Josh Brahm

What we can learn from hateful street-preachers

Josh Brahm
By Josh Brahm
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March 25, 2013 (LiveActionNews.org) - Today was a weird day. While at Fresno State University, I witnessed the worst street-preaching I’ve ever seen. I also witnessed what God can do with a few humble servants who want to show love while preaching truth to a crowd of disgusted atheists, Mormons, Muslims, and at least one Catholic guy. While telling the story, I’m going to write some things that have been going on in my heart lately as I think about communicating effectively to people who are different from us.

I was at Fresno State with my colleagues Gabi Vehrs, Kyle Goddard, and Clinton Wilcox, with hopes of engaging the students on the issue of abortion. We haven’t had a lot of success with Fresno State’s busy students in the past, so we set up a small JFA exhibit that we hadn’t used before at FSU as an R&D test, and just invited a few seasoned pro-life advocates to join us and test the outreach tool and its effect on FSU students.

A few decent dialogues later, we heard some loud noises coming from the Free Speech Area. We looked over, and I saw three street-preachers yelling at the students, some of whom stopped to listen.

Before I describe what they were saying, I should say something. I don’t think all street preaching is bad. I think people like Ray Comfort can be very effective, but he’s a seasoned evangelist who has gained some very helpful skills and a lot of experience. I generally prefer relational evangelism, because most people are going to take the words of a friend much more seriously than the words of a stranger. That being said, a thoughtful street evangelist can get some people thinking about religious ideas, and obviously that’s a good thing.

The first thing I saw was their signs. The big sign said “JESUS SAVES FROM SIN AND HELL” on one side, and the other side had a long list of mainly sexual sins that people go to Hell over.

Another lady held a sign that simply said “YOU DESERVE HELL” on one side and “JESUS SAVES” on the other.

I noticed a clear difference between their signs and the ones we set up to engage in dialogue about abortion. Their signs had declarative statements on them. Ours always ask questions, like “Should abortion remain legal?” “When do human rights begin?” “In what cases should abortion be legal?” We even experimented with a poll table at UC Irvine last Fall that said, “Do pro-lifers annoy you?” (We had some great conversations in front of that poll table!) We’re asking questions that invite people to come and share their opinion with us so we can have an evenhanded dialogue. We’re not interested in just shouting at people as they pass by.

The woman holding the big sign was doing the preaching. She described herself as a “warm-up band” for her husband. I later learned that her name is Cynthia, or “Sister Cindy.” Her group travels around doing exactly what I witnessed. There’s even a Wikipedia page about her husband, including accounts of some horribly racist things he’s said while street-preaching.

Sister Cindy was yelling about the evils of lesbianism and marijuana. As I got closer to hear her, I actually thought for a second that she might be an atheist putting on a skit or something, because I saw every bad street-preaching stereotype I’ve heard of, except literal Bible-thumping. The woman wasn’t holding a Bible at all, as that would have prevented her from holding her sign while using her other hand to point her long finger in girls’ faces while literally calling them “whores” who are being “tempted by lesbianism.”

Her voice was grating, and her attitude was hateful. I don’t use that word lightly. She tended not to respond to questions, preferring to preach instead. When she did answer questions, her answers were loud, sarcastic, and rude, with a clearly mocking tone to her voice. “Holier than thou” doesn’t begin to describe the attitude this woman had. Her disdain was palpable.

And it grieved me.

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I tried to engage the preaching woman, but she refused to talk to me. I made a comment to an atheist who made a sign to counter the “YOU DESERVE HELL” sign that simply said, “You Deserve Respect.” I told him that as a Christian, this kind of behavior embarrasses me, but he didn’t have much to say to me. He was too busy yelling at the preachers.

I walked away feeling helpless. A crowd had formed around this hateful woman, and it felt like there was nothing I could do about it. I got emotional. I felt angry. I wanted to cry. I know that God can do anything and that He can use anybody, even wretches like these street-preachers and me. But I also felt like every sentence these people yelled put the people in this crowd farther from meeting my Savior.

A little while later, I walked back to try again. I decided to engage the one with the “YOU DESERVE HELL” sign because she wasn’t preaching, and nobody was talking to her. I sat on the grass, introduced myself with a smile, and asked for permission to ask her a few questions. She was happy to oblige.

My goal was to convince her that some methods of communication are more effective than others. I think some people feel like as long as you’re doing God’s work, you don’t need to worry about being effective. “Just let God do the work!” “God cares about obedience, not success!” Yes, God is doing the major heart work, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be effective. We’re the hands and feet of Christ. He wants to use us to do His work. We should take that really seriously.

