Is Sunday Assembly Really an ‘Atheist Church’?

Since beginning in London in January 2013, Sunday Assembly has been described as an “atheist church.” This description has been adopted by the group in marketing/outreach efforts, even though it isn’t the most accurate way of putting matters. In fact, Sunday Assembly is expressly non-theistic, although not anti-theistic. In other words, whether someone believes in gods/goddesses or other supernatural beings is irrelevant. Citing a commitment to “radical inclusion,” organizers of Sunday Assembly avoid the topic altogether, as best as possible. The focus of Sunday Assembly is making the most of the one life we know we have.

In the video below, Atlanta SA Organizer Kristy Gonzalez and with Chicago SA Organizer Ben Zalisko answer questions about Sunday Assembly, including regarding its status as an “atheist church.”

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    Is Mormonism Coming Clean?

    Since my first visit to Nauvoo in my mid-teens, many years ago, I’ve been interested in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka “Mormonism”). It took only a cursory read of The Book of Mormon in those earlier days for me to see the anachronisms, and with further comparison to the Bible the theological muddle present in the text also became clear. For a time, after I became an evangelical, I imagined I might one day even become a “missionary to the Mormons,” relocating to Utah and building a ministry there. Such naive dreams the young have.

    Through the years my interest in this religious group has continued, and so as that church’s leadership attempts to deal with the greater access to information that the Internet provides, I’ve been paying attention to how they respond.

    In recent years there has been a certain amount of mockery directed at Mormons for their “magic underwear.” In fact, this garment has changed in style and intended purpose over the years, and there is less superstition related to it now than in the past. In order to respond to the ridicule, a video was released by the church in which this underwear is compared to the sacred clothing of other religions. Personally, although I have no use for the superstition, I also don’t care for the disrespect directed towards good-hearted people who are simply following the dictates of their consciences in an inoffensive, private manner. I’m much more concerned about people promoting Bible teaching and prayer by teachers or invited guests in public school classrooms than about what someone is wearing under their clothes.

    Another way that the church is dealing with its identity is with a series of essays about polygamy. While it’s long been known by church members that Brigham Young, the church president who led the largest remnant of membership to Utah after Joseph Smith’s death, was a polygamist, many did not believe that Smith himself also taught and practiced polygamy. In coming clean about this aspect of church history, Mormon leaders are trying to do damage control and show perhaps that it’s not so bad after all.

    How this will all be received by rank-and-file membership remains to be seen, but I suspect that any dip in membership will be negligible. People are not adherents of religions solely because of truth-claims. Factors such as family ties, tradition, sentimentality and community come into play as well. Additionally, “true believers” will simply adapt, overcoming any cognitive dissonance and choose to believe despite the evidence. Furthermore, the LDS church continues to grow rapidly in poor and developing nations, places where education levels and access to information will limit any potential harm that could come from the church admitting the less desirable aspects of its history.

    Here are the essays:

    Here’s the video about the temple garments:

    Here’s a little post I wrote several years ago about the Book of Mormon: “Plain and Precious Truths.”And here’s a New York Times article about polygamy and the founder of the LDS church: “It’s Official: Mormon Founder Had Up to 40 Wives.”

    Goiás: Land of Red Earth and Cowboys

    Here’s a side of Brazil that’s likely unfamiliar to most people outside of Brazil. Did you know that there’s a strong rural, even “cowboy” culture in this country? Uberlândia, where I currently reside, is in the middle of the Brazilian Midwest, a land of cattle and crops. Just a bit north is the state of Goiás, where the rural culture is even more in evidence. To see it, simply watch the video below.

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    Table Fellowship

    The last time I sat down with my family for a Thanksgiving meal was 2010. In 2011 I spent Thanksgiving week doing volunteer work in Jamaica, and in 2012 and 2013 my wife and children were in Brazil and I was in the United States. This year we’re all together in Brazil, a country that does not celebrate any particular day as “Thanksgiving.” At least we’re together, though. That’s the most important part.

    When I was a child my family went to my great aunts’ house for Thanksgiving. Mildred and Emily, two sisters who never married but spent their life together, put on quite a spread for us every year. When they tired of cooking but still wanted to host us, they began taking us out to eat on Thanksgiving. It was always a warm, comforting experience. In my teen years my oldest brother and his wife began having us over to their house for Thanksgiving. It was cold outside but it was warm and bright around the table.

    After marrying and moving from Brazil to New Jersey my family enjoyed Thanksgiving with other Brazilian immigrants. It’s amazing how heartily some American traditions can be embraced by newcomers to the culture.

    Theologians talk about “Table Fellowship.” In mainline Protestant circles in particular this term is used to refer to who’s “in” and who’s “out” when it comes to the Lord’s Supper. Most theologically liberal denominations nowadays embrace open communion, welcoming either all who consider themselves Christians, or even all without regard to a specific faith stance. The idea is that everyone is welcome at the table.

