May 6, 2018

Picketing Churches

Open Arms Assembly of God I think atheists would generally agree that Christian extremism is a problem in the United States. The hard part is agreeing on tactics to effectively oppose it. I have a question for the atheist readers today, one I'd like you to think about before responding. As atheists, should we consider picketing some of the Christian extremist churches in our communities?

Let me elaborate a bit before you answer in case this idea strikes you as absurd on its face (which it still might be). My goal is not to sell you on this idea but to find out what you think about it. I am conflicted about it, as I suspect there could be advantages and disadvantages.

Suppose that there is a fundamentalist Christian church in your community that could rightly be considered to be of the Christian extremist variety. Also suppose that there is a good reason to believe that members of this particular church are actively working against things you value (e.g., the separation of church and state, science education, reproductive freedom, LGBT equality). Should atheists consider picketing such a church?

Picketing a church sounds risky, doesn't it? If you are imagining forming a picket line in front of the church with the 2-3 other local atheists you know, think bigger. What if the effort was organized so that atheists from around your state and perhaps even neighboring states joined in? Perhaps the picket is not even happening in your community but a nearby one where you are unlikely to know anyone.

It seems to me, and I am merely speculating here, that atheists picketing such a church could have several effects:
  • Due to the nearly unprecedented nature of such an action, it would likely generate considerable publicity. The local media would almost certainly consider it newsworthy. Coverage might provide atheists with a forum to educate the public about atheism and Christian extremism.
  • An action like this could motivate atheists in other communities to undertake similar efforts, having a viral effect.
  • It would send a message that atheists are through pretending to respect dangerous falsehoods.
Of course, the whole thing could backfire horribly as well. Those participating would likely be branded as being anti-religion, and efforts like this might appear to lend support to the common Christian persecution narrative. "Oh, just look at those awful atheists protesting while those poor Christians are just trying to attend church!"

For something like this to have any hope of working, effective organization would be essential. Organizers would have to know that more than a few people would show up, and the messaging would have to make it clear that the protest was about what members of the church were doing. Even then, there would be no guarantee that the desired effects would be attained.

Is picketing certain churches something atheists should seriously consider? What do you think?

An earlier version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2008. It has been edited to improve clarity and correct typos.