Ask Mandisa 34 – Invitations, Platforms, Dialogues

by | August 7, 2019

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Mandisa Thomas is the Founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc (Twitter & Facebook). One of the largest, if the not the largest, organization for African-American or black nonbelievers & atheists in the United States.

The organization is intended to give secular fellowship, provide nurturance and support for nonbelievers, encourage a sense of pride in irreligion, and promote charity in the non-religious community.

I reached out to begin an educational series with one of the, and again if not the, most prominent African-American woman nonbeliever grassroots activists in the United States.

Here, we talk about panels, speeches, tours, talks, and the like.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When it comes to panels and speeches and talks and tours, there are ones for the religious; there are ones for the secular. Often, especially given the dominance of the religious in the United States, there’s the invitation from the religious to the secular. What about a proposal for invitations from the secular to the religious?

Mandisa Thomas: Actually, at our fifth anniversary, I invited one of my now good friends, Reverend Lorenzo Neal, to speak as an ally. I met him in 2013, when he contacted us at our website to have me on as a guest for his show. It was a very good talk, he discussed his work with his church, and he admitted that he doesn’t have all the answers. He actually felt very comfortable in our space.

I think that due to the still very high religious scholarship and the religious presence, that we may be tempted to invite some religious leaders to have discussions with us as a way to challenge their perspectives. I’m hoping that in the future, we might be able to do this.

I know some organizations have hosted debates between the religious and nonreligious. How that plays out varies. We always try to be mindful of the goal if we’re going to invite the religious into our spaces.

Many of us, having left religion behind, wonder if they’re going to say anything different. We take that on a case-by-case basis as well as the subject matter, and what we hope to accomplish.

Jacobsen: What would make events or speaking engagements and invitations more appealing for the religious coming to a secular turf?

Thomas: That’s a very good question. I am not sure. I think that if the subject matter centers around something that we do have in common. It could be some areas of social justice, like racial justice, reproductive rights, etc. Sometimes it could be in the form of a debate. The more progressive religious organizations and leaders might be willing to have discussions with us about our common ground, and how we can fight or work together against oppression that affects all of us.

I’m thinking subjects that don’t necessarily pertain to atheism or secularism, even though I don’t think that we should hide them. There could be better opportunities for collaborative events with religious organizations and leaders in the future.

Jacobsen: Any recommended speakers from the religious, in terms of invitations, for those who may be reading this?

Thomas: I would say the Reverend William Barber, who is extremely phenomenal. He is very much an ally and speaks on issues that pertain to the broader community. I can’t say that he would automatically work with us but he has acknowledged our presence.

I think that he would make a good speaker in a more secular space because of the respect that he has for us and the work that we do, as well as the challenges. He understands what we face, so I think that he would be one that I would recommend strongly.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.

Thomas: Thank you.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.

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