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Let’s talk evangelism. It comes from a Greek word meaning “bringing good news.” Already, we have a problem. The gospel is a two part process. The second part is the good news. But it is meaningless without the bad news. The first job of the missionary is to establish the bad news. So is that still the gospel? Let’s just use the more common definition: Evangelism is the attempt to persuade another to buy into your religious message.
It is the religious version of sales. What you are selling is a membership service. And pretending that it is anything else is somewhat disingenuous. The whole point of evangelism is to get people to sign up to your way of thinking, to gain more followers, expand your brotherhood, and increase the size of your network. It requires a certain amount of buy-in. And the evangelist is the one who sells it.
Unfortunately, like most people who attempt sales, Christians are not particularly good at it. They employ clumsy and awkward methods that tend to turn off and annoy rather than intrigue and attract. Beyond that, there is something mildly offensive about the entire enterprise that assumes I need their product at all. Here is a little of what I find problematic about evangelism:
In sales, it is important that you properly identify your market. If you are selling advertising services to contractors, you don’t want to waste time trying to sell to bakers. You need to be able to tell the difference between someone who might potentially need your product and one who does not.
Christians have no way of differentiating between atheists and other Christians. Therefore, rather than targeting their message, they use a scattergun approach that randomly sprays bat shit buckshot to anyone in range. Compare this to the marching orders Jesus gave his handpicked missionaries on one occasion:
“Whenever you enter someone’s home, first say, ‘May God’s peace be on this house.’ If those who live there are peaceful, the blessing will stand; if they are not, the blessing will return to you. Don’t move around from home to home. Stay in one place, eating and drinking what they provide. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve their pay.
“If you enter a town and it welcomes you, eat whatever is set before you. Heal the sick, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you now.’ But if a town refuses to welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘We wipe even the dust of your town from our feet to show that we have abandoned you to your fate. And know this—the Kingdom of God is near!’ I assure you, even wicked Sodom will be better off than such a town on judgment day.
I included this rather lengthy and somewhat repetitive passage to show how important and emphatic these instructions were to Jesus. It does not look anything like the typical door knocking campaign we are used to from today’s evangelistic Christians. They were to enter a house with something like a magical blessing. The owner would either be receptive or not. If not, the disciple would magically know. And they were instructed to move on.
The only random part of the process was finding that one receptive household. When they were rejected, they were not to stick around and try to persuade anyone of anything. They were to simply move on and keep moving until the blessing landed in a good place.
Once that good place was discovered, they were to stay put. They were not instructed to go door to door and recruit as many as possible. They were to find one place and stay there until the work was done. And what exactly was the work? It wasn’t persuasion, but healing. The news about Jesus was accompanied with healing magic. And their payment was food and lodging.
I am even more fascinated by their instructions for handling rejection. Again, they were not instructed to stick around and argue, discuss, or attempt to persuade in any way. If they were rejected by every home in the town, they were to make a showy, if not petulant declaration that they are leaving the town and shaking the dust of that town from their feet as a sign that they will have nothing more to do with it.
While that all seems a bit rude, I also find it rather refreshing. They offer. The people reject. They move on. That town never needs to worry about them again. This plan of action just doesn’t work for the modern-day missionary because they know they don’t have any kind of magical power to discern who is receptive and who isn’t. Furthermore, they don’t trust god to do the work. They go through all the effort to learn how to sell rather than making a simple offer and getting out of the way.
This is one of the few things I believe Jesus got right. Mission work for a god is not human work done by human means. If your mission work depends on you to do the selling, then it is wrong. That describes all mission work done today.
While I find the method of evangelists offensive, I find the message even more so. It is the message of all religion: There is something wrong with you. Furthermore, that something is so wrong, you can’t fix it. You probably can’t even see it which is why you need someone like me to point it out to you.
Every religion of which I am aware make two basic presumptions: There is something wrong with you and something wrong with the world. I simply can’t get past these ideas which is probably the main reason I can’t get behind any religion. I defy the notion that there is anything wrong with me or the world. I find it extremely presumptuous that a perfect stranger believes they know anything about me, especially enough to make the judgement that there is something wrong with me that needs fixing.
The Christian version of this message is particularly galling to me because it presupposes the existence of a supernatural being to which I have no access. And my fatal flaw is that I am not living according to the terms of this invisible being. Beyond that, this being does not bother to talk to me directly to air his grievances with me. He talks to you about what is wrong with me. And I have to take your word for it.
