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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The Romanian Orthodox Church's Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest Wikimedia Commons
Bogdan Stanciu

Romanian news outlet sanctioned for discrimination in attacking pro-life initiative

Bogdan Stanciu
By Bogdan Stanciu

BUCHAREST, Romania -- A decision of CNCD, Romania's Council Against Discrimination, has recently become definitive, recognizing the right to dignity of all Orthodox Christians in the country.

Last year, PRO VITA Association - Bucharest branch, one of the main nonprofits in Romania defending life, family and religious liberty, filed an official complaint with the Council, showing that a blog post dated May 17, 2013 and hosted on the Adevarul.ro platform prejudiced the image of Christian Orthodox believers.

The article, signed "Alex Dumitriu," challenged the support given by the Romanian Orthodox Church to the “One of Us” European initiative, which required a ban on public funding for the destruction of embryos during research and medical procedures.

The blog post described the Romanian Orthodox Church as an “anti-human, criminal and anti-life organization, whose purpose is spreading suffering and abjectness, mysticism and ignorance for their own profit.”

The applicant argued that these allegations created a degrading and hostile atmosphere for Orthodox Christians in Romania, thus harming a whole community.

The Council agreed that the affirmations in the article referred to both the clerics and the simple believers and discriminated against the Christian Orthodox community. It concluded it was discrimination, infringing upon the right to dignity granted to persons of Christian Orthodox confession.

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The council cited the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that freedom of expression is not an absolute right in Europe, carrying with it duties and responsibilities. Also, the Adevarul.ro platform was fined a symbolic sum of 2,000 RON (approximately 445 EUR).

It is for the first time in Romania that a media institution is sanctioned for discriminating against Christians.

As a brand, the Adevarul newspaper has continued the tradition of a title established in the 19th century, but after 1989 it took over the infrastructure and human resources of the recently-deceased communist newspaper Scanteia, the official propaganda channel of the Romanian Communist Party. Today it has also developed Adevarul.ro, an online platform that is one of the most popular media channels in Romania.

Adevarul.ro has recently made it a habit of harassing the Romanian Orthodox Church with almost daily frequency, presenting negative aspects in the church and tendentious articles of opinion about this institution and about Creationism and Christianity in general, in what looks more and more like an ideological guerrilla warfare.


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Paul Russell

Nitschke heads a suicide cult that must be stopped

Paul Russell
By Paul Russell

Following The Australian's news story today about another young life lost that was related to Philip Nitschke and the Exit organisation, senior journalist, Angela Shanahan says that Nitschke and Exit must be stopped.

Shanahan opens: 

PHILIP Nitschke, contrary to his claims as an advocate of euthanasia for the terminally ill, is the chief mover of something resembling a suicide cult.

The case histories of Lucas Taylor, 26, and Joe Waterman, 25, who committed suicide after being in contact with Nitschke’s group, Exit, leave little doubt of that.

Lucas Taylor was the subject of the other article in today's paper while Joe Waterman's story was covered earlier in the ABCs 7:30 Report that created the original furore leading to the medical board suspending Nitschke's practicing licence today.

Covering the information Judi Taylor found on her son's computer after his death the story adds: 

His heartbroken mother realised that her son was not the only young person on this site. Nor was anyone on the site interested in the motivation for his thoughts of suicide, nor in helping Lucas to overcome his feelings.

“They were only interested in the ‘endgame’,” she said, including detailed advice about where and when and how to go about it.

Again, this destroys any pretence that Nitschke and Exit are only involved in advising sick and dying people about how to commit suicide. This is a macabre and clandestine death industry. Hope joins with Angela Shanahan in calling for this organisation to be stopped and is joined now in our call for a National Inquiry into Exit and other euthanasia organisations by the mothers of both of the young men mentioned in this article.

Shanahan closes by saying: Nitschke’s claim of political persecution is risible. He and his organisation must be stopped.

Reprinted with permission from NoEuthanasia.org.au.


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Leaving the Matrix: what is the cost of conversion?

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By Hilary White

What do you do when you decide to leave a sexually disordered lifestyle? What do you do, when all the people you have contact with, all your friends, even your family, have accepted and embraced a way of living and thinking about life that you have realized is harmful, psychologically and morally destructive, and which you know you must leave? What is the cost of conversion?