Our conversation didn’t go very well. This woman cares only about what other street preachers do on college campuses. I told her that Ray Comfort goes on college campuses, and she remarked that her group is more effective than Ray Comfort. I should have asked her how she came to that conclusion, but I was stunned and literally turned speechless. She added that the Bible says, “Where two or more are gathered, Jesus is there,” so all they need to do is get a (very) small crowd together and let the Holy Spirit do His work.

They don’t see any problems with what they’re doing because they have a few stories of people spilling their guts to the preachers after hearing them. I responded that “anecdotes don’t necessarily make good arguments.”

I did pretty well in the beginning at asking her questions and listening to her long, rambling answers. About 10 minutes into the conversation, she started making heterodox statements about people not being born in sin, and how Christians like her don’t sin at all! Here’s the brief exchange we had about that. Notice how badly I fail to ask questions at this point. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and I was pretty much in debate mode, which I regret now.

Me: You haven’t sinned at all today?
Her: Of course not! I can’t even remember the last time I sinned!
Me: Then I think you’re deluded.
Her: You said you’re a Christian. You’re saying you sinned today?
Me: Of course I have! I’m still human. I have a sin nature that won’t be completely gone until I’m in Heaven.
Her: What sin did you commit today?
Me: Self-righteousness, to start with.
Her: And what did you do about that?
Me: I came and talked to you!
Her: What do you mean?
Me: Watching your team makes me feel self-righteous because I think I’m a lot better at talking to atheists than you are.
Her: That’s not a sin. If you had hit me, that would be one thing…
Me: No, I can sin with my mind without hitting you. And some of the prideful feelings I have right now are not of God.

It wasn’t long before I ended the conversation, which was going nowhere. I walked back to our pro-life display, having failed a second time to change anything. I started talking to Gabi about the feelings I was having. Meanwhile, a larger crowd had formed to watch the car wreck in front of them.

Then Gabi said, “Maybe I should go up and quote the ‘greater love hath no man than this’ verse.” I responded that 1 Corinthians 13 would be better, because I’ve never personally heard a more clanging cymbal than this. I’ve been thinking about this passage more lately because my brother Tim has written an excellent pro-life piece based on the poetic structure of 1 Corinthians 13.

Seriously, you should go read it now. I’ll wait.

Gabi asked me more seriously: “Really, should I do it?” I responded that she couldn’t make anything worse and that this crowd needed to hear a different kind of Christian today.

So we prayed. We prayed for the people in that crowd, whom God loves in a way we can’t possibly understand. We prayed that God would help us love these people like He does. We prayed for wisdom. We prayed that God would open people’s hearts.

And then we walked confidently into spiritual battle. (Click here for appropriate mood music to open up in another window.)

Gabi recruited a young Muslim to join her in a loud dialogue to divert the crowd. It worked. The crowd immediately turned to listen to this new person.

Gabi spoke passionately, with both clarity and compassion, about the need for people to engage religious ideas and examine the evidence for each of them. She preached against religious pluralism and intellectual laziness. She talked about how people from different religions should be able to have good dialogues together, listening to each other while attempting to find common ground, with the ultimate goal of finding more truth together.

Sister Cindy was furious. At first she tried to interrupt Gabi a bunch of times, but Gabi refused to engage her. Cindy got right in Gabi’s face and yelled, “I am in charge here!” Gabi just kept preaching, and the crowd was clearly more interested in what she had to say than Sister Cindy’s tired message.

Eventually, Sister Cindy decided to preach a little ways off, hoping the crowd would abandon Gabi and form around her. It didn’t happen, as the picture above shows. Sister Cindy is in the red shirt on the left, yelling at nobody, because the members of the crowd are listening to Gabi and beginning to engage each other in religious dialogue.

Pretty soon everybody was talking to each other. Myself and a Catholic guy named Anthony talked to an atheist named Devon for a while. The main topic of our conversation was about not judging an entire religion based on the hypocrites, especially if those hypocrites are going against the religion’s teaching. I also engaged Devon on whether the Bible is more trustworthy than Harry Potter. (Devon’s actual comparison.)

Talking to Devon and Anthony.

Meanwhile, Gabi and Clinton talked to a Mormon for a while. Small groups formed all around and engaged each other for about 20 minutes.

What’s the takeaway here, besides an effective method of diverting a crowd from a hateful preacher? I think we should be thoughtful about the way we communicate to others. Some methods of communication are clearly more effective than others. So pray about it, and then try some things and reflect later on what went well and how you could improve.

But don’t be so afraid of failing that you become paralyzed and don’t engage at all until you feel like you have something perfect. That attitude would have led Gabi not to do anything, because it was not at all clear whether anybody would listen to her.

