Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some Brief Thoughts on Proselytizing

I'm not even quite sure how to spell that word. What I mean is: evangelism in all its forms. Or even call it the active role of someone to persuade someone else that their belief is true. Sound like a general argument? Make it about religion and you have evangelism/proselytizing. An offering, presenting, of a belief to another person, stranger or otherwise, to convince them of its truth.

I'm a fan of this.

Most people today aren't and I can understand a little bit of why. It feels too harsh to establish a conversation or the temporary relationship between strangers on a street that is based on the premise of "You are wrong. I think this is truth. Listen to me."

But here is something I realized last Saturday as I sat on Ben's front porch in a suburb of Philadelphia and two very kind, very congenial Jehovah's Witnesses appeared to encourage me to "read my Bible": I'm really okay with people telling me I'm wrong. They did not notice that the Bible's were already out, pages crinkling in the breeze until a few minutes into the conversation. The tone changed very quickly. But something very interesting that my new friend Paul repeated several times, in his calming and cheerful voice, was that "We're not here to talk about who is right and who is wrong." Perhaps what he meant was that he and Marianne (the other Witness) did not have that on their agenda for that particular day. But at the core of it, that is exactly why they came to talk to us. Why else would they bother spending their Saturday mornings trying to find people with nothing to do and talk to them about God's name?

I told them right away that I was fine if they thought I was wrong and wanted to convince me to become a Jehovah's Witness. I understand that. I really do. I also realized right then that it makes it a lot easier to have an honest conversation if both people agree to those playing rules.

It wasn't meant to be, however. While the conversation led a convoluted and very interesting course (a great deal about the divinity of Christ and me openly questioning their Bible translation), I could not get them to explain why it was that they felt it so important to come talk to us and tell us that Jesus wasn't God. They didn't even get to the part about us becoming Jehovah's Witnesses to be saved. I really wanted them to. I know that is what they were after. And I saw that my desire to have them just tell their agenda instead of coxing me into it was not going with their own evangelism training. I know because I have been trained in evangelism and have done it before in different, contexts, settings, and methods.

This isn't a new frustration for me, I'm realizing. Back at WVA, age 14, I was very upset when our witnessing Wednesday consisted of giving a "survey" about the 10 Commandments and then trying to slide into apologetics from there. It is why I was frustrated with the really sweet and kind mormon woman who stopped me by the library with a survey on the prophets. I don't want to answer your survey. I want to talk to you about what you believe and what you hold onto so passionately. Just tell me. I won't hate you if you think I'm wrong and I hope you won't hate me if I think you're wrong. We can still be friends. This can still be civil. This can be honest when we say what we're after.

And then, maybe, we can actually talk about truth.

1 comment:

  1. You should watch this video:

    and part 2:

    and part 3:

    before India.