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There is a right way and a wrong way for Christians to discuss with and even attempt to convert atheist. This is the wrong way for so many reasons.

Cineaste sent me this story about a teenage girl raised in an atheist home outside a small town in Oklahoma. Nicole is a beautiful, athletic, smart young lady who struggled fitting in because of the predominant cultural Christianity of her high school.

I have no idea all the facts of the situation. The school district refused to comment, so the 20/20 story is a one-sided telling of the events. But I have no reason to doubt the Nicole’s story. (As an aside – I trusted her more than her father, who also appeared in the story. He seemed more angry and more likely to push the truth for an agenda, but he may also be angry because his daughter has been harassed.)

The girl’s basketball team that Nicole played on said “The Lord’s Prayer” after games. She, being an atheist, did not want to participate in the prayer. Once word got out in the school that she was an atheist, she says that other students taunted her as a “devil worshipper” and even teachers began harassing her, saying they “hated” her.

She faced numerous issues on the team and at school. She was kicked off the team and in trouble at school for things that she said she didn’t do.

Regardless of whether she is telling the whole truth, the school district is being totally honest, or a little bit of both (probably the case), many self-professing Christians acted in the wrong in this situation.

If the girl’s on the team were actually followers of Christ, they should have befriend Nicole and reached out to her. They should have helped her and made her feel welcome as much as possible. Even if they didn’t actively persecute her, it seems they did not actively help her either, which would be the Christlike action to take.

The way her school responded to her is wrong for a Christian on numerous levels. Besides it being morally wrong and contrary to the commands of Jesus, it is a totally ineffective way to talk to someone of a different faith and is detrimental to the faith to which they claim they belong.

But what they did to Nicole is not representative of Christianity because it does run contrary to what Jesus taught and it probably had more to do with the culture of high school than Christianity.

Anyone who has not spent significant time in the rural South do not fully understand what I mean by “culturally Christianity.” Everyone is a Christian, whether they have been to church in 10 years, sling crack on the corner or beat their wife. Somewhere, somehow somebody in their family is a pastor, a deacon, a Sunday School teacher and most likely they are personally a member of a church somewhere. Of course, none of this means they follow Jesus any more (probably less) than Nicole does, but they claim Him.

In the South, it is “cool” to be a Christian. Everyone goes to church and youth group. In my high school the largest club was FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), but some of the leaders spent Friday night getting drunk, Saturday morning smoking pot and Saturday night sleeping with their girlfriend.

When I was in high school, people joined tons of clubs just to put them on their college application. It looked good to say you were part of the French Club (even if you only knew Bonjour) and the Future Farmers of America (even if you didn’t know the difference between a hoe and a rake). The same was true for Christianity. It looked good to parents, teachers and the culture as a whole to say you were a Christian and a member at First Baptist Church. It didn’t mean you actually knew what being a Christian was or had any intention of actually following the teachings of Jesus. You were a Christian because everyone else was.

None of this excuses the behavior of those who persecuted Nicole, but it may explain it somewhat. Regardless of what the whole story is, the actual Christians in that town should rally to help and support Nicole and her family. They should do whatever it takes to make them feel welcomed and loved – you know to actually treat her like Jesus would. I know it’s a novel approach, but it just might work.

The chances are that Nicole and her family will never come to Christ, but at least they would know that there are people who claim to be Christians who do follow the teachings of Christ. There are Christians who can love someone different than them. There are Christians who understand that thousands of Christians are being killed for their faith around the world today, the answer to that is not to turn it around toward atheists. Persecution is not a good thing, it’s even worse to be the one doing the persecuting.