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When ‘evangelism’ intends to alienate and exclude

When ‘evangelism’ intends to alienate and exclude August 20, 2012

That Truth for Youth culture-war Bible we discussed yesterday is destined to be poorly received.

I think that’s by design.

The purpose of this new, improved Bible, allegedly, is to “reach youth with the gospel.” By the “gospel,” unfortunately, these folks mean the culture-war gospel — not the good news of Jesus the Christ, but a collection of sermons condemning abortion, homosexuality, sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll. But set aside that little matter of blasphemy and let’s just consider this publication’s purported “youth appeal.”

It doesn’t have any. And, again, I think that’s the point.

Imagine the certain fate of any poor kid who accepts the purported premise of this special Bible and attempts to do what he or she has been instructed to do with this Truth For Youth comic-book enhanced edition of the New Testament. Imagine what will happen — not what might happen, but what will happen — when this child takes copies of this horrifying book into school and attempts to distribute them to his or her classmates.

That attempt will not end well. “Here, this is for you. It’s a Bible — but you should like this Bible because it’s a special Bible just for you. It has comic-book stories about abortion and witchcraft in it.”

That will go badly, in part, because the “youth appeal” of this thing seems to have been crafted by people whose understanding of youth culture is roughly that of Principal Weatherbee in old Archie comics. But more importantly it will go badly because what these poor kids have been commissioned to do is deliberately inhospitable and rude.

There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of evangelism practiced and promoted by American Christians. One is hospitable and the other is not. One approach aims to cross lines and to erase boundaries. The other aims to draw lines and to enforce boundaries.

The latter always pretends to be the former, but that pretense is exposed by the way its practitioners determinedly stick with what isn’t working. When their approach offends, alienates and ostracizes the very people they claim to be trying to “reach,” they never reconsider or readjust that approach. They double down.

Because the truth is that their approach is working. It’s working perfectly. It’s doing just exactly what it was designed and intended to do: offend, alienate and ostracize.

That’s the point. Offensiveness is a feature, not a bug. Widening the gap between Us and Them was the plan and the purpose all along.

The poor kids being sent forth with those copies of Truth For Youth to give out at their schools don’t realize this. They’re young. They still believe what they’ve been told — that they are being sent out to share God’s love and to rescue sinners from the fires of Hell.

“Give these out to your unsaved friends,” they are told. And they will, and they do. And very soon, as a result, they have no unsaved friends — no friends at all outside of the tribe.

And that was the plan all along. If you want to control someone, you need to cut them off from every outside influence. Their loyalty to the tribe will be guaranteed because they will have nowhere else to turn.

After the debacle with their classmates, these children will return to church and will be far more receptive to the notion that American Christians are suffering “persecution” for their faith. Sent forth to give offense and to induce mockery, they will inevitably suffer mockery, and that can be twisted into evidence that the tribe is marginal, vulnerable, put-upon and grievously burdened.

Objectively, it’s not easy to convince American Christians of such a thing. It seems laughable to suggest that a pampered majority religion that enjoys countless privileges and cultural hegemony is somehow suffering “persecution.” But by encouraging young people to provoke the hostility and rejection of their peers, you can make those young people more likely to accept this absurd claim. And that’s useful, because fostering a sense of grievance and a persecution complex is an invaluable tool for maintaining control and discipline over the tribe.

All of which is to say that the Truth For Youth Bible will be spectacularly ineffective as a “soul-winning” evangelism tool. But it will be very effective, indeed, for it’s intended purpose.

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