2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

It happened in Texas. The Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason purchased pre-film advertising space at the Angelika Film Center in Plano, Texas, to promote a positive image of families who embrace atheism. It seems that part of what motivated this was their desire to respond to other pre-film advertisements, purchased previously by Christian groups, promoting local churches and evangelistic efforts. But when the atheistic ad appeared, local papers reported on it and the Christian people of Texas responded in force, through letters, phone calls and emails demanding that the ad be withdrawn.  The Angelika Film Center pulled the ad.     

So . . . score one for the Christians in a rare victory for the good guys finally? . . .   Hmmm.  Not so fast.    

Here is an instance in which Christian ability to embrace “civic pluralism” is raised to question.  Never mind that the American Humanist Association’s legal counsel is threatening to file a lawsuit against the theatre for its double standard. And, never mind that at least one atheistic columnist on the Patheos website has cited the case as a clear instance of outright legal discrimination (see http://www.patheos.com/Atheist/Movie-Theater-Discriminates-Roy-Speckhardt-05-23-2012.html). And also never mind Texas’s well-known reputation regarding its “You’re not from around here, are you, son? We don’t do things that way” culture. 

What is the right mindset about such things?  The right strategy? The right goal?     

There’s a side of me that relishes the idea that, in at least one carefully guarded plot of American land, churches are free to advertise but atheists are not.  Does the whole country have to embrace the northeast’s broadminded liberalism after all; I mean what kind of idyllic utopia can the northeast boast about anyway?  Can’t narrow-minded righteousness and conservatism be embraced in at least a pocket of the redneck south?  Can’t we just let them be in their old-fashioned ways? 

But another side of me — probably the better, more intelligent side — thinks that if we want the right to penetrate the larger culture with our ideas (and if we really are called by God to evangelize at all, that is what we want, right?), then we have to allow a “free market” of ideas to flow in all directions. And that means we have to regard the “Christian victory” in getting that atheist ad pulled with some pause, at least. 

Right now, according to almost all polling data available, evangelical Christians are known for the passion with which they hold their views — alright, well and good. But they are also known for being narrow-minded bigots.  Probably unfair.  But then, how do we alter this perception and change this reputation?  

I’m thinking that this instance with the atheist ad probably doesn’t help much to that end of changing our reputation, or for establishing a fresh reputation of fair-mindedness and even-handedness in civil discourse.  You?


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum

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