My Response to Larry Dixon’s Starbucks Story

starbucks

Larry Dixon, an Evangelical preacher and professor, mentioned me again in a recent post on his blog. I am starting to think that Larry wants to have a bromance with me. Sorry Larry, I’m married, hopelessly heterosexual, and I definitely don’t socialize with people who see me as a target for evangelization. I am quite content with being an apostate reprobate who is headed to a mythical Lake of Fire. Now, if you want to join me and Christopher Hitchens in Hell, then maybe, just maybe, we can be friends.

Dixon recently wrote a post titled, What if this Happened in Starbucks? Evidently, Dixon was deep in sleep one night and had what can only described as an Evangelical wet dream. Much like the Bible, what follows is not a true story. I’ll let Larry explain:

So this morning (Sunday morning), I went to Starbucks to get coffee for my wife. The church we attend has a break between services, so I went to get her coffee and a multi-grain bagel.

The place was packed. The six or so Starbucks’ employees that were working behind the counter were swamped. One customer was upset because he was still waiting for his cheese danish. Most of the chairs and tables were taken. People were meeting with friends; laptops were everywhere

Before I placed my order, something came over me. I felt a profound burden to speak to the whole room:

“Hey! Forgive me for interrupting you folks, but I’ve got a critical question to ask you. Are you ready?”

People looked nervous. Nobody speaks to the whole group gathered in a Starbucks! Who was this kook?, they probably thought to themselves. Some of the men looked like they were examining me for a hidden weapon of some kind.

“Why aren’t you people in church?! There are a lot of good churches within a couple of miles of here. Has Starbucks become your church?”

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that one of the baristas was on the phone, probably calling the police. I knew my opportunity would soon be over.

“Folks, I’m not trying to be offensive, But shouldn’t all of you be in a church of some kind, worshiping the Lord Jesus for all He’s done for you? He died for your sins. As the Creator, He’s the One who gives you the next lungful of air that you breathe. Unless you’re on a break from your church like me, what are you doing here?!”

As I looked over this group of about thirty people, there were a few whose faces looked very angry. I had disturbed their Sunday morning quiet time at Starbucks. One or two looked, well, almost remorseful. Maybe they had given up on the church a long time ago, but the truth of Jesus’ giving His life for them seemed to rush back to their minds. The rest, to be honest, were each dialing 9-1-1.

Then I saw the flashing lights outside. As the police officer came in and gently led me to his patrol car, I thought, “Wait! I forgot to get the coffee and bagel for my wife!”

I can imagine Dixon awaking with quite a chubby after this dream. No Jesus viagra needed. Larry was standing at attention, proud of his boldness for the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Savior of his non-existent soul.

Dixon concluded his post with this:

Friends: Just so you know, this did not happen. But I thought about it. And I know my friend Bruce (a former preacher-turned-atheist) who sometimes reads my blog would say, “Why in the world did you think you had the right to interrupt those people with your silly message? They didn’t ask you, did they?!”

And he would be right. No one asked me to break into their peaceful moment at Starbucks with the gospel. But what if I did?

Dixon is right when he says I would likely have asked him why he thought he had to the “right” to interrupt people with his condemnations. And he WAS condemning them for NOT being in church. Quite John the Baptist of him. It seems strange to this unwashed, uncircumcised Philistine that Dixon dreams about going into places of business and condemning people he doesn’t know. Maybe the people at Starbucks were Observant Jews, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Seventh Day Baptists, or even garden variety Evangelicals who attend houses of worship on Saturday. Dixon judges the patrons at Starbucks without having sufficient evidence to do so.

bruce-gerencser-street-preaching-september-7-1990

People have a right to shop, eat, walk, and play in peace. Unfortunately, Evangelical zealots believe their right to evangelize supersedes your right to peace, quiet, and a nut-free life. If Larry actually went into a Starbucks and fulfilled in real life his dream, he would be breaking the law. You see, the U.S. Constitution guarantees Dixon’s right to evangelize in public spaces, but not in private parks, institutions, malls, and businesses. Dixon, by breaking the law also breaks the law of God. Romans 13:1 states: Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Dixon could legally stand in front of Starbucks and preach, hand out tracts, and condemn people for not being in church or being gay to his heart’s content. Unlike Dixon, I actually took the gospel to the streets for a number of years. I publicly preached on street corners throughout southeast Ohio, and in Columbus, Washington D.C. and New Orleans. I handed out thousands of tracts and witnessed one-on-one to countless people. But what I didn’t do is invade people’s private space, nor did I tell them that I wanted to be fake friends with them. I was certainly outspoken, but I also respected the wishes and space of others. Going into a Starbucks and preaching was never on my radar. First, doing so was against the law. Second, it was rude. And third, to what end? I sure told those coffee- swilling sinners the truth, bless God. And how many of them followed after you to your house of worship? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. The answer is NONE!

