Why Proselytizing Doesn’t Work, in One Photo

Why Proselytizing Doesn’t Work, in One Photo July 1, 2015

Once before I wrote that Pope Francis, Pope Benedict and Cardinal Dolan were right, when they said that proselytizing was folly, and that “you’re going to hell if you don’t straighten up and fly right”, was not the best way to greet people.

That made a lot of people mad. So mad, that I lost a few regular readers over it because they were convinced I was spouting heresy.

But here, in one photo — a grab from a you tube video, but believe me, it’s going to quickly become an iconic photo — is why proselytizing doesn’t work:

Screengrab from this video
Screengrab from this video. Click link to watch.

This sort of semi-hysterical, ranting proselytizing doesn’t work because it doesn’t meet people where they are; it doesn’t respect people. In this case, it hounds — and no doubt frightens — a little girl who knows only what she has been raised to know.

This wins no friends for Christ Jesus, no matter how sincerely it is shouted. What it does do is give the press, and the people, and the politicians all the ammo they need to say, “see what these freaking Christians are like? They don’t even know how to speak appropriately to children, at a peaceful gathering…”

And that declaration will be true, and the proof will be in the picture.

For many, it will be all the proof they ever need. Your evangelism toward them is probably completely dead in the water, and if it is not, it will take decades to undo the damage, wrought here, to millions of souls.

We’ve been having a long conversation in this thread and this one, about what it means to be pastoral. The first point about pastoring our fellows is a simple one: we ought not define “love” as “condemning people until they come around, for their own good.”

I think about John’s Gospel, Chapter 4, and how Christ Jesus interacted with the Samaritan woman who came to draw water from the well. He asked her — a lowly Samaritan he shouldn’t even have spoken to — for a cup of water. In other words, he invited a person the “world” and his contemporaries considered loathsome to serve him. They had a conversation, and in doing so, an encounter.

This is right in line with Pope Benedict’s instruction that “The evangelization of the person and of human communities depends totally on this encounter with Jesus Christ.” [Emphasis mine]

You have to be the Christ people encounter.

Jesus told the woman about a Living Water, and he did it so pastorally that she — this hated, “dirty” sheep — desired it for herself.

And then he said, “go get your husband, and come back!”

Note, still, the invitation — not just to her, but to her ‘husband.’

She says, “I have no husband,” and he says, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

Here we see that Jesus completely understands this woman; he knows the condition of her soul, and all the ways that she has been battered by life, or perhaps has battered others, because of it, and — finally — he identifies her sin.

But he is only identifying; he is still not outright condemning her. In fact, he continues to gently reveal himself to her — and recall, this is a rare thing for him to do. He does not go through the gospels proclaiming himself, yet he favors this most unlikely person with the ultimate reveal: “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…”

The woman says to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”

Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”

I get chills. What I read here is a Way. These are instructions for an Incarnational Way of Evangelization, that has absolutely nothing to do with telling a sinner that he or she is going to fry in hell, and everything to do with making an invitation to them, to draw near, and to serve; everything to do with patiently, pastorally, and personally, bringing someone into understanding, and then sharing with them the promise, and the positive glory, that comes from making a choice to conform — not to anyone else, but to Christ; not for anyone else, but for Christ.

Everything else, all of this carrying on you’re seeing everywhere or perhaps indulging in, yourself, is noise and chaos, meant to confuse, obfuscate and divide. It is not of Christ but of the enemy.

There are no negatives in Christ Jesus. There can be no negatives in the way Christians present him to the world.

The rubber has met the road, and people are being told they must choose. All of this has been permitted to happen, and we need to remember that, and consider Job — and the whole mysterious battle that has ranged around us, and continues — and then we have to look at the people before us, where they are, and remember Christ and this unlikely woman, invited to serve him.

Amen?


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  • Hillary Spragg

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