Update: The issue is to be rectified.
@futilityfiles Hello, this is Gillian from AP. We are resending the photo identifying you by name and as a speaker.
— Gillian Flaccus (@gflaccus) November 12, 2013
A mega-church is defined as a church that has “2,000 or more in average weekend attendance.” Seeing as Sunday Assembly can measure its attendance in hundreds, not thousands, it doesn’t quite qualify. Nor have there been enough Sunday Assemblies for there to be anything approximately approaching “average weekend attendance.” So much for the AP’s reporting choices (which have gone on to influence ABC News, Voice of Russia, Salon, and even The Raw Story).
In terms of connotations rather than strict denotation, I’m going to quote Hemant.
Atheist mega churches are just like Christian mega churches. Minus the money, staff, bands, pastoral mansions, and rockin’ worships.
— Hemant Mehta (@hemantmehta) November 11, 2013
Semantics aside, there’s another problem with the coverage. As many of you have alerted me to the fact, I’d be remiss in not mentioning the fact that a picture of me is trending on Yahoo News. What the Associated Press missed what that I was not only an attendee, I was the main speaker for the Los Angeles iteration of Sunday Assembly.
Yes, this out and proud atheist was invited to be the main speaker for Sunday Assembly Los Angeles, which was held this past weekend. The LA event page listed the word “atheist” and there were plenty of allusions to atheism, godlessness, and even hints of anti-theism at Sunday Assembly LA. Whatever might have happened at other locations, the Los Angeles version of Sunday Assembly had a very clear target audience: those who believe in no gods and follow no religions, including those who self-identify as atheists.
As I mentioned in my talk there, which was about people overlooked by history to whom we can be grateful, the gathering was, by far, the most church-like thing I’ve ever attended in my ex-Muslim life. It felt odd and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself when asked to clap, stamp, sing, and otherwise show my enthusiasm in a vocal way. All the same, as the picture of me that’s trending shows, I had an awesome time.
If only the the caption had managed to mention the fact that I was, as I mentioned, the main speaker for the event.
Why is this important to me? Obviously, it represents something of a missed opportunity for promotion for me. More importantly, the erasure of my name and my role in the event angers me because it’s coverage like this that promotes the notion that atheism is still a white-dominated old boys’ club. The reason I’m happy to put my name and face on things is to directly combat and challenge that idea, to ensure that both those curious about and wary of atheism are aware that it isn’t just for a certain class of people. I cannot work to do so if reporters at an event fail to recognize that one of the pictures they chose to depict the event just happens to include its main longform speaker. Such neglect contributes towards the further stigmatization and marginalization of non-white, non-male atheists.
To the contributors at the Associated Press responsible for this omission, I ask that you do your job and amend the caption to include my name and my role in Sunday Assembly Los Angeles.