We can easily get caught up in the tumult of the ever-escalating legal, political, and cultural war against the traditional worldview and anthropology, so much that we forget that the “issue” is about real, individual human beings and how they should, concretely, order their lives. We culture warriors must remember that what we are asking people to do is difficult, that it can incur huge sacrifice and loss and will often require enormous upheaval and change. We are asking people to leave not only a “lifestyle” of sexual activity, but an entire world, populated with family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, and an entire global culture that embraces and aggressively promotes it.

I include not only the experience of leaving the “gay lifestyle,” but of leaving a worldview, a cultural paradigm that accepts and promotes sexual license of any kind in general. It is more than the questions surrounding the so-called “ex-gay” movement, and more than the issue of living chastely in an increasingly sexually obsessed world.

How ought a person who experiences same-sex attraction react when it begins to dawn on him that, for whatever reason, he cannot continue to live according to the world’s paradigm? We know how the homosexualist movement says he ought to react, and we know that the secular world (nearly all the world, therefore) is in more or less complete agreement. He should reject such self-negating thoughts. He should embrace his “orientation” and start to seek out same-sex sexual relationships, and carry on in the way that they tell us life is now normally lived.

He should engage in sexual encounters with various people, sometimes setting up “relationships” for varying lengths of time, breaking up, moving on, finding someone else, perhaps cohabitating, and maybe, some day, “settling down” with one person, either in “marriage,” or not, as the mood strikes. This is what the world now presents to us as normal. Nearly every television show and movie set in our times says this is just how people live nowadays. 

It is only too easy for those of us who live out here in The Real to forget how totally different our lives are from that of the majority of our fellow men. We shout, “jump!” because we see a whole other lush, green and happy world, but they see nothing but the shadows on the cave wall.

But those few of us left who think this is not a very good way to live, that it is morally and psychologically destructive, have in large part to forge our own way in life, figure out a set of rules and standards to live by alone, all the while fighting the pressure to conform. Even for those of us not plagued by sexual feelings towards people of the same sex it isn’t easy.

It is particularly not easy for those of us who have decided later in life to try to embrace a different path, but who had previously followed the world’s advice, and who had never known any other way of living. What does it take to totally change a worldview, a method of organizing one’s life and all social relationships? How hard is it to reinvent a way of life that the world has not only abandoned, but aggressively rejected and condemned?

The cost will usually be, at least, the loss of nearly all one’s friends, sometimes even very close friends. Very often it will include alienating, sometimes permanently, one’s own family. Since the Sexual Revolution’s paradigm has now been embraced by three or four or more generations, it will often mean alienation from parents and siblings.

It will sometimes mean the loss of good relations with co-workers and colleagues, and sometimes even the loss of jobs and careers. I know a man, a previously highly respected author, who was totally rejected by the entire literary establishment of his home country, a heavily secular nation, when he embraced Catholicism, including its sexual moral teachings. He told me that he expected he would never be published again outside the Catholic niche press. None of his previous friends would speak to him and for the first two years his mother had refused to take his calls.

He had been asked again and again why, if he felt he had to become a Christian, he could not have become an Anglican. And why this “sudden obsession” with “outdated” and “retrograde” sexual morality? He said that, in essence, he was treated as he would have been in the 19th century had he “come out” as a homosexual. Chastity, in other words, is the new perversion.

It is a momentous decision to leave that world, and people who make that transition compare it to leaving the Matrix: a painful, shocking and revelatory experience of a totally new and previously unguessed-at world that can leave the person disoriented, feeling as though he is now living in a kind of “parallel universe” in which he is alone and alienated from friends and family and fellow citizens.

There is an increasing number of us “converts” to a more morally sane life, who often find that once we have made the transition we are alone again. And even when we find others, a new community and friends – usually in a church – we learn that we must keep the door to the past closed. It’s not that we fear rejection, far from it, and it is not even a matter of shame.

But we understand that in a civilized society, no one wants to hear about barbarity, and we learn that to keep our past life closely in mind is to allow it to continue to rule the present. Close friends will know about our past, but, outside the most intimate circles it is passed over silently. We have reinvented ourselves and moved on, but the price is sometimes to become people with no past. To be wholly remade, it is necessary to leave behind the person we were.

