I did it again. I searched through all of the gospels for references to evangelism (evangelism meaning sharing one's beliefs with others in order to convert them.). There are a handful of verses which could possibly be interpreted this way. But, mostly it comes down to two: Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:19. Mostly we hear about the Great Commission in Matthew, possibly because the one in Mark is immediately followed by talk of snake handling. Enough said.
So, despite the infrequency with which Jesus talks about anything which could possibly be interpreted as evangelism, the vast majority of Christian denominations and non-denominations hold evangelism as the heart of the church. And it is killing us.
Why do I say it is killing us? This is just a theory on my part. I am not an expert. I cannot site statistics to support my claim. But let’s just pretend we live in a world where people are not entirely stupid. Some may doubt this claim but just pretend for now. The fundamentalist evangelical churches out there are making their message known loud and clear: “unless you believe like us and act like us you are going to hell.” The media seems to think this is a fun message to spread around being somewhat divisive and controversial. So, even if the fundamentalist churches fell down on their job, the media would make sure this message got out. It seems many people find this message offensive and perhaps even nutty. One would think such folks could turn to more mainline liberal congregations. But while they might find a less harsh message of judgment, more liberal ideas, maybe even some whispers of social justice, underneath it all is still a core of evangelism. And if we indeed live in a world where people are not entirely stupid, they would then realize the heart of the church is about manipulation (how can we get people to come hear our message), conformity (how can we get them to believe the “good news” which we believe), and judgment (because we are trying to save them from hell).
It seems at least plausible people outside of the church might find a god who only cares about what you think about him/her, a god who cares whether you spend an hour in church each week being bored out of your mind, incomprehensible. So, an evangelical church of any stripe would seem irrelevant, anti-intellectual, manipulative and generally uninviting.
Let me make clear I don’t care about this because then people won’t come to our churches and the church might die. That would be self-contradictory. I care about this because I believe we are called to be loving. Projecting the message of the above described god is not a very loving thing to do. Being unwelcoming is not loving. Expecting people to check their brains at the door is not loving. And most importantly being distracted from the call to fight for peace, justice and mercy for all people is not loving.
Evangelism is killing us. I don’t care. Evangelism is distracting us from working for social justice. That makes me fighting mad.
by Sheri Ellwood
by Sheri Ellwood