I ran across this sobering blog by John Shore, thoughtful Christians who are serious about reaching their non-Christian friends ought to read. Next week, I’ll share some ideas I’ve used to introduce people to Jesus, without offending them.
As a way of researching my book I’m OK – You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop, I posted a notice on Craigslist sites all over the country asking non-Christians to send me any short, personal statement they would like Christians to read.
“Specifically,” I wrote, “I’d like to hear how you feel about being on the receiving end of the efforts of Christian evangelicals to convert you. I want to be very clear that this is not a Christian-bashing book; it’s coming from a place that only means well for everyone. Thanks.”
Within three days I had in my inbox over 300 emails from non-Christians across the country. Reading them was one of the more depressing experiences of my life. I had expected their cumulative sentiment to be one of mostly anger. But if you boiled down to a single feeling what was most often expressed in the nonbelievers’ statements, it would be Why do Christians hate us so much?
Below is a pretty random sample of the statements non-Christians sent me (each of which I used in the book). If you’re a Christian, they make for a mighty saddening read. Or they certainly should, anyway. “The main thing that baffles and angers me about Christians is how they can understand so little about human nature that when, in their fervor to convert another person, they tell that person (as they inevitably do, in one way or another), ‘You’re bad, and wrong, and evil,’ they actually expect that person to agree with them. It pretty much guarantees that virtually the only people Christians can ever realistically hope to convert are those with tragically low self-esteem.”– E.S., Denver
“I feel that Christians have got it all wrong; it seems to me that they’ve created the very thing Jesus was against: Separatism.”– T. O., Denver
“I am often distressed at the way some Christians take as a given that Christians and Christianity define goodness. Many of we non-Christians make a practice of doing good; we, too, have a well-developed ethical system, and are devoted to making the world a better place. Christians hardly have a monopoly on what’s right, or good, or just.”– C.R., Seattle
“Christians seem to have lost their focus on Jesus’ core message: ‘Love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your soul, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”– R.M., Tacoma
“I have no problem whatsoever with God or Jesus – only Christians. It’s been my experience that most Christians are belligerent, disdainful and pushy.” — D.B., Atlanta
“Whenever I’m approached by an evangelist – by a Christian missionary – I know I’m up against someone so obsessed and narrowly focused that it will do me absolutely no good to try and explain or share my own value system. I never want to be rude to them, of course, but never have any idea how to respond to their attempts to convert me; in short order, I inevitably find myself simply feeling embarrassed–first for them, and then for us both. I’m always grateful when such encounters conclude.”– K.C., Fresno
“I don’t know whether or not most of the Christians I come across think they’re acting and being like Jesus was – but if they do, they need to go back to their Bibles, and take a closer look at Jesus.” — L.B., Phoenix
“I wish Christians would resist their aggressive impulses to morph others into Christians. Didn’t Jesus preach that we should all love one another?”– M.G., Shoreline, WA
“I’m frequently approached by Christians of many denominations who ask whether I’ve accepted Christ as my savior. When I have the patience, I politely tell them that I’m Jewish. This only makes them more aggressive; they then treat me like some poor lost waif in need of their particular brand of salvation. They almost act like salespeople working on commission: If they can save my soul, then they’re one rung closer to heaven. It’s demeaning. I always remain polite, but encounters like these only show disrespect and sometimes-outright intolerance for my beliefs and my culture. In Judaism, we do not seek to convert people. That is because we accept that there are many paths to God, and believe that no one religion can lay sole claim to the truth or to God’s favor. Each person is free to find his or her own way. To Christians I would say: Practice your religion as you wish. There is no need to try and influence others. If your religion is a true one, people will come to it on their own.”– M.S., Honolulu
“There are about a million things I’d like to say to Christians, but here’s the first few that come to mind: Please respect my right to be the person I’ve chosen to become. Worship, pray and praise your God all you want–but please leave me, and my laws, and my city, and my school alone. Stop trying to make me, or my children, worship your god. Why do we all have to be Christians? Respect my beliefs; I guarantee they’re every bit as strong as yours. Mostly, please respect my free will. Let me choose if I want to marry someone of my own sex. Let me choose if I want to have an abortion or not. Let me choose to go to hell if that’s where you believe I’m going. I can honestly say that I’d rather go to hell than live the hypocritical life I see so many Christians living.”– D.B., Seattle
“I had a friend who was, as they say, reborn. During my breaks from college she invited me to her church, and I did go a couple of times. In a matter of a month, at least ten people at her church told me that I was going to hell. The ironic thing is that I do believe in God; I’ve just never found a church where I felt at ease. However, in their eyes, I was nothing but a sinner who needed to be saved. I stopped going to that church (which in the past four years has grown from a small to a mega-church), but in time, through my friend, have seen some of these people again. None of them ever fails to treat me exactly as they did four years ago. All I can say is this: Constantly telling someone they’re going to hell is not a good way to convert them.”– A.S., Chicago
“I am a former ‘born again’ Christian. It’s been my personal experience that Christians treat the poor poorly–much like the Pharisees did in the parable of the old woman with the two coins. I found the church to be political to a fault, and its individual members all too happy to judge and look down on others. As a Christian, my own fervor to witness was beyond healthy. My friends would come to me to vent and express emotions, and all I would do is preach to them. I was of no real comfort to them. I never tried to see anything from their perspective.”– J.S.W, Philadelphia
“Once Christians know I’m gay, the conversion talk usually stops. Instead, I become this sympathetic character who apparently isn’t worthy of the gift of Christ. From my childhood in a Baptist church, I recall the ‘loathe the sin, love the sinner’ talk, but as an adult I can’t say I’ve often found Christians practicing that attitude. Deep down, I’m always relieved to avoid disturbing “conversion” conversations with Christians; discussing one’s most intimate thoughts and personal beliefs isn’t something I enjoy doing with random strangers. But at the same time, I feel as though Christians make a value judgment about my soul on the spot, simply because I am gay. I don’t pretend to know the worth of a soul, nor the coming gifts to those who convert the masses, but I would guess converting the sinful homosexuals would merit a few brownie points. But I get the feeling that most Christians don’t think we’re worth the hassle.”– R.M., Houston
“Religion always seemed too personal for me to take advice about it from people I don’t know.”– D.P., Denver
Clare’s observations; Before we just write off these comments as angry sinners, we really should reflect on them. If you’re trying to reach a non-Christian friend or neighbor, and if some of these observations are their reality, how would you change your approach? Next week, I’ll write about just that.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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