It works. I can say that it is possible to be radically morally rebuilt, that one can reconstruct an entire personality, consciously dismantle past habits of thought and approach to life and replace them with better ones. The damage from the previous life, whether physical or psychological, can be permanent, but it is possible to construct a way of living that is morally and psychologically and physically healthy, and reorder a life in such a way that the damage does not rule your present. 

But it’s expensive. For me, it started when I was still living in British Columbia. I felt something new beginning in my mind and felt a yearning spring up that could not be satisfied by anything I’d experienced… the usual convert’s tale.

I’d been aware all my life that the kind of world we lived in, and the kind of life we lived in it, was somehow just not right. I loved old films and television shows that depicted a totally different way of living. I was close to my grandparents and wondered why we no longer lived that way. When I moved to the mainland in my early 20s, I somehow started going to Mass again, and that was when the real struggle began. I knew full well that the way I lived and thought about life was deeply at odds with the Church.

But I was alone. None of my friends were Catholic and none of them could begin to understand what it was I had begun to talk about. And I had made no friends at the large inner city parish I attended. I had tried to join a few things, and had volunteered a bit, but I could see that I had nothing in common with them. It seemed as though these people lived in another universe, one I could not even want to enter. A priest suggested I get involved in the pro-life movement, and I rejected this idea out of hand as totally absurd.

I thought I could only ask God for help. I prayed for “Catholic friends.” This brought no change, so I scaled down and said, “All right then, just one. Just one Catholic friend.” In the end, I simply got up and left one day. I’ve written elsewhere that I just got in a car and went “on holiday” out east, and never returned. When I landed in the far-eastern Canadian town where I was to undertake my own radical conversion, I only stopped there because I had run out of continent.

And it was there I discovered a whole new world, a moral universe of whose existence I had been previously totally ignorant. I met my “Catholic friends,” and was able to start the painful task of first deconstructing and then rebuilding my entire worldview, my character, my beliefs, my total understanding of life, the universe, and everything.

“Painful”? I barely survived. It took a year but I emerged a new kind of person in a new kind of world that I had never suspected existed. I met a group of other people who had undergone the same experience and we traded war stories. We agreed that it was like living in a parallel universe, and we bonded over the loss of previous friendships and family relationships. We helped each other, this little group of Catholic refugees on the rain-washed East Coast, to figure out a way to live in a world to which we no longer belonged. 

We talk about the programs set up by various individuals and groups that propose to help people, (mainly men) leave the homosexual lifestyle. We defend the right of psychotherapists to offer healing and help for people who have been damaged by their own choices and by the violence and sins of others. We lobby our Parliaments, we write articles, we even argue in comment boxes on the internet. We sometimes get brave and give talks and engage in public debates where we confront our ideological opponents in public venues. In all this, we rightly speak against the New Paradigm that the world has embraced and we urge people to reject it. It’s a form of evangelization.

But I think we need to keep in mind, while we are doing this good work, that what we are asking people to do, concretely, is momentous. Indeed, from the point of view of heaven, it is of cosmic significance. In less exalted terms, however, we are asking something almost unimaginably difficult of people ensnared in a way of living and thinking that they may not even completely understand themselves.

So much of our anti-culture, our death-culture, has been simply absorbed unconsciously, so much of it has been fed to us with our Fruit Loops and Saturday Morning Cartoons from earliest childhood, that we often have no way of knowing anything else exists. We have become people trapped in Plato’s Cave, knowing only the vaguest shadows of reality.

It is only too easy for those of us who live out here in The Real to forget how totally different our lives are from that of the majority of our fellow men. We shout, “jump!” because we see a whole other lush, green and happy world, but they see nothing but the shadows on the cave wall.

Ultimately, the Matrix is not only unreal, it is designed to make men miserable, but in such a way that they are hardly aware of being miserable. It not only enslaves, but tortures its victims. There is a reason that suicide, divorce, drug use, violent crime, self-harm, eating disorders, depression, … misery, in short, have grown to such colossal proportions in our societies.

If I may make a suggestion, maybe we could start writing and talking about how much better it is to live in The Real. How much happier it is possible to be when living a morally integrated life of self-control, not being pushed around either by lust or by the merciless demands of a lust-worshipping culture...a life of real freedom, in other words. It might help make the jump less frightening.


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