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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stackhouse

“Screw You” Evangelism

It’s one thing for enthusiastic believers to want to talk about their religion. After all, people who are enthusiastic about a new band, or restaurant, or investment want to share the good news with their friends and family members ­— even with perfect strangers, if they’re excited enough. And I’m always glad when someone I respect takes the trouble to recommend a good mechanic, or insurance plan, or exercise regimen.

In fact, I always scratch my head when people say they don’t want to hear about someone else’s enthusiasms. Really? You think what you’ve got can’t possibly be improved upon?

Stranger still, some people get actually offended when someone else suggests a better alternative, whether it’s a hair stylist, or automobile, or diet. I mean, are you so conceited or defensive that you wouldn’t rather trade up when you can?

But some zealots go way too far.Bad enough to have someone pretend to be interested in you when they just want to rope you into a pyramid scheme in the guise of a “business opportunity.” At least it makes a certain selfish sense for them to do so. But what about religious zealots who push their beliefs on you in the face of certain resistance? What in the world are they doing?

Recently, a small Christian church in Toronto has decided to take the old tradition of “street preaching” quite literally. They’re not just preaching in public, rather than in church. Such preaching has a long heritage, of course, strange as it still strikes most of us today. John Wesley, George Whitefield, and other 18th century preachers were forbidden from preaching their message to the poor in established churches, so they took their message to crossroads, homes, and other places where their audiences could hear them.

No, this weird little group in Toronto decided to preach literally in the middle of a residential street. They claim that it is their right to do so, and probably it is. But it is indeed a weird thing to do, given that the chances of anyone actually being attracted to, let alone being persuaded by, this group are remote indeed. Why would they do it?

Perhaps they hope that God will work a miracle and convert someone. But my experience with such people (and I grew up around some of them) is that their attitude is centrally one of doing their duty: Christ commanded us to preach the gospel and, by God, we’re going to do it, whether anyone else likes it or not.

Of course, Christ did command Christians to preach the gospel, but if such people would check their Bibles a little more thoroughly, they would find, in the last chapter of the first gospel (Matthew), that Christ more particularly called the Church to “make disciples.” This means to actually facilitate people becoming Christians: not just to hurl the Christian message at them like a brick, but instead to invite them into a conversation such that they would eventually be so enamored of Christ that they, too, would want to follow him as Lord.

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In the face of the neighbours’ evident resentment and in the presence of apparently no interested audience, this group defiantly vows to keep at it. And one might ask, to keep at what? Doing your duty, scoring points with your conscience and what you imagine is God, and confirming your membership in the One True Faith. What’s not happening, however, is anyone being made a disciple of Jesus.

I’m reminded of Jehovah’s Witnesses, plodding from house to house or standing stonily on street corners handing out their tracts. It literally doesn’t matter if they make any converts. They’re putting in their time, checking off their boxes, in order to qualify among the elite 144,000 they believe the Bible prophesies will get the best goodies in the world to come.

We can all sense pretty quickly the difference between someone generously offering us a gift and someone using us to score points.

I ask my fellow Christians, in the name of the gospel, to please knock it off. Originally published by The National Post here.

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