Online Auction: Atheist Sells Promise to Attend Church

Post a Comment » Written on April 28th, 2006     
Filed under: News
KINGWOOD, TX (April 28, 2006) – Hement Mehta, an atheist from Chicago who was raised in the ancient Jain religion before rejecting belief in any god, placed his church attendance up for auction on eBay in late January 2006. When the online auction ended February 3, Hement had sold his promise to attend church for $504.

In Hement’s eBay ad, he wrote, “Will I become religious? Well, I don’t know. I really do have an open mind, but no one has convinced me to change my mind so far. Then again, I have also never attended a real church service. Perhaps being around a group of people who will show me ‘the way’ could do what no one else has done before.”

The winning bid was placed by Jim Henderson, director of Off The Map (OTM), a Christian organization whose goal statement is, “Helping Christians be normal.” In an interview on Henderson says, “I am not trying to save Hement . . . I am hoping that hearing the critique of an atheist will shock, stimulate, humble and provoke Christians to become better human beings, better listeners, more human, real, and interested in others.”

Though Hement’s original offer was to go to church once for every $10 of the final bid, he and Henderson arrived at a modified agreement that involved not only attendance at 10-15 churches and written reviews of his experiences, but additional utilization of his journalistic talents as well.

As atheists and Christian believers began following and engaging with the unfolding story of “The eBay atheist,” a genuine sense of community began to emerge, though not without a certain measure of strained communication. Gradually, the weblog developed into a discussion board with multiple conversations between Christians and atheists in addition to Hement’s posted reviews of his church experiences.

Rick Lindholtz, a Covenant Pastor in Kingwood, Texas, has been involved with the eBay atheist since early February. “I was fascinated by the auction to start with, and anxious to learn of its outcome,” says Lindholtz, who also is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church’s team of prayer and evangelism associates. “But more than that, it has been rewarding to see Off The Map’s goals make slow progress – goals of helping Christ-followers understand how to relate more meaningfully with those who do not share their faith.”

Eventually, other atheists began expressing interest in attending and reviewing churches in their area. One such member, known online only as “TXatheist,” decided to attend St. Barnabas the Encourager Covenant Church in Round Rock, Texas, after learning about the denomination from several online participants. In his review, TXatheist writes: “The service started and the band played for about 15 minutes. It was good upbeat music and the people seemed to enjoy it. I don’t sing so I just stood silently, but noticed a happy atmosphere that the music provided. Then someone got up and spoke about prayer. Oh boy, I thought, and my skepticism kicked in.”

Later, TXatheist described his expectation of “something bizarre” when church members were invited to share testimonies, but then notes, “I was pleasantly surprised at a woman’s confession of gratitude for people helping out with the Dream House. It’s basically food for the poor, and me and my wife contribute to the Austin Food bank and we realize what a wonderful thing that is. She was very grateful, so it touched me on a personal level.”

Pastor Jeff Black of St. Barnabas the Encourager Covenant Church commented, “Everything at church seems so clear to me because I am so used to it; so, it was really helpful to see a detailed description of things from the viewpoint of a first-time visitor.”

Steve Fenton, another Covenanter from Minneapolis who has been a participant in the atheist and Christian dialogue, remarks, “I have believed in Christ for so long that the thought of walking away is totally foreign to me. I am intrigued by those who, for whatever reason, have walked away.”

Fenton adds, “I want to understand why they left. I want to understand where they are now. I want them to understand that I have had some of the same questions they have had, and decided to stay. Interacting with them forces me to confront what I believe and why I believe it in a way that attending church will never do.”

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