No, we had an idea, we prayed about it, we thought about the right strategy, and then we did something. Anybody can do that.

Reprinted with permission from LiveActionNews.org.

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A protester rallies against Hobby Lobby, protesting against the Supreme Court decision Dan Holm/Shutterstock
Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

DNC chairwoman exhorts constituents to boycott local Hobby Lobby store

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision was nearly two months ago, but the issue as hot as ever, as was demonstrated yesterday when Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz, D-FL, urged constituents to boycott a Hobby Lobby store in her district.

In a press conference one lot away from the Hobby Lobby location in Davie, which opened in April, Wasserman-Schultz said that she wanted “people to know that this Hobby Lobby is here and they should vote with their purses and their pocketbooks, and women should not shop here."

"If you didn’t know this Hobby Lobby was here before, know it now and don’t shop here. They don’t deserve women’s business because they are the ones that all across the country have made it harder for women to get access to birth control,” she said.

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Wasserman-Schultz said that Hobby Lobby's corporate ownership "doesn’t support its employees” and “wants to be able to get in the personal business of their employees and make health care decisions and replace their own values, replace their employees’ health care decisions, with their values…."

She also criticized the Supreme Court's late June decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, which had sued the federal government over the Obama administration's HHS Mandate.

The Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, say it violates their conscience to pay for coverage for the four abortifacients and potential abortifacients that the mandate required them to cover.

"The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case was not only disappointing, it was dangerous," said the Democrat. "No boss should have the right to dictate and employee’s health decisions because [they] don’t belong in the bedrooms, doctor’s offices or pharmacies of their employees.

“A woman and her doctor know what’s best for their body. Not an insurance company. Not a politician. And certainly not a manager at a Hobby Lobby."

The Supreme Court's decision allowed closely held corporations to not fund coverage of contraception or abortion drugs and devices.

Wasserman-Schultz's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Through a spokesperson, the Green family declined to comment about the Congresswoman's statements. 

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Kirsten Andersen Kirsten Andersen Follow Kirsten

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America is rejecting abortion because pro-lifers are having more children: study

Kirsten Andersen Kirsten Andersen Follow Kirsten
By Kirsten Anderson

According to a new Northwestern University study, American attitudes about abortion are trending more conservatively than other contentious social issues, a phenomenon the authors credit to the simple fact that pro-lifers have more kids.

“We find evidence that the abortion attitudes have lagged behind a liberalizing trend of other correlated attitudes,” the authors wrote. Using GSS data collected between 1977 and 2010, “We test[ed] the hypothesis that the comparatively high fertility of pro-life individuals has led to a more pro-life population.”

The authors wrote: “Support for abortion rights has turned flat after a period of increase following Roe v. Wade, and in recent years there are even indications of a reversal toward more restrictive attitudes. This U-turn is evinced particularly among younger cohorts, and is happening despite liberalizing trends in several ostensibly related issue domains.”

The authors speculated that the reason for the increase in pro-life attitudes among young people is that their parents had more children than their pro-abortion counterparts. When they examined the data, they found that pro-life individuals had, on average, 27 percent more children than those who considered themselves “pro-choice.”

Not only that, but pro-life parents appear to be much more likely to pass their views on to their children. The researchers found that the younger generation’s pro-life shift was too strong to be blamed solely on differences in fertility – meaning children of pro-abortion parents are rejecting their parents’ views.

“[E]ither pro-life beliefs are always more faithfully transmitted than pro-choice ones; or, there has been a cultural shift towards more pro-life beliefs that is being reflected in the parent-child correlations,” the authors wrote.

The study concluded that it wasn’t for the higher fertility rate among pro-life people, the nation as a whole would favor abortion by about five percentage points more than it does currently – and researchers predict the pro-life trend will continue.

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“Taken together, these findings suggest that fertility has had at least some part in leading the population in a more pro-life direction over time,” the authors wrote. “Further investigation into this pattern indicates that not only are abortion attitudes associated with fertility, but in proportional terms—which is what matters for cultural change—the gap is widening.”

“Fertility has declined for both pro-choice and pro-life groups over the past 30 years, but fertility has declined far less markedly for pro-life individuals,” they added. “Whereas pro-[life] individuals born before 1940 were only having about 1.2 children per one child born to a pro-choice parent, this ratio has grown to over 1.5 for those born in the mid to late 1970s. This pattern suggests that future cohorts may place an even stronger demographic drag on the liberalization of abortion attitudes.”