The first job of the evangelist is to convince the victim that there is something wrong with them. I contend that this is not really something an evangelist can do. They have to find people who already believe there is something wrong with them. This is where things go from offensive to obscene.
Christians prey on vulnerable people. Wonder why so many people come to faith at youth camps in their teens? A teen’s emotions are a toxic witch’s brew that has been brought to a boil in a cauldron of religious manipulation. Put simply, teens are easy marks. They all believe there is something wrong with them.
Other easy marks are people who are grieving, sick, impoverished, or socially marginalized. For their whole lives, they have been told they are broken. The evidence of their brokenness is right there for all to see. This is especially true for people with drug and alcohol addictions.
Let’s not forget prison ministries. Who is more obviously broken than someone behind bars? Jesus didn’t come for those who are well. You send a doctor to those who are sick. This is the church’s excuse for preying on the weak and vulnerable in our society.
If you do not feel broken, the evangelist has to make you feel that way. They have to find something that makes you feel broken, feel weak, feel ashamed, feel sorry for who you are and what you have done. You have to feel unworthy before their god, feel separated from the life-giving force of the universe. And if they can’t manipulate you into doing what they want, they will manipulate the law to force you to do what they want. But that is another blog.
The second part of the evangelistic assumption is that the religionist can fix, or otherwise has the solution to what is wrong with you. I simply don’t buy it. They are the same type of human in the same busted world of sin as I am. So why has god opened their eyes to the greater reality and not mine? If he can directly convince them, then he can directly convince me. Otherwise, they are as broken and delusional as I am. So I see no reason to believe them. This is where the final insult comes in:
Once the evangelist established his location in a person’s house, he was to heal the sick. There wasn’t just a message of words and manipulation. There was a practical sign that what they were saying was true. I imagine in the scenario, the sick were brought to them. There would have been no special healing services. It would have been a straightforward process without unnecessary fanfare.
I am frankly insulted when someone tells me I have to believe in their god without giving me a tangible reason to do so. There are plenty of things wrong with me that someone with the power of a god is welcome to heal. Instead, evangelists deliver words. Sometimes they deliver soup. But they never deliver healing as a sign of their good faith.
Worse, when you don’t take them at their word, they get offended or downright nasty as if you’re the one with the problem. They are the one with the claim that they can’t back up with anything. Jesus gave his missionaries something which with to back their claims. If they couldn’t deliver, people had the right to ignore them. We should be awarded the same respect.
Conclusion: Multiple choice
The Mormon comes to my door followed by a Jehovah’s witness, followed by a Baptist. And they all claim to have the message of salvation as delivered by Jesus. They all claim to be called as missionaries. They all claim to be supported by the Bible. Which one should I believe?
Because no one has a clear sign from god, they are all on equal footing. And it does no good to say that the individual has to do their own biblical research to see which is right. They have no idea. They wouldn’t know how to read the Bible. They are not versed in hermeneutics. And even if they were, there is still no way to tell who is right. People who devote their lives to understanding the Bible still disagree.
Furthermore, the person being accosted didn’t ask for any of them to come around. She was just happy living her life until these other people came to her door and convinced her that some powerful alien was going to torture her in hell for all eternity.
It seems rather unfair that you might devote yourself to god but still end up in hell because you believed the wrong evangelist. I suspect some of those in Matthew 7 were told to depart and that god never knew them because they were unlucky enough to be visited by the fraud instead of by the true representative of Jesus.
Those people often read their bibles and go to church for years before getting frustrated and leaving it all behind. They realize that the preacher isn’t teaching what the Bible seems to be saying. They realize that the church does not seem to be organized correctly. And the people are not the loving community promised by Jesus. So perhaps they lose faith and walk away. Why? Because they got an evangelist from the Westboro Baptist Church instead of from some place better.
That is not the fault of the person who did their best despite getting the wrong message from the wrong evangelist. That seems more like it is on god to police his own better. He is really bad at security. He offers no way to distinguish the true messengers from the fakes. It would be so much easier if a fake evangelist’s tongue just fell out when he tried to deceive. That sounds like the kind of thing the god of the Bible would be into.
Instead, he leaves us on our own to figure it all out. We get brow-beaten, manipulated into thinking there is something wrong with us, and left no way to tell which of the claimants, if any, are legitimate. These are just a few reasons why I believe evangelism is a really bad idea.
And that’s the view from the skeptic.