    There is definitely something special about sharing a meal with someone, whether it be a co-worker, family member or a love interest. It brings us together in one of our most basic needs and encourages us to take time with one another. There is an intimacy to a shared meal, if done correctly.

    This table fellowship that is so fundamental to being human isn’t merely for us now. It ties us back to our ancestors and forward to our descendants, crossing generations. As a child I only thought about the food in front of me and the people around me. Now I understand that my widowed grandmothers were surely thinking of their husbands and everyone over 30 was thinking of meals in years past with family members who were gone. At the same time I also now eat with my own wife and children and look ahead to future meals with them and my grandchildren, should I be so fortunate.

    This common meal, this time of gratitude and human warmth, is important. For health, food and family I am indeed quite thankful.

    Rio de Janeiro’s Militarized Zones

    When the Brazilian military began invading Rio de Janeiro’s notoriously dangerous favelas, the national news praised the strategy and glorified the soldiers. Scenes of drug traffickers and their minions fleeing the favelas were widely-broadcast as evidence of the success of this approach. Though some measure of peace has come to many such communities, it comes at a price. Residents there have to deal with 4 armed groups: the military, the militias, the traffickers and the police. None of these forces are clearly the “heroes,” and the video below shows vividly how one child in particular has suffered from the violence in the place he calls home.

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    Brazil’s Street Kids

    This past June, just prior to the 2014 World Cup, people from Happy Child International assisted a reporter investigating drug use and sexual exploitation among street children in Recife, Brazil. This is a serious social problem that simply isn’t going away on its own. Fortunately, there are some very dedicated people in NGOs and government agencies working to rescue those they can. So much needs to be done.

    Be sure to check out the links below after watching this report.

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    Sunday Assembly Conference 2015: May 28th – 30th

    Big news from Sunday Assembly! The following arrived in my email this past week. Passing it along here in its entirety.

    Sunday Assembly Conference 2015

    Atlanta Here We Come!

    Hello everyone,

    We have great news. The second ever Sunday Assembly Conference will be in Atlanta on from May 28th – May 30th 2015 and we would LOVE you to be there.

    Whether you are a seasoned Sunday Assembly organiser, an enthusiastic new team, or a curious onlooker this conference will have something for you. Great talks, wonderful workshops and, above all, an opportunity to meet the amazing folk who make up this world changing movement.

    If you are keen please express your interest here – then share that link all over the world and the internet! We will let you know when the EARLY BIRD TICKETS go on sale, and keep you up-to-date on information.

    Seriously, we are going to create an INCREDIBLE event. It will leave you turbo-charged, mega-motivated and ready to move mountains. Here’s what one person said about this year’s conference:

    “I think the general conference was probably the most moving thing I have participated in. I really feel that we are at the beginning of a game changing new idea that will shape the world in years to come.” – Tara, 29, London.
    We can’t recommend the conference highly enough. Meeting fellow organisers suddenly changes your perspective on the work that you’re doing, as you see you are part of a big globe embracing movement.

    We would love you to be there. Please save the date.

    All the best,

    Sanderson and the Sunday Assembly Team

    ps. We will be looking into ways to make the conference as affordable as possible – don’t despair if you think it sounds great but is far. Our thinking caps are on!

    The Application Period for the Humanist Service Corps is Now Open

    The following came into my email this week. Passing it along here as it’s a good cause and a great service opportunity.

    The application period for the Humanist Service Corps is now open. Click here to apply.

    In 2013, Foundation Beyond Belief sponsored Pathfinders Project, a yearlong international service trip in search of the best location to launch the Humanist Service Corps. The Pathfinders spent a month in each of 10 project locations, contributing no less than 6,000 hours of service with community-centered partner organizations on education, human rights, poverty abatement, and water sustainability projects.

    Through Pathfinders Project, the volunteers put humanist theory into practice while evaluating the partner organizations in each location. Equipped with the lessons learned by the Pathfinders, Foundation Beyond Belief selected Northern Ghana as the location for the launch of the Humanist Service Corps.

    Beginning in the summer of 2015, the Humanist Service Corps will support Songtaba and other Ghanaian human rights organizations working to restore dignity to women who have been accused of witchcraft and banished to “witch camps.” Although the women are relatively safe from violence once they are in exile, the living conditions are deplorable. They do not have access to basic education and health care, and they are unaware of or are unable to exercise legal protections under Ghanaian and international laws.

    Humanist Service Corps volunteers will work alongside locals to design and implement projects with the short-term goal of improving the standard of living in the witch camps and the long-term goal of eliminating the dynamics that lead to death or forcible and violent exile of women from their communities.

    Applications for 2015 will be accepted through December 15. For more information, visit