Church members went to several neighborhoods on a recent Saturday and rang doorbells. We met people who belonged to other churches and encouraged them to support their congregations, and to those who didn't attend, we welcomed them to our church. I was proud of our folks who came and supported this effort and was happy to meet so many nice people.
But one man wasn't nice. He scowled at me and said he was an atheist and, furthermore, his neighborhood was posted for no solicitation. He, in effect, told me to get off his lawn.
I've thought about this an awful lot since. I've thought that I've never met an atheist who was happy! Those I've met are always angry at something or somebody.
I wonder who this man was angry with?
Maybe he was angry with America where we honor God. Our founders acknowledged "divine providence" and "nature's God" in our founding documents. It's true many of our founders weren't evangelical Christians--they were deists who believed God existed, but weren't so sure we could know him. But they acknowledged the hand of God in our founding. And President Eisenhower asked Congress to add "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.
I wonder if he was angry with our adults and youth who did the canvassing? Some people do destructive things with their time and can be a threat to law-abiding folk. Our canvassers, many of them new believers, smiled sweetly and invited people to join us in learning more about the scriptures. Who could be angry with such wholesome activity?
He did say he was angry at us because he thought we violated his neighborhood association rules. However, city ordinance trumps neighborhood rules and most local municipalities allow churches to go door-to-door. As I say, we weren't selling anything, but only giving a printed invitation and a kind word.
The First Amendment gives us the right to practice our faith and to speak freely. Part of our faith is sharing the good news with others. It's a divine imperative. Jesus gave his church the Great Commission and mandated we not keep the message to ourselves (Matthew 28: 18-20). We shouldn't be crass or unkind, of course, but as long as we respect the freedom of others to accept or to reject, we're well within our rights.
Several of us discussed what further we might do. Someone suggested light-heartedly that we form a prayer circle around the atheist's house! I suggested we simply pray for him. That's not against the law. And as Don Moen wrote in his chorus, "[God] works in ways we cannot see, he will make a way."