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 first pro-abortion Republican enters the 2016 presidential race

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By Ben Johnson

EXETER, NH, May 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The large and expanding field of would-be Republican presidential candidates grew by one today, as George Pataki became the first GOP presidential hopeful this election season to openly support abortion-on-demand.

The 69-year-old long-shot candidate also has a history of supporting homosexual legislative causes.

In the weeks leading up to his formal announcement, George Pataki took out TV ads asking Republicans to refrain from talking about abortion and gay “marriage,” branding them “distractions.”

“In 12 years [as governor], I don’t think I talked about that issue twice,” he once said of abortion.

On same-sex “marriage,” he says, “I think, leave it to the states. I don’t think it’s a role in Washington.”

However, Pataki has a long history of enacting the homosexual political agenda as governor of New York from 1994-2006. He signed a “hate crimes” law that added the words “gay” and “lesbian” to New York state law for the first time.

He signed the Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Act (SONDA), which prohibits business owners from “discriminating” against homosexuals in housing or hiring, with an exemption only for religious institutions.

He also added sexual orientation to state civil rights laws, alongside such immutable characteristics as race and sex, in an apparent quid pro quo for a gay activist group's endorsement in his last run for governor. The New York Times reported that, under pressure from Pataki, the then-Senate Majority Leader “shifted his position on the bill as part of what is tacitly acknowledged, even by Senator [Joseph] Bruno's senior aides, to have been a deal to win an endorsement for Governor Pataki from the state's largest gay rights group, the Empire State Pride Agenda.”

After the LGBT activist group endorsed Pataki in 2002, citing a long list of his service to the homosexual political cause, Pataki personally lobbied senators for the bill's passage, then signed it into law that December.

Coupled with his stance on gun control, environmentalism, and other issues, he stands well to the left of the Republican mainstream.

The three-term governor of New York, who belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, took his own advice by largely avoiding social issues today. The closest he came was his vow, “I'd repeal oppressive laws like ObamaCare and end Common Core.”

He added that he would “fire every current IRS employee abusing government power to discriminate on the basis of politics or religion. That is not America!”

Otherwise, Pataki's announcement speech hewed to stand pat Republican issues like reducing taxes, shrinking the number of federal employees, increasing military spending, and supporting entrepreneurship.

He began by thanking his supporters, in English and Spanish.

Smiling, his head pivoting between twin teleprompters, he said, “Let me tell you some of the things I'd do right away to get oppressive government off the backs of Americans.”

He would institute a lifetime ban on congressmen acting as lobbyists after they leave office. “If you ever served one day in Congress, you will never be a lobbyist,” he said. He favors forcing Congress to live under the laws it passes, so there will be “no special rules for the powerful.”

He cited his history of cutting taxes, reducing welfare rolls, and leaving his state with billions of dollars in surplus. “That's what our policies can do,” he said. “I know we can do the same thing for the United States.”

In recent weeks, he has called for a more interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East. Today, he reminded his audience that he was governor of New York in 9/11. “I will not fear the lesson of September 11,” he said. “To protect us, first we must protect the border,” he said – an unexpected phrase, as Pataki supports amnesty for the at least 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States.

“We will stand with our ally, Israel, a democracy on the front lines of terror and barbarism,” he said.

Like former Sen. Rick Santorum, who announced he is running for president yesterday, Pataki agreed that “if necessary, American forces will be used to actually defeat and destroy ISIS on the ground” – although he promised not to become “the world's policeman.”

Some of his campaign promises drew skepticism, such as seeking to develop self-driving cars and to cure Alzheimer's disease and cancer within the next decade.

The speech's venue was chosen deliberately by Pataki, who considered entering the presidential race in 2000, 2008, and 2012. The town of Exeter, New Hampshire, claims to be the founding place of the Republican Party. (Ripon, Wisconsin, makes a similar claim.)

More importantly, the first-in-the-nation primary skews more libertarian on social issues than evangelical-dominated Iowa and South Carolina, so Pataki has essentially staked his candidacy on doing well in New Hampshire. Fellow pro-abortion Republican Rudy Giuliani made a similar bet in 2008, banking on a good showing among transplanted New Yorkers in the Florida primary. He left the race after finishing a distant third.

Short of a stunning upset in the Granite State, Pataki has little chance of breaking through the pack this year. A Fox News poll ranks him dead last among 16 announced and potential candidates. Holly Bailey of Yahoo! News said, “George Pataki would never say this, but you do have to wonder if he's sort of, maybe, gaming for vice president.”

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Pataki is not the first “pro-choice” Republican to run for president.  Giuliani (who supported partial birth abortion) and Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (another potential 2016 candidate, who supports abortion during the first trimester) ran in 2008. Twelve years earlier, both California Gov. Pete Wilson and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter supported abortion-on-demand. Arlen Specter later left the party and became a Democrat.

In 1988, General Alexander Haig opposed a human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So did Texas Gov. John Connally in 1980.

