Your eyes and ears are not deceiving you: That’s the president of a Southern Baptist seminary in North Carolina offering a a friendly message on a web site –openlysecular.org
– that’s favored by atheists, agnostics and others with no religious affiliation.
In the nearly 2-minute video, posted Thursday, Danny Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest starts off by acknowledging that evangelical Christians like himself disagree with the secular community on some “very important issues.”
So why, at a time when believers and non-believers are often not on speaking terms, would Akin agree to do such a video?
Because, he says on camera, the two sides do agree on some things. Namely, that “no one should be coerced when it comes to their particular religious beliefs, whether they are religious or not religious,” Akin says. “They should have the freedom to express what they believe and they should be able to do so without hatred, without discrimination.”
The seminary president goes on to say that Christians and those with no religious affiliation can also work together – “with mutual love, with mutual respect and understanding” – to help the poor and care for the planet.
What is not in the video: Any attempt by Akin to proselytize, or convert his listeners to Christianity.
Akin agreed to make the video at the request of Todd Stiefel, the Raleigh-based chair of Openly Secular, a campaign launched by a coalition of more than 20 secular groups.
The campaign, Stiefel told the Observer, hopes to trumpet love, acceptance and reason.
“People should be loved as individuals. We don’t all have to agree on everything,” he said. “We should care for each other as human beings regardless of differences of belief and opinion.”
Stiefel said the groups in the coalition – including the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, the Secular Student Alliance, and the Secular Coalition for America – are working toward helping what have been called the “Nones,” those mostly young people with no religious affiliation.
A recent Pew poll found that the Nones – including atheists, agnostics and people that call themselves “spiritual but not religious” – now make up 23 percent of the U.S. population. That’s a big increase from 2007, when 16 percent told Pew they had no religious affiliation.
During the same time period, according to Pew, Christians have fallen from 78 percent to 71 percent.
Stiefel said he met Akin a few years ago, through a mutual friend – the host of an evangelical Christian radio show in Raleigh.
“I thought (Akin) would be amenable to it,” Stiefel said about the video request. “We have our areas of disagreement, to be sure, but he’s a good guy.”
The Openly Secular site also includes videos featuring secular celebrities such as “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Julia Sweeney, illusionists Penn and Teller, former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank and TV talk show host Bill Maher, who has sometimes been more combative than civil in his public comments about people who are religious.