On a hill in Roseville, California, just outside of Sacramento, sits Adventure Christian Church. The people at this successful Evangelical congregation are nice, friendly and civil.
Well, not exactly. Nice? -- yes. Friendly? -- you bet. But civil? -- uh, that would be a definite no.
Here's what happened:
Last weekend, on October 12, I was invited by Adventure Christian Church to participate in a "Great Debate." My opponent was David Marshall, a Christian author, blogger and founder/director of the Kuai Mu Institute for Christianity and World Cultures.
The question at hand: "What provides a better foundation for civil society, Christianity or Secular Humanism?" David Marshall took the Christian position, and I took the secular humanist position.
Preparation for this debate had been underway for several months. It was a very professional deal. The associate pastors as Adventure Church know what they are doing; there was a lot of paperwork filled out, waivers signed and lots of pre-debate planning in terms of the format, rules, the moderator's role, etc.
The folks at Adventure were generous hosts: they paid for my travel expenses, asked me what kind of water I liked to drink, provided nice snacks in the green room, and paid me an appreciated honorarium. And the church itself was most impressive: state-of-the-art big screens, big lights, big cameras, big audio systems, etc.
I was repeatedly told -- via e-mail, as well as in person -- that not only would the debate be video'ed by their expert video team, but the video of the debate would be posted on vimeo soon after the debate.
And so we had the debate. And I won. Now, that's not my opinion -- its the opinion of Adventure Christian church, because they now refuse to post the video on-line.
Instead, what they've done is post a series of rebuttals to the debate -- refutations and criticisms. But they won't post the actual debate. And they've disabled my ability to even comment on their posted refutations.
When I called pastor Bryan, and asked him why they are refusing to post the video -- even after repeated promises of doing so -- he replied, "It just didn't go the way we wanted it to go. We were not represented well."
There is a real irony here: the debate was about civil society -- and here we see an Evangelical church acting quite uncivil.
One of my points during the debate was that if "Christianity" is the foundation of civil society, then all non-Christians in such a society will essentially be second-class citizens. They will be ignored, disrespected, or blown off (at best), or actually censored, oppressed, and persecuted (at worst). Adventure Christian Church couldn't have proven my point any better: they have censored me -- air-brushed me out -- because my truths are just too, well, true.
I was actually quite stunned by Adventure Church's not keeping their word and being so cowardly. And I shared my dismay with my friends, family and students. But then, yesterday, one of my students came up to me and said, "I'm stunned that you're so stunned."
"What do you mean?" I replied. "They were such nice people. And they repeatedly assured me that the debate would be put up on vimeo. Now they won't do it."
"Clearly you don't know a lot of Evangelicals," she replied. "Sure, they're very nice. But if you say anything that goes against their party line, you're out. They can't handle debate, they can't handle real dialogue. It doesn't surprise me at all that they won't show the video."
I think my student may have gone a bit far. I don't think all Evangelicals are like those at Adventure. I am sure that there are many, many evangelical Christians who keep their word, are open to debate and dialogue, and have the courage of their convictions.
But, unfortunately, that wasn't my experience at Adventure Christian Church. They are indeed afraid to air the underling truth of my position: that no civil society can thrive if it does not exist upon a bedrock of democracy, and democracy is not a Christian value -- it is not articulated anywhere in the Gospels, nor is it promulgated, in any way, by Jesus or Paul. Rather, democracy is a secular humanist ideal -- something dreamed up and established by and for people.
But the good pastors at Adventure Christian church would you prefer not to know that!