Every year over 130,000 self-proclaimed geeks from all over the country pack into the San Diego Convention Center to celebrate comic books, video games, and other “nerdy” expressions of popular culture. But as they arrive at Comic Con, attendees must pass through a gauntlet of fundamentalist Christian street evangelists with signs telling them they’re going to hell. Some are just there to respectfully share their understanding of the gospel. Others are there to spew megaphoned hate against gays, atheists, or – inexplicably – those they accuse of belonging to the “false religion” of comic books.
This year a small group of missionaries from St. Andrews by-the-Sea Episcopal Church witnessed to a different kind of Christianity. Calling themselves the “Light on a Hill Welcoming Committee”, these local Episcopalians proclaimed a God who loves everyone – even comic book fans.
The Welcoming Committee was initiated by Bruce Pastor, Jr. and Shay Lynn Harrison during last year’s Comic-Con. “Bruce and I have watched how much the people with good intentions really turn off others,” said Shay. “These kinds of evangelism efforts turn me off, and I actually believe that Jesus Christ is my savior! I saw the need for people to share joy with God in ways that don’t turn people away.”
To counter-balance the hateful signs, Bruce and Shay decided to hold up friendly, welcoming signs. Shay’s sign read “Your Costume is Awesome!” and Bruce’s proclaimed, “God likes you, even if God doesn’t exist” – a paradoxical statement that couldn’t help but be true if God’s nature is to love. “Comic Con loves cognitive dissonance”, he explained, adding that his sign is “one effective way to communicate the possibility of God to people who do not believe.”
This year Bruce and Shay were joined by a half dozen of their friends to help tell people that “God loves nerds”, as one popular sign put it. “It was really fun to demonstrate God’s love by offering greetings and smiles, holding intriguing signs that honored the event and those who attended it,” said Deann Ayer. “It was all about welcoming, enjoying and blessing people, which is always a good thing!”
The Welcoming Committee was also a way to witness to the integration of faith into all aspects of life. “I’ve been coming to Comic Con for several years,” explained Sarah Schulz, “and I was tired of feeling like I couldn’t claim my faith in Christ because that label had already been taken by the obnoxious haters protesting outside. I decided it was time to let my fannishness and my faith stand together.” She held a sign reminding us that “Jesus Told Stories, Too”.
Stasi McAteer echoed this sentiment. “I think Jesus is about the same things that people come to the Con for: great stories and a sense of belonging,” she said. “I am so proud to be part of a faith community that celebrates creativity,” she added. “It pains me that people would claim that faith and entertainment must be separated – that somehow a person who loves Comic Con can’t also love – or be loved by – God. I wanted to get out the message that God is about love, and acceptance, and definitely has a great sense of humor!”
The message was well received, and the mission was a success. The Welcoming Committee garnered many smiles, hugs, high fives, and even a few tears. According to Stasi, “More than anything else, people would say ‘Thank you’ and ‘I’m glad you’re here.’” Many people wanted their pictures taken with the friendly signs. Shay and Stasi were even interviewed by Wired magazine for an online piece called “A Field Guide to the Street Preachers of Comic Con”.
Bruce had some good extended conversations with onlookers. “One man walked up and said he had been looking for people like me all his life,” said Bruce. “I told him there are more people who agree than he realizes. We talked theology for about 20 minutes before he said he was moving on to let me show my sign some more. “
The experience was a blessing to Committee members, too. “It always brings joy to reach people who would normally be turned off to the idea of God”, said Shay. “It was a great reminder that going out of my way to greet people, smile and share a compliment is an easy way to bless others and share God’s love,” added Deann.
The Light on a Hill Welcoming Committee plans to continue the tradition again at next year’s Comic Con. Anyone who wants to welcome comic book nerds to San Diego is encouraged to join in, no RSVP necessary. “We always meet on Saturday afternoon during the Convention near the Gaslamp sign,” said Shay. “Look for the brightly colored hand written signs!”