If I were still an Evangelical preacher, what would trouble me the most about Dixon’s story is the Jesus-less gospel he preached. Sure, Dixon gives passing mention to Jesus, but the thrust of his message is what? What are you guys doing here? Why aren’t you in church? Has Starbucks become your church?

Dixon is preaching a common gospel found in Evangelical circles — especially among Baptists. “Go to church and thou shalt be saved,” says this gospel. Inside the Evangelical version of the Masonic or Mormon Temple, “secrets” will be revealed. Typical Evangelical modus operandi is to get naive people in the door, lower their inhibitions with “cool” music, and then tell them just enough Jesus for them to walk the sawdust trail and get s-a-v-e-d. It’s only after people have been saved that they learn that their continued salvation and eternal happiness requires a long list of works. Chief on that list is attending church every time the doors are open. Well, that and tithing.

Perhaps Dixon is just sharing different ways to evangelize people; though I sincerely wonder how effective it is to go into Starbucks and condemn patrons for sipping on coffee instead of Jesus. My advice to Evangelical zealots is that they stop with all the magic tricks and games they use to “attract” people to the gospel. Instead, just be brutally honest. Tell people the truth about the requirements for salvation and continued membership in the Club. Let sinners know that they will be expected to devote Sundays and Wednesdays and other nights throughout the year listening to preaching, studying the Bible, and hearing boring, monotonous praise and worship music played and sung by rocker wannabees. Let them know that their family and sex life will have to align with teachings found in a Bronze Age religious text. Let them know their children will be expected to attend indoctrination classes from elementary school through college. There will be fun, food, and fellowship, but lots of Fundamentalist dogma too. Let them know that, in time, the church family will become more important than their flesh and blood family. And most of all, tell them they will be on a finance company-like contract. This contract requires them to pay ten percent of their gross income each week to the church, and several times a year they will be expected to make balloon payments called mission offerings, faith promise offerings, Lottie Moon offerings, and love offerings. And surely they should be told that sometimes God will tell their preacher to ask for additional money for buildings, trips, and anything else the preacher/church board fancies.

Imagine how few people would sign on the dotted line if the fine print was printed in an Arial font, size 24. That’s why evangelizers never tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when witnessing to unbelievers. Get them in church, give them enough Jesus to get saved, and let the Holy Spirit work out the details, right?

Now you know, Larry, what your friend Bruce would say. 🙂 I am always happy to answer your questions (or assertions). Be well. And get your wife her damn coffee and bagel. Your salvation in this life depends on it.

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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15 Comments

  1. Ami

    Sounds like Larry needs a big cup of STFU.

    Reply
  2. Matilda

    Bruce, what a great response. I commented before, does this man not realise how smarmy and fake he comes across when he tries to ‘befriend’ you? He refers to you yet again as his ‘friend’ in this post. He really can’t leave it can he? He’s on another planet, He can’t stop till he’s proved himself top dog, and you are grovelling at his feet pleading with him to help you find his jesus again.
    P.S. Aren’t x-tians like him supposed to boycott Starbucks cos of xmas cups or something? Tut tut Larry! (We boycott Starbucks cos they exploit a loophole in UK law to pay very little tax here, which is unfair trading in our book!)

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      To be fair, I started it when I critiqued an article he wrote about friendship evangelism. From there’s made a lot of hay out of my critique. His response and additional mentions of me allow me to further press the point that I have no use for evangelism methods predicated on fraud, deceit, and ulterior motives.

      You are right about his use of the word friend. I don’t use the word lightly. I have a number of acquaintances, but few friends. Dixon is digital acquaintance, not a friend. I can’t imagine we could be friends. We have little in common. Our respective worldviews are light years apart. I’m too old, too cranky, too busy to invest time in relationships that likely will never blossom into meaningful friendships. Just how it is . . . 😀

      I’m definitely not a good candidate for evangelization. Surely Dixon knows this. I suspect he enjoys the “game” more than he’s really concerned about my non-existent soul.

      Reply
  3. ObstacleChick

    When you’re on the outside of a religion listening to someone go on about how you need their deity or deities, it really sounds ridiculous. It’s worse when paired with threats of some sort.

    Bruce, I guess you’re Larry’s token atheist friend. How special.

    Reply
  4. ... Zoe ~

    I’d like to know what Larry is doing in a Starbucks on a Sunday!?

    Great post Bruce. So agree about the Baptist church. It’s like the church is the minnow trap. Preach the gentle gospel first. Don’t scare the hell out of them yet.

