Friday, May 1, 2015

Evangelism and Deception

Image source.

Take a look at this blog post from a few weeks ago: An Atheist Dad Left His Kids with a Relative... Who Used the Opportunity to Proselytize. What Should He Do? Basically, this man's sister-in-law took his two daughters to "get ice cream" which, turns out, meant "meet up with my pastor and hear about Jesus." (According to his post, the pastor told them "they needed to accept Jesus as their master, and maybe if they prayed hard enough god would change their dad's mind and he wouldn't burn in hell." I suspect those weren't the exact words used- Christians usually word it to sound a little more polite... but yes, I can totally believe that was the message.) The dad was not too happy about this.

We could talk about the question "To what extent do parents have the right to control which ideas their children are exposed to?" but I don't have an answer for that. I don't have kids; I don't have any experience in that area.

What I do have experience with is the link between evangelism and deception.

I read the above blog post, and I could totally imagine how it could be spun the other way. I can just see the prayer newsletter emails and the circle of churchgoers listening as one of them- totally on fire for God- tells nervously about her heroic attempts to evangelize to these kids. I can hear the gasps as she tells that their dad is an atheist and is raising the kids without religion. Oh, so sad! Can you imagine! And to top it off, she tells them that in the end, the girls did tell their dad, and he was angry- in other words, she faced persecution, but she knew she did the right thing. And the other good Christians encourage her and pray for the girls (and their dad too, of course) to become Christians.

She had to lie to their father. She had to go against him. She had to use deception, to try to save his two daughters.

When heaven and hell are at stake, there's no time for respect. There's no time for honesty. All that matters is what will or will not push someone closer to "accepting Jesus." And in this case, it meant she had to treat the girls' father like an enemy.

Being an evangelical Christian means you have to live in a world that's separate from the known, observable world of reality. You believe in heaven and hell, even though there's no way to prove it, and you believe everyone is in incredible danger of going to hell, even though there's no way to prove it. When you believe this, you have to live in a way that looks incredibly wrong and messed-up to people who base their lives on the real world. They think you're being a jerk. You think you're taking bold steps of faith and God will reward you.

If you really believe your friends and family are in danger of going to hell, you have to lie. You have to do everything in your power to make them believe in Jesus. Pretend you really care, but you're just trying to gain their trust so they'll believe you when you "share the gospel." Trick them into coming to church. Push people into uncomfortable conversations you know they don't want to have.

As I've said before, evangelical Christians do these things out of genuine feelings of love. That's exactly why I did evangelism. But it's love that's filtered through the "all non-Christians automatically go to hell" belief, and it comes out as something grotesque.

We paid lip service to the idea of "respect." When we did the "go up and talk to random people" variety of evangelism, we were trained to ask them first, "would you mind if I ask you a few questions about your religious beliefs" and if they said they don't want to, then they don't want to. You gotta respect that. Don't bother them anymore. But man, if they said "okay" just to be polite, and then you ended up "directing the conversation" in such a way that you were able to force it into a "gospel presentation", wow, extra points for you! Praise God for giving you boldness and an opportunity to share the gospel!

(Now I believe "the gospel" is not words. It's not an explanation of a certain belief system. I believe "the gospel" is love. And for those of you keeping score at home, all of this dishonesty crap is NOT love.)

We were also very aware of the pitfalls of the "bait and switch" tactic that Christians are known to use. You know, the "come to our church roller skating event" that ends up including a sermon and altar call. "Bait and switch" was bad, we believed (bad because it didn't work, not because it was dishonest), so whenever we (the Christian group I was with in college) planned an event, we stated clearly on the fliers that we are a Christian group, that there would be a gospel presentation, etc.

We claimed to care about respect and honesty. But really, how can you genuinely care about those things if you believe everyone around you is destined for hell? We tried to be nice. We thought we were respecting people. But logically, it just doesn't work. If pushing people into your church is what saves them from eternal torture, well... how can you justify not pushing?

(Did I mention I'm SO GLAD I don't believe in hell anymore? I don't have to do any of that now. Now I can just treat people with love. Like, actual love, not "I know that what you really need is to believe in Jesus and that will solve all your problems" love.)

When you see the world as a battleground between heaven and hell, with everyone's eternal soul at stake, you can't afford to treat people with respect and honesty. You have to lie to your relative and bring his children to hear "the gospel."

But a "gospel" that's wrapped in deception isn't good news at all.

1 comment:

  1. When heaven and hell are at stake, there's no time for respect. There's no time for honesty. All that matters is what will or will not push someone closer to "accepting Jesus." And in this case, it meant she had to treat the girls' father like an enemy.

    This is completely true. Thank you for saying it.