No. No, no, no, no, no.
This is not how we “reach out” to atheists, people.
For the record, I am well aware of the billboards that groups like the American Atheists and the Freedom from Religion Foundation have put up in the past. I am not a fan. The messages are often obnoxious, alienating, smug. The problem is not that those billboards attack my most deeply cherished convictions, it’s that billboards are no place to attack anyone’s deeply cherished convictions. Period. This seems painfully obvious to me, but I guess it wasn’t painfully obvious to American Atheists, or the FRF.
So what do Ken and the other folks at Answers in Genesis do? They mimic the most off putting behavior of their ideological opponents and call it a “cordial and engaging message”. Puh-leaze. When you have a four word message and two of the words are “you’re wrong”, I think you may need to rethink how cordial and engaging you really are; also, whose example you’re following. Some of the comments on Ken Ham’s Facebook page compare this approach to Jesus calling the Pharisees “children of the devil” or “a brood of vipers”. But isn’t that apples and oranges? Jesus saved his strongest rhetoric for the religious leaders of his day, not the pagans. Who is more like a Pharisee? An atheist (even a billboarding one), or a man who has no problem assassinating the characters of Christians who disagree with him on young earth creationism?
I commented on Ken Ham’s Facebook page, telling him that I think this campaign is a bad idea. It’s not “reaching out” but “hitting back”, I said. One of the replies to my comment defended the billboards with a mention of 1 Peter 3:15-16. It happens that I’m currently teaching a class on 1 Peter and have read these verses very recently. It seems an odd passage to quote, under the circumstances. Rather than an argument in favor of patronizing billboards, it seems an excellent antidote to such misguided evangelism:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”