who hates gays.’ From my interactions with Pastor Dan, I don’t agree with this sentiment. Pastor Dan’s views about sexuality, though, are obviously exclusionary or otherwise condemning of sexually active non-married individuals.

Pastor Dan’s Christian perspective on sexuality is quite unrealistic; people are going to be having sex outside of man/woman marriage. Sending a message of ‘no’ and not educating about safe(r) sex [although, to be fair, I do not find a church responsible for teaching about sex – but in upcoming sermons Restored Church will be discussing sexuality in a very limited framework] will very likely lead to harm which could be averted if a more realistic perspective is presented.

Sure, sex, just like almost anything else, can be destructive. People enter into poor relationships (including marriages which Pastor Dan supports in a limited context) and remain in them. Unwanted pregnancies happen and children are born into a world without a sufficient support system. Sexual violence occurs. Sexually transmitted diseases are spread. With proper education and a good dose of maturity/experience — contrary to a ‘do not have sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman’ message — sex can be a good thing in more instances than the limited perspective of Pastor Nichols.

I also worry — and am often confused — on church teachings which oppose legal marriages between two men or two women. Pastor Nichols and other religious individuals can both believe God ordained a specific type of marriage and not oppose government-recognized marriages outside of his framework, but it’s often the case that religious individuals believe that their religious perspectives on marriage should be congruent with a law for all Americans.

Although I am friends with Pastor Nichols, I can’t support his billboard message, but I can support his view — echoed in the article — that people can disagree and not hate each other. I hope Pastor Dan and his congregation respond to my response and perhaps we will have another dialogue — whether recorded or not — in the near future. For now, I will keep my thoughts to fewer than 525 words.


— Update: Pastor Dan Nichols and I will have a recorded discussion on 8/27/14 which will be released soon after recording. —

#PCAC presenter Dr. Travis W. Schermer talks men’s issues

Dr. Travis W. Schermer
Dr. Travis W. Schermer

While attending the 2013 Pennsylvania Counseling Association conference, I spoke with Dr. Travis W. Schermer concerning men’s issues, masculinity, male friendships, and more.


Stay tuned for more interviews, live-tweeting, and the Brave Hero Radio broadcast Saturday night at 8PM Eastern.

As always, feel free to comment. Please indicate timestamps if you leave comments on particular parts of the video.

Conversation with #PCAC presenter Dr. Taunya Tinsley

602131_10151772245079327_886411131_nWhile attending the 2013 Pennsylvania Counseling Association conference, I spoke with Dr. Taunya Tinsley concerning non-religious individuals in counseling, inclusive non-religious approaches to spirituality, LGBT individuals, and more.


Stay tuned for more interviews, live-tweeting, and the Brave Hero Radio broadcast Saturday night at 8PM Eastern.

As always feel free to comment. Please leave timestamps with comments about particular parts of the video.