Did you hear the one about the evangelist who stood up in a darkened theater, at the end of the most recent Avengers movie, and, as the credit rolled, preached that people needed to “repent or perish”?
Yeah, it’s not funny, which was the crowd’s panicked reaction, too, when Truth & Triumph Ministries’ Michael Webber decided to preach a little fire and brimstone in a movie theater in Redlands, California, this past week. Unsurprisingly, when you scream “If you were to die tonight, would your passage to heaven be guaranteed?” people don’t assume that you simply lack manners, are an entitled jerk who is robbing them of a peaceful experience watching the credits (and robbing the people credited of their recognition), or a person deeply concerned about their spiritual welfare. Because, while the first of these things is true (You are an entitled jerk), the third is not (You don’t really care about people’s welfare or else you’d have thought this stunt through more carefully); you’re just an ass.
Does Jesus want people who love the Avengers to also love God and their neighbor? Sure. But it’s hard for them to hear that message when they’re afraid for their lives.
Webber defended himself by saying that he’s frequently preached this way, blaming the panic on the fact that the lights didn’t come up soon after he started preaching, the way they usually do. (This means he doesn’t usually wait for the lights, I guess.) In a sympathetic interview with The Christian Post, he places his behavior–and the panic that it prompted and his arrest–within a narrative of Christian victimization:
The common thread I hear from people who disagreed with what I did is that it wasn’t the right “time and place” to stand up and preach.
Christians need to realize that if we don’t stand up now, there won’t be ANY “times or places” left. There was a period of time in America where standing up to preach the Gospel would have been met with applause. But even in past times when I’ve preached, the message has been met with cursing, objects being thrown, and so on.
Although I have had times where preaching in theaters has resulted in great fruit. Many people have said to leave the preaching for the pulpit. But, for one thing, the freedom of the pulpit is being infringed upon as we speak. And for another, not everyone attends church on Sunday. But every person should hear the Gospel of God’s love as expressed through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
We’ve talked about this before: Christians who don’t understand that their freedom of religion doesn’t entail anyone else subsidizing their faith. And when you rob a ticket-paying movie-goer of the chance to see the entire film (including the credits), you are doing that. A movie theater isn’t a public space.
But Webber doesn’t just believe that Christians are victims. He also seems to subscribe to the idea that Christianity itself must rule. Here he is again in The Christian Post:
The honest truth that every Christian must come to realize is this: Nature abhors vacuum. When the Church refuses to reign, someone else will. God has called every one of His people to rise up and be light for this world, and hope for their generation.
In other words, this isn’t about movie theaters or even about personal salvation. It’s about Christianity having power. Though Truth & Triumph seems focused mostly on “soul winning,” the language of “reign” rightly scares those of us who aren’t here to be won.
Here’s a roundup of recent research about how those outside of conservative Christianity are faring under the renewed assertion of Christian hegemony. In short: it’s not good.
Abu-Ras, W., Suárez, Z. E., & Abu-Bader, S. (2018). Muslim Americans’ safety and well-being in the wake of Trump: A public health and social justice crisis. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Advance online publication.
Key point: Perceptions of increased Islamophobia was associated with increased concerns about safety and increased stress, with some Muslim women and elders and older people experiencing additional negative outcomes because of their gender and age
Müller, Karsten and Schwarz, Carlo, Making America Hate Again? Twitter and Hate Crime Under Trump (March 30, 2018).
Key point: When Trump tweets anti-Muslim garbage, anti-Muslim crime increases.
Scheitle, C.P. “Religious Congregations’ Experiences with, Fears of, and Preparations for Crime: Results from a National Survey,” Review of Religious Research (2018) 60: 95. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-017-0316-3
Key point: Muslims and Jews are more likely to see their houses of worship vandalized.