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.


Vandals attempt aggravated arson on FFRF billboard

ffrfSaturnA group of vandals recently attempted to maliciously burn a holiday billboard placed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) reading “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia,” placed in response to religious advertising, using gasoline.

‘Tis the season for secular and atheist organizations in the United States to advertise – mainly in response to religious messages and decorations in government-controlled areas and elsewhere; secular and atheist organizations lawfully respond to free speech with free speech.

Unfortunately, religious individuals who don’t like speech from atheist and secular organizations — rather than tolerating the speech or lawfully erecting displays of their own — often choose the path of vandalism, censorship, and intimidation.

According to an FFRF press release — coupled with a police report and reporting from South Jersey Times — two individuals tossed gasoline on the FFRF display and lit it. The fire, though, did not stay lit while the perpetrators fled. Police are now paying extra attention to the FFRF billboard and the FFRF is offering a $2000 reward for more information leading to the arrest and conviction of perpetrators.

Sadly, acts of vandalism and contempt toward atheists/secularists like these are far too common. Type “FFRF vandalism” on Google to see many examples including a personal experience of my own, described below.

In 2012, I worked with the FFRF to display a banner on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre which was later vandalized by an individual who gleefully appeared on television, in a news interview, admitting his crime. Following the placement of this banner, I was pictured in a flyer which appeared in Wilkes-Barre next to Saddam Hussein, Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. …but yet I am, according to a radio show host, the one with a “strong element of hate.” Find more information in the category ‘FFRF banner‘ on this website.

vandalized banner
vandalized banner

I suspect that hatred and misunderstanding informs these acts of censorship and vandalism. Many religious individuals, throughout their lives, from my experience, have not thoughtfully engaged with arguments against religious belief nor had thoughtful, respectful conversations with non-believers.

Rather than resorting to theft, vandalism of property, and personal attacks, reach out to those with whom you disagree or — at the very least — read what they publish online. While messages placed by atheists in the public sphere may be ‘biting’ toward those who have strongly held religious beliefs, this is no excuse to resort to unlawful conduct. Take a step back from what you may perceive as an ‘attack on your beliefs’ and instead think about why you make take offense.

First, messages like “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” are not attacks on individuals, but rather are challenges to beliefs. The Bible, in 1 Peter 3:15 directs Christians to, when their beliefs are challenged, “prepare a defense and do so with gentleness and respect.” Those who believe their faith is strong should be prepared to respond to challenges and be steadfast in their response provided there are good, justifying reasons for religious belief. If you find that reasons for your religious beliefs are not good enough to withstand challenges, it should be time to reconsider your beliefs and investigate what people of a difference persuasion are saying.

facebook_1363100245Anyway, religious individuals do not have a monopoly on holiday displays. Non-religious individuals may advertise their messages — just like religious individuals — and should be permitted to do so without interference. In a free society, we must learn to — at the very least — co-exist with other individuals and tolerate others’ speech we may dislike. We need not affirm, agree with, or endorse others’ speech we disagree with and can — if we are so passionate — lawfully respond with messages of our own rather than pursuing vandalism and censorship likely informed by hatred.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Video of discussion with Pastor Dan Nichols

Debate2 (1)
Pastor Dan Nichols and Justin Vacula
Photo by A. Elizabeth Baumeitster

Video recordings of my November 3, 2013 discussion with Pastor Dan Nichols concerning religious faith and atheism are now available.

Read the original press release for the event here.

Listen to the high-quality downloadable and streaming audio version of the discussion here.

Watch parts one and two of the discussion below.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Thanks again to Pastor Dan Nichols for participating in this discussion and providing our venue, Shawn Walker for moderating, Restored Church for the audio recording, Dorene for video recording, and everyone who attended in-person and listened live online.

As always feel free to comment and enjoy the conversation. Stay tuned for my after-thoughts.

Discussion with Pastor Dan Nichols – improved audio

Debate2 (1)
Pastor Dan Nichols and Justin Vacula
Photo by A. Elizabeth Baumeitster

The Restored Church Podcast has released an improved audio recording of my November 3, 2013 discussion with Pastor Dan Nichols concerning religious faith and atheism.

With their permission, I have replaced the pre-existing audio recording via the live Brave Hero Radio stream on the day of the event with the new improved recording.

In addition to this improved audio, a video of the discussion will soon be available.

Thanks again to Restored Church for recording the event and coordinating with me to make this occasion possible.

Listen to the improved audio quality file via Brave Hero Radio or the Restored Church Podcast.

Archived discussion with Pastor Dan Nichols

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

On November 3, I met with Pastor Dan Nichols for an open-to-the-public discussion concerning religious faith and atheism held in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Downtown Arts building. About 200 people attended in-person and 77 listened live via the Brave Hero Radio online stream.

We talked about ethics, hell, prayer, miracles, faith, the Bible, and much more in this two hour event which included questions from audience members.

Thanks to all who attended, Rev. Shawn Walker for moderating, and Pastor Dan for participating in the discussion and working with me to make this event happen.

Listen to the archived stream here.

Stay tuned for a higher quality audio recording and a video of the event.