It has been said that "the public is wiser than the wisest critic." In our dealing with the public we need great wisdom to lead men and women to think seriously. The solemn message which we have to carry to the world cannot be borne amidst interruptions which end in the questioner and the lecturer vying with each other in a battle of wits, to the amusement of the audience.
If we find that our meetings are being regularly interrupted, there is either something wrong with our manner of lecturing or with our method of advertising. There are two classes of people who indulge in heckling: 1. The self-opinionated. 2. The rowdy class. It is well to use the utmost care in causing the heckler to cease his heckling, otherwise "heat will be generated rather than light." A harsh or unkind word on the part of the preacher, although it may seem timely, will cause the majority of the people in the audience to sympathize with the heckler, even though he may not deserve sympathy. The public always seems prone to champion the one who has been publicly chastized.
Never call-in the police if it can possibly be avoided. To do so is not good taste, and causes too much commotion. Then, too, such an act is likely to harm the spirit of the meetings. Rather, with the utmost tact and graciousness, endeavor to soothe the hecklers into a quiet frame of mind by appearing to agree with them for the time being, so that they with the rest of the audience may hear what you have to say. Watch your statements very closely in order not to rouse the interrupters to action again.
Should this method fail to restore quietness and the interruptions continue, one can always appeal to the audience. In a cool, collected, jovial way, with no trace of excitement, reveal that you are master of the situation, and ask the congregation what they wish you to do. Ask them if it is their desire that you answer these questions or continue with the lecture which they have come to hear. It will be found that invariably the audience will be on the side of the speaker, and the people themselves will deal with the disturbers very speedily.
The rowdy class of interrupters is probably more difficult to deal with than the self-opinionated. It is not an uncommon thing when lecturing on subjects such as evolution, capital and labor, the Papacy, and kindred subjects, to find as many as fifty to a hundred young men banded together for the sole purpose of wrecking the meeting. They usually stream in all together, fill up the back rows, and behave in a rude manner even before the meeting begins. These young men are atheists, socialists, or Roman Catholics as a rule, and their ignorance is of that type which cannot be appealed to.
Organized opposition of this kind may have to be dealt with in an organized way, but it is well for the lecturer to handle the situation himself if possible. By using the utmost care, guarding well every statement, and maintaining a high spiritual tone in the meeting, giving no opportunity for those in the back seats to interrupt, the leader can often avoid a crisis. Should an evangelist find that his meetings are frequently disturbed by organized opposition, it is evident that his advertising is too provocative, and he is thus failing to attract the right class of people. The principles laid down by Chesterfield are worthy of consideration in this connection:
"The recipe to make a speaker, and an applauded one, too, is short and easy. Take common sense ; add a little application to the rules and order of the House (of Commons) ; throw obvious thoughts in a new light; and make up the whole with a large quantity of purity, correctness, and elegancy of style. Take it for granted that by far the greatest part of mankind neither analyze nor search to the bottom; they are incapable of penetrating deeper than the surface."