When my debate with Joe Puckett was announced, some members of the skeptic community expressed dismay that it would be held in a church. Some said that by choosing such a venue, it stacked the deck in favor of the religious advocate because they would be speaking on their home turf in front of a friendly audience. They felt that it should be held in a neutral venue with a neutral moderator.
Some refused to attend because they had sworn never to enter a church again. I can understand those whose experience with religion and the church has been so unpleasant, even traumatic, that they have a visceral antipathy to even stepping inside a church because it would re-awaken unpleasant memories.
My own personal experience with religion was actually quite pleasant and my disengagement with religion and advocacy of atheism is because I realized that religious beliefs are not only wrong but also lead to irrational thinking in general and to bad public policy and harmful social attitudes.
Hence I try as much as possible to speak to religious audiences because it is they who I think really need to hear the message of science and the benefits of nonbelief. So I was actually pleased that this event was proposed by religious people and was being held in a church because that would enable me to reach the kind of audience I seek. There were about 500 religious people there on Saturday who may have never have had a chance to hear contrary views. My goal, as I have said repeatedly, is to spark some curiosity in the minds of a few, especially the young, to take a chance and explore new ways of thinking.
It did not bother me in the least that the skeptics were heavily outnumbered nor that the moderator (who was excellent, by the way) was a member of my debate opponent’s church. The reason that this supposedly unequal playing field does not bother me is because I am confident that our message is right and the arguments for science and atheism are so strong that all these other factors pale into insignificance.
So while I know that having such events in churches will prevent some people from attending, I actually think they are the best venues.