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A declaration that PP is an 'enemy of the Church' would mean that Catholics who work with, advocate for, or support Planned Parenthood, incur automatic excommunication. American Life League
Lisa Bourne

New campaign asks Pope Francis to declare Planned Parenthood an ‘enemy of the Church’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

The Catholic pro-life organization American Life League (ALL) is launching a campaign calling for the Catholic Church to declare Planned Parenthood an “enemy of the Church.”

Using prayer and education, ALL’s Defend the Family campaign seeks to expose the nation’s largest abortion provider for contribution to the destruction of human lives, as well as the family. 

The campaign, said Jim Sedlack, vice-president of ALL, is quite simply “a way of calling attention to the fact that this is a very bad organization.”

“Planned Parenthood is attacking the family, either by killing preborn children or by robbing the souls of the older children,” he said. 

A declaration that PP is an "enemy of the Church" would mean that Catholics who work with, advocate for, or support Planned Parenthood, incur automatic excommunication.

Such a declaration would not be unprecedented. Popes in the past have identified and condemned organizations that posed a grave threat to the Church, most recently Pope Pius XII in 1949 with Communism and Pope Clement XII in 1738 with Freemasonry.

While specifics would depend on the wording of the Papal pronouncement, Sedlak told LifeSiteNews if the Holy Father makes the declaration there would be no mistaking its intent.

“When the pope makes the declaration it becomes crystal clear,” Sedlak said. “There’ll be no shades of gray, it’ll be black and white, it’ll be clear to the world.”

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'Now is the time'

There are still people who are not fully aware of the extent of the societal damage inflicted by Planned Parenthood, said Sedlak, including members of the Church hierarchy. He said it’s important to emphasize the truth of what the abortion giant does.

“That’s why we’re focusing on the enemy,” said Sedlak. “When people really stop and focus on Planned Parenthood, they realize it’s the enemy.”

ALL cites Planned Parenthood’s targeting of children to sexualize them as a major cause of the destruction of the family and a fundamental reason for the Defend the Family campaign.

“They really push for getting young people into lives of sexual sin,” Sedlak said. “Young people who aren’t pulled into sexual activity do not provide a cent of income to Planned Parenthood, but young people who are pulled in provide millions of dollars to the Planned Parenthood empire.”

ALL compiled a comprehensive report on Planned Parenthood titled, “The Vatican can help save souls from Planned Parenthood,” as part of the Defend the Family campaign.

“The document builds the case,” said Sedlak. “Why Planned Parenthood, why now is the time.”

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that for its part Planned Parenthood has always recognized that its greatest enemy is the Catholic Church, even working to have the Church lose its status at the UN.

“They fight anybody who wants to take sex away from the kids in any way possible,” Sedlak said. “That’s one reason why Planned Parenthood is the sex mafia.”

And when Sedlak uses the term "mafia," he means it literally, pointing out that the Holy Father condemned the mafia in his June 21, 2014, homily in Calabria, Italy, denouncing its, “Adoration of evil and contempt for the common good.”

“Planned Parenthood kills far more people than the mafia,” Sedlak said.

Also underscoring the need for the Vatican to act on declaring Planned Parenthood an enemy of the Church, is the convening of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family this October in Rome, which will lead into the general synod in 2015.

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that these, along with the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, are events that ALL will rally around to raise awareness of the Defend the Family campaign.

Preliminary response to the campaign has been very positive, he said.

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that the “Vatican can help save souls from Planned Parenthood” report was so well received upon initial presentation to Vatican officials, that ALL was asked to translate it into three more languages.

“The support we’ve gotten from talking to bishops has been overwhelming,” Sedlak said.

Prayer is priority #1

The Defend the Family campaign consists first and foremost of prayer, Sedlak told LifeSiteNews.

“Our approach is that we need prayer support,” he said. “The only way that we’re going to succeed is through prayer to the Blessed Mother; the only way it will succeed is if God wants it to succeed.”

Participants are asked to say regular prayers after Mass, to offer prayers for the pope and to initiate communication with local bishops about the dangers that Planned Parenthood poses to the faithful.

Sedlak also added that The Defend the Family campaign is for everyone, not just Catholics.

He said pro-life supporters of all faith traditions are invited to contact ALL for assistance in encouraging their religious denomination or church leader to declare Planned Parenthood an enemy.

In addition to prayers for the campaign, ALL is asking people to sign and submit ALL’s Declaration of Encouragement to the Holy Father, enroll in the Spiritual Bouquet for the Holy Father and to share ALL resources on Planned Parenthood.

Information, links and resources are available on the campaign website, defendthefamily.org.

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that ALL is giving the success of the Defend the Family campaign up to God.

“This is all happening in God’s time, and so far he’s been blessing us mightily,” Sedlak said. “And we’re going to go wherever God takes us.”

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