Joshua Gill on March 25, 2018
Oklahoma church leaders will not let an atheist organization’s plan to hold their national convention during Holy Week tarnish Easter services and celebrations, the leaders said.
Oklahoma City church leaders are not threatened by American Atheists’ upcoming national convention in the city, which will be held March 30 to April 1, they told NewsOK, adding the atheists’ presence will not disrupt Easter celebrations but will serve rather as a rallying event for local Christians to unite in prayer for them. American Atheists advertised the upcoming convention with intentionally inflammatory billboards that mocked the Gospels as “fake news” during the 2017 Christmas season.
“Their presence in our city will not in any way diminish our joy in celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus,” Metropolitan Baptist Church Rev. and senior pastor Randy Faulkner told NewsOK.
“We ought not to be threatened by people who don’t believe. It doesn’t reshape the narrative of the Christian Church to have an atheist convention coming to town. We’re still going to have Resurrection Sunday, and we’re still going to eat ham after church,” Fifth Street Missionary Baptist Church Rev. and senior pastor A. Byron Coleman said.
It was not lost on Rev. Lesly Broadbent in terms of the significance of the national atheistic organization’s choice to have the last day of the convention fall on Easter Sunday, the First United Methodist Church of Oklahoma City senior pastor said. Easter Sunday 2018 falls on April 1st, which is also April Fool’s day, making the last day of the atheist’s convention a seemingly clear jab at the “foolishness of faith.” That, according to Broadbent, is to be expected.
“Faith is foolish to the world, but it is life to those who believe. If faith is foolishness, then call me a fool for believing love will always overcome hate, good will always overcome evil, and life will always overcome death,” Broadbent told NewsOK.
The jab did not perturb First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City Rev. Kristin McAtee in the slightest, given God’s penchant for using those who seem foolish by the world’s standards to overcome the worldliness that others deem wise, the reverend said.
“As for it being April Fool’s Day, I think of 1 Corinthians 1:27, ‘But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.’ We are all given the opportunity for new life from that first Easter. May we all be fools this Easter as we worship and celebrate God’s miraculous free gift,” McAtee told NewsOK
The convention is meant to help provide community and support to Oklahoma atheists who may feel alone in their unbelief due to their location in the “Bible Belt” of the U.S., American Atheists National Director Nick Fish told NewsOK. The convention will also feature a service opportunity for convention participants to pack meals to be delivered to a local charity that will distribute them to those in need.
“This is to help the local community and to help Oklahomans who have potentially never been in a room with fellow atheists,” Fish said.
The convention has drawn about 700 registrants, prompting convention leadership to seek a larger venue in Oklahoma City to accommodate participants from 46 states as well as others from Canada, the U.K. and Germany.
The atheists’ presence will actually serve as an important reminder to Christians about how they should define their identities and values, local church leaders said.
Atheists, according to Christian leaders, largely define themselves by what they deny, while Christians should define themselves by what they do stand for and by the God they serve, Destiny Christian Center Rev. Lawrence Neisent said.
Neisent hopes the contrast between the groups in Oklahoma City will remind Christians, who allowed themselves to be defined by what they reject, they are actually meant to present the message of Christ, the reverend told NewsOK.
“Atheists deny the Creator. Christians are defined by Him. We should be constantly helping people re-imagine a better story by creating, compelling, inspiring and inviting,” Neisent said.
Broadbent proposed a similar view, saying, “Instead of withdrawing from our culture, we are called to engage with our culture because we believe God loves Christians and non-Christians alike.”