Friday, July 18, 2014

Evangelism: exasperating or essential?

I recently read an article about a Christian woman disciplined on 3 counts of bullying and harassment at work for religious evangelism towards a Muslim colleague. She had invited the colleague to a number of church events and lent her a book about a Muslim woman converting to Christianity.

While the whole thing will hopefully turn out to be a big misunderstanding, I can see how such behaviour might make somebody of a different faith feel uncomfortable. At high school I had a few brushes with Christian evangelism (and fundamentalism). I remember one particular bible study leader who was very friendly at first, but then advised me that I was going to hell because I didn't agree with her interpretations of scripture. Invitations back to that church were increasingly unwanted.

Now, this might seem like an odd reaction from somebody who identifies as Christian. I guess I just prefer not to be pressured into anything. I get the same uncomfortable feeling when approached by cheerful brits with clip-boards on street corners asking me whether I care about the environment (or refugees) as a hook for relieving me of funds on a monthly basis, and from earnest young socialists entreating me to buy their latest newspaper...if I genuinely care about the state of the world. Then there are the endless emails encouraging me to get involved in the next state election campaign and those people who are adamant that raw food veganism or google documents will revolutionise my life!!

And, well, the truth is that I am a bit of an evangelist myself. I think the world would be a better place if everyone shared my political and social views and I spend a fair bit of time on social media and elsewhere trying to educate the political and social  "pagans" in my life about what I consider to be "the truth". I guess that might be annoying for some people as well.

In spite of the challenges, I do think there is a place in the world for evangelism. Whether convinced and passionate about religion, the environment, human rights or politics these people are go-getters. They make things happen; raise funds, recruit members, win seats in parliament, save forests and hold oppressive regimes to account.

So, what's to be done? I think there are a few lessons in this story for the evangelist in all of us. While our enthusiasm is admirable, we can perhaps be more respectful of differences of opinion. We can learn to back off when our advances are unwanted. And, as one Quaker advice suggests, it might be wise occasionally to "think it possible that you are mistaken".

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