Follow up to yesterday’s evangelism post

There are two useful parallels to evangelism for us to consider. One, proposed by Cranky Curmudgeon in the comments trail is the efforts of environmentalists in the face of global warming. The second is action taken by friends and family of a drug addict to try to get them to enter rehab.

Dom and others in the comment trail are right to point out that aggressive, impersonal acts of evangelism are counterproductive. All it takes is a look at the effect that visiting evangelist Jesse Morrell had at Yale to see that application of effort matters. It is possible for anyone to criticize the efficiency of any Christians form of evangelization, just as most of us would criticism acts of eco-terrorism as misplaced passion. This is not a negation of goal, only of method.

John Shore (a Christian) argues that all evangelization is ineffective in a post titled “How Is ‘Convert, You!’ Loving Others?” (h/t No Forbidden Questions)

And that’s where the logic board of so many Christians seems to blow: they can’t grasp why telling a person that they need to radically alter who they are is profoundly, offensively disrespectful to that person. The inseparable subtext of the message, “It’s absolutely essential to your well-being and happiness that you completely change,” is the message, “I don’t respect you. I don’t respect the choices you’ve made, the opinions you hold, or the values you’ve chosen for yourself.”

But the idea of “It’s absolutely essential to your well-being and happiness that you completely change” is exactly what’s expressed to an addict at an intervention.
At a smaller scale, this is the idea expressed by me, when I tell a friend they hold an incorrect belief about their beliefs.

“You don’t hate math, you only hate the math classes you’ve taken in the past!”

Both the above interventions are motivated by love and a desire for the other’s well being.  It is not an act of disrespect to try to intercede when a friend is hampered by personal blind spots or a lack of data.  From my conversations with Christians who evangelize (distinct from Evangelical or Born Again Christians), their actions are similarly motivated by compassion and concern.So what differentiates these cases?

Simply put, I believe the environmentalist, the drug interventionists, and me (the mathematician) are correct on our facts and the Christians are wrong.  However, given their beliefs about salvation, they are logically compelled to try to convert me if they believe they stand a chance of success.

I can try to dissuade evangels by convincing them that their tactics are ineffective or by convincing them that their premises are wrong.  However, I can not simultaneously respect their beliefs and expect them to respect mine.


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About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."