When I posted on Facebook recently about not wanting to live in America anymore and needing an optimism boost, an older relative suggested that if I just trusted in Jesus, things would surely look a lot different to me.
Let’s cut to the chase: evangelism sucks. It’s a violation of basic human decency. Don’t do it. The rest of this post is written in response to those comments, and therefore is focused on Christian evangelism, but it applies to all forms of evangelism.
Why are you proposing Jesus as a solution to my problems as though I’ve never heard of him before? You have no idea what my faith may or may not be. Why do you assume that I’m not Christian? Why not ask before making assumptions and suggestions?
As it turns out, I was raised Christian and as an adult have found that it isn’t for me. I don’t repudiate it, but it isn’t central to my life and spirituality.
I have my own faith, which doesn’t have a label or doctrine, but which is far more meaningful, personal, relevant, practical, supportive, inclusive, and vibrant for me than Christianity ever was. I have a community of friends who have similar understandings of the universe and we support each other in matters practical, relational, and spiritual. I also have a personal relationship with the Divine. My faith does support me, and I am also human. Doubt and fear are normal experiences for all of us. Expecting faith to banish those experiences is called “spiritual bypassing”.
If you want to talk about your personal experience with your faith, please do. It’s obvious that your relationship with Jesus means a lot to you, and I respect that.
What I don’t respect (never have, even when I was a Christian) is evangelism. Evangelism is the arrogant assumption that you know better than me how I should conduct my spiritual life, and that you’re doing me a favor by telling me about it. Evangelism is based on the absolutely unsupportable fallacious claim that Christianity has a monopoly on truth. It is presumptuous to assume that others don’t have a faith or that a relationship with Jesus is just what the doctor ordered for someone else, no matter how well you know them.
I’m going to share something important with you and I hope you take it to heart: evangelism is annoying and disrespectful at best and downright harmful at worst. It is alienating and counterproductive to your apparent goal of influencing others to join your faith. Just as it is rude to give unsolicited advice on someone’s choice of mate, food, hairstyle, career, education, voting, family, medical treatment, or hobbies, so is it rude to give unsolicited spiritual advice. Can you imagine someone piping up about Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, or Athena (for example) any time you expressed doubt, fear, sadness, or anger? “Give your life to Allah, you’ll feel better!” Everyone is on their own journey at their own pace, and not everyone is going to the same destination (by which I mean different faiths work for different people). Everyone also has the free will to make their own choices about their spiritual lives. Talking about how Jesus heals all in response to someone’s pain is frustrating, tone deaf, and unsupportive. It does nothing to acknowledge or support what they are going through. At best people roll their eyes and tune you out. Or they will feel hurt and misunderstood because you mistook their pain and request for support for an opportunity to sell something. At worst, you are talking to someone who has been abused in the name of Jesus, and by bringing him up you are pouring salt in their wounds. When the followers of Jesus show themselves to be inconsiderate, they give others another reason to dislike and distrust Jesus. And don’t say, “But Jesus is Real and all those other guys aren’t!” All the faces of the Divine are real to those who find meaning in them. Jesus may be more real to you than the Norse panthenon, but there are others for whom the reverse is true.
There are three kinds of business in this world: yours, mine, and God’s, and the only business you can ever really be in is yours. When you advertise Jesus as a solution to someone else’s problems, you sound like a pharmaceutical advertisement, pushing a drug as a miraculous cure while glossing over the side effects and the people who shouldn’t use the drug because it could hurt them or be ineffective for them. Evangelism shows no respect for the other person’s experience and beliefs, and it violates everyone’s boundaries. It violates my boundaries because it is unsolicited advice and a waste of my time, as well as being completely insensitive to my actual needs. It violates your boundaries because you are in my business instead of your own. Not to speak for anyone else, but I’d venture a guess that this type of pharmaceutical-advert evangelism might even violate Jesus’s boundaries because it so badly warps his image and message of compassion.
I am aware that there are scriptures that appear to promote evangelism. I didn’t hang around long enough to try to reconcile those scriptures with basic human decency, but my guess is that there is something lost in translation. There are many other individual Christians and groups of Christians who don’t evangelize, and they may have literature that can help you understand my point from a Christian perspective. And yes, there are Christian perspectives that support what I’m saying about evangelism.
It’s not that people don’t want to hear about Jesus (although some don’t). It’s that people don’t want to hear how this thing that happens to work for you (be that physical therapy, a certain diet, energy healing, a line of swimwear, the latest self-help book, coffee enemas, or Jesus) is guaranteed to work for them and have it shoved down their throats like it’s the best thing since sliced bread. People want to have their experience acknowledged and they want the compassionate support of others. They also want to solve their own problems and make their own choices. People are more likely to respect your faith if you’re not waving it in their faces at every inopportune moment.
Your faith is your business. My faith is my business. Go ahead and talk about your business, using “I” statements. Truly effective and compassionate “evangelism” means living your own faith. Perhaps if you are a compelling example, someone who is searching will be drawn to what you stand for and invite you to tell them about it. Otherwise, keep your nose out of other people’s faith journeys.