    Reply
  5. Scott

    My company will have 90% plus employees working from home as of Monday. Most people are there, I’m still in the office for two more days. This morning going to Holiday, one of local gas and snack stations, a guy pulls up to a parking spot in the nearly deserted place. As I walked past him, he says “Do you know why this is happening? God wants us to be closer to him.” At that point I yelled, with a little more harshness than I needed, “Go away”. The guy got back in his car and left. I have no idea whether he was coming to get his coffee and an egg sandwich or doughnut, but he left. Religion causes brain damage.

    Reply
  6. Troy

    This reminds me of a story I read about a few years ago. A preacher was in the habit of using the captive audience of movies he was attending to do a little bit of impromptu preaching. Of course certain movies (in particular the Marvel comic book movies) have a tendency to show an epilogue scene after some of the credits have started rolling. Amusingly patrons were yelling back and telling him to shut his holy yap.
    Of course Pastor Larry should mind his own business, the Bible itself says nothing about “being in church on Sunday”, it says no work on Saturday, and while a day or two off from work has great value, I’d echo the words of Jesus himself that the Sabbath is made for man, man isn’t made for the Sabbath. Sipping a coffee at Starbucks is more in line with having a day of rest than going to Church.
    As for Larry, does being an asshole get butts in the pews? I doubt it.

    Reply
  7. Michael Mock

    To me, what’s more striking than anything else about this is that Dixon clearly doesn’t have any idea why people wouldn’t be in church. Look at his Big, Compelling Question:

    “Has Starbucks become your church?” What does that even mean? Does he really think that a church is just a place you go on Sunday morning, interchangeable with any other place you go on Sunday morning? Does he consider getting some caffeine and quietly surfing the Internet to be a form of worship? (If so, I’m in.) Does he even passingly entertain the idea that the people there are using a mocha frappucino and a bacon Gouda breakfast sandwich as some kind of unholy Communion?

    …But, of course, if you ask it the way I suspect it was mean — “Have you let being here at Starbucks become more important to you than being at church?” — then you have to grapple with the fact that the answer is clearly “Yes.” And that leads to uncomfortable follow-up questions, like “What are you getting out of a moment of semi-social solitude at Starbucks that’s better than what you’d get from being at church?” And people are going to have answers for that. And at that point your ill-considered attempt at a guilt trip pretty much falls apart.

    I haven’t been to a church service in years, possibly decades, and my conscience is going to be stricken if you unexpectedly point that out.

    Reply
    1. Michael Mock

      Should have proofread… that last line should read “…is not going to be stricken if…”

      Oops.

      Reply
  8. BJW

    How exhausting of him. When I was a 7th-day Adventist, I would have been deeply offended by the presumption that I needed to be in church on Sunday. I think now I would’ve felt aggravation over it.

    Reply
  9. thatotherjean

    Good thing he made up the story. It does seem unreasonable for a bunch of Starbucks’ customers to be taken to task for not being in church on Sunday by some guy (I assume he wasn’t wearing a sign that said “Preacher”) who wasn’t in church, either.

    Reply
  10. Chikirin

    There is a Louis CK bit where he talks about how when he flies first class and he sees a military person having to go sit in coach, he imagines giving up his seat for the soldier. He never actually does it, but he enjoys the fantasy of thinking about doing it, and that is enough to make him feel like he is a sweet person.

    Reply
    1. Troy

      The nice thing about the Starbucks fantasy is that the Starbucks crowd meekly cheers him on, realizes the error of their ways and walk single file to the nearest church. No need to ruin it with the ugly truth of people flipping him off.

      Reply
      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        Such a fantasy life , Troy😀 I dream of him acting out the ten plagues in front of us, complete with frogs coming out of his mouth. For the death of first born part, Larry has to lose his Frappuccino in front of everyone, standing naked before everyone without a coffee. 😀

        Reply
  11. missimontana

    This reminds me when we were at a foodbank. A woman across the street would scream hateful sermons into a bull horn for 2 hours at the line of people. A few thought she was great, but most found her offensive. She was finally told to hit the bricks because we have a noise ordinance and strict rules for permits for public protests or other gatherings. And then, when it was snowing and freezing outside, the church graciously allowed people to wait in the sanctuary. Oh, and they would show a movie. “Left Behind” of course. And were the people grateful? Nope. Most were angry and offended. This just proved to me how most churches cannot be nice for the sake of being nice. They never miss an opportunity to shove the gospel down our throats.
    It also amazes me how the religious nuts who hate the nanny state are so willing to force their bull on us because we are lost sheep in dire need of saving. The absolute arrogance of them!

    Reply

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