George H.W. Bush supported abortion and voted for Planned Parenthood funding early in his career but changed his position by the time he ran for president the second time, in 1988.

President Gerald Ford was the last Republican nominee to proclaim himself “pro-choice.” 

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Ireland ‘defied God’ by voting for gay ‘marriage’: Cardinal Burke

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By Pete Baklinski

OXFORD, May 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Cardinal Raymond Burke lamented how formerly Catholic Ireland has gone further than the pagans in the pre-Christian days of old and “defied God” by calling homosexual behavior “marriage” in the referendum last week.

“I mean, this is a defiance of God. It’s just incredible. Pagans may have tolerated homosexual behaviours, they never dared to say this was marriage,” he told the Newman Society, Oxford University’s Catholic organization, in an address Wednesday about the intellectual heritage of Pope Benedict XVI. The Tablet, Britain’s liberal Catholic newspaper, reported his remarks.

On Friday, 1.2 million Irish people voted to amend the country’s constitution to say: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” A little over 734,000 people voted against the proposal. 

Burke said that he could not understand “any nation redefining marriage.”

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The cardinal also emphasized the important role that parents play in protecting their children in a culture increasingly hostile to God’s laws. “The culture is thoroughly corrupted, if I may say so, and the children are being exposed to this, especially through the internet,” he said. One practical piece of advice that he offered families was to put computers in public areas to prevent children from “imbib[ing] this poison that’s out there.”

During the same Oxford visit, but during a homily at a Mass the day before, Burke called marriage between a man and woman a “fundamental truth” that has been “ignored, defied, and violated.”

Burke warned during the homily of the dangers of “various ideological currents” and of “human deception and trickery which strives to lead us into error.”

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Why young Christians can’t grasp our arguments against gay ‘marriage’

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By John Stonestreet

May 28, 2015 (BreakPoint.org) -- For five years, Dr. Abigail Rine has been teaching a course on gender theory at George Fox University, an evangelical school in the Quaker tradition.

At the beginning of the semester, she tells her students that “they are guaranteed to read something they will find disagreeable, probably even offensive.”

Writing at FirstThings.com recently, she related how five years ago it was easy to find readings that challenged and even offended the evangelical college students “considering the secular bent of contemporary gender studies.”

But today, things are different. “Students now,” she says, “arrive in my class thoroughly versed in the language and categories of identity politics; they are reticent to disagree with anything for fear of seeming intolerant—except, of course, what they perceive to be intolerant.”

And what do they find “intolerant”? Well, in her class, an essay entitled “What is Marriage?” by Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan Anderson, which was the beginning of the book “What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense.”

In their article, Girgis, George, and Anderson defend what they call the conjugal view of marriage. “Marriage,” they write, “is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other … that is naturally fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together.” They defend this view against what they call the “revisionist view” of marriage, which redefines marriage to include, among other things, same-sex couples.

“My students hate it,” Dr. Rine wrote. They “lambast the article.” “They also,” she adds, “seem unable to fully understand the argument.” And again, these are evangelical students at an evangelical school.

The only argument for conjugal marriage they’ve ever encountered has been the wooden proof-texting from the Bible. And besides, wrote Rine, “What the article names as a ‘revisionist’ idea of marriage—marriage as an emotional, romantic, sexual bond between two people—does not seem ‘new’ to my students at all, because this is the view of marriage they were raised with, albeit with a scriptural, heterosexual gloss.”

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As Rine points out “the redefinition of marriage began decades ago” when “the link between sexuality and procreation was severed in our cultural imagination.”

And if marriage “has only an arbitrary relationship to reproduction,” then it seems mean-spirited to Rine’s students to argue that marriage by its very nature excludes same-sex couples.

And where do students get the idea that marriage “has only an arbitrary relationship to reproduction”? Well, everywhere—television, church, school, their homes, in youth groups.

Rine writes, “As I consider my own upbringing and the various ‘sex talks’ I encountered in evangelical church settings over the past twenty years, I realize that the view of marital sex presented there was primarily revisionist.”

In other words, once you say, “I do,” you get “the gift” of sex which is presented as “a ‘gift’ largely due to its [erotic], unitive properties, rather than its intrinsic capacity to create life.” Even in the Church, children have become an optional add-on to married life rather than its primary purpose.

What can we do to win back our children, our churches, and the culture? In our recent book “Same Sex Marriage,” Sean McDowell and I lay out a game plan. We offer strategies for the short-term and the long-term, with the ultimate goal: re-shaping the cultural imagination towards what God intended marriage to be, starting with the church. Come to BreakPoint.org to pick up your copy.

As Chuck Colson once said in a BreakPoint commentary about marriage, “We Christians are very good at saying ‘No.’ But we’ve got to get better at saying ‘Yes’: showing how God’s plan for humanity is a blessing. That His ways, including faithful, life-giving marriage between one man and one woman, lead to human flourishing physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Reprinted with permission from Break Point.

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