I don’t think I agree with the church’s focus on evangelism anymore.
When I say I don’t agree with evangelism, I am talking about what evangelism has come to mean. The root of the word “evangelism” is “good news.” I am not against good news. I am not even against speaking the good news that Jesus came to earth as the clearest revelation of God’s love. What I am against is evangelism as coercion. Evangelism has come to mean employing any and all tricks up our sleeves to make people believe as we do. Whether we try to “convince” people to join our church through guilt (you nasty sinner), fear (your going to hell), or by offering tantalizing gifts (come listen to our spiel and we will give you food, have faith like us and you will prosper, be like us and find peace and tranquility), it all amounts to trying to make people do what we want them to do. And let’s face it, what we want them to do is join our church and make us feel good about how our church is growing, evidence that we are being “evangelical”.
I can imagine that some of you at this point are saying “What’s wrong with giving folks a little gospel with their meal?” There is not necessarily anything wrong with it. But, allow me to point out that Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep. (John 21:17)” Period. He did not say “feed my sheep because that is a really fantastic way to get them in the door.” It reminds me of what those selling pyramid schemes do. The message of Jesus is way better than any pyramid scheme. If we have to bait people to get them to listen then something is wrong with our message.
Furthermore, when our motives in feeding people are really about getting them to believe the way we do then sometimes our efforts at “helping” will go way wrong. If we are focused on doing a good deed for the sake of evangelism than we are not focused on doing a good deed for the sake of the person we are supposedly helping. If I want to bait you into our church by doing the good deed of giving you food, for example, I might not take the time to find out if food is what you really need. Then we end up feeding the naked and clothing the hungry.
What really gets me frustrated about evangelism, though, is that it is upheld as the highest ideal of the majority of Christian churches. Evangelism is supposed to be our main focus and purpose. Yet my reading of the Gospels reveals Jesus much more concerned with caring for the poor, fighting for justice and healing people.
Yes Jesus also talks about sharing the Good News but how do we get from there to “all must believe like you do and it is your main job to make them?”
Yes we should welcome the stranger but not so we can make that person be like us. Rather we welcome the stranger because it is the loving and compassionate thing to do and because we can learn from the stranger.
I suppose I am being a stereotypical “bleeding heart liberal” in writing this when just last week I wrote about the value of breaking stereotypes. But, I guess this time I am more concerned with breaking the stereotype of Christians as people who shove their religion down other people’s throats. Furthermore, this is a cry out on my own behalf: I am longing to find others who believe similarly and to find ways to genuinely love my neighbors in a real, committed, world-changing, justice making way,
...and not as a way to get them to church.
Is there anybody out there?