Friday, January 20, 2006

In-Your-Face Evangelism

Last week, I had a rather unfortunate encounter with a fundamentalist Bible literalist at work.

This lady, whom we shall call B, is in the same department as I am—higher ranking, but not a boss of mine. She was offering me a very small side job typing up a sheet her church’s Bible study group could use to mark off the Bible chapters they have read. Easy enough. My boss, whom we shall call C, was also there. Once I agreed to do the typing, B and C got to talking about the Bible study group some people run here at work during lunchtime on certain days, and B asked if I’d be interested in attending.

I asked for more details, and she said they were doing a study of Revelation using a study guide written by Ann Graham, Billy Graham’s daughter. I immediately started to feel uncomfortable. Wasn’t Ann Graham one of those who, after 9/11, went on TV and said that the attacks were a divine punishment because America contains gay people? But I was polite. “Well, I’ve probably got a more liberal interpretation of the Bible than you would be using, but it’s always good to hear different ideas…” I began.

B cut me off and started telling me there was nothing to interpret, because the Bible was God’s Divine Word ™ and it simply was as written.

I tried to explain that in my church, we don’t take such a literal interpretation of Scripture. It was inspired by God, to be sure—at least the parts which aren’t forgeries inserted by people working for their own agendas. But it was written by humans. It was translated by humans. It has been for centuries interpreted by humans trying to understand what the people of another time and place were attempting to say, trying to understand the nuances of languages they did not speak as natives. To say that there have been no errors in that process over the years strikes me as astonishingly naïve. (I didn’t tell B that part.)

B kept interrupting and talking over me. C, bless her, tried to make B keep quiet so I could finish what I was saying, but it wasn’t working. Finally I explained the very core of my faith, my certainty that God is a God of mercy and justice both. Suppose there is a Muslim man who is good, I said. He loves his family, gives alms to the poor, worships Allah as best he can. He does as he was taught. I can not bring myself to believe that he will be damned, because he had no way of knowing God except what he was taught. God’s message has been so garbled by humans over so many years. I believe that when we die, we will meet God, and all that misunderstanding will be lifted away. We will then be given a chance to decide whether we accept that Truth or not.

B was having none of it. “Well,” she said dismissively, “it says in the Bible that everyone who doesn’t follow Jesus will be damned. Sometime I’ll talk to you without C around. I’ll bring you around to my thinking!”

Hmm, how much more condescending could she be? I was as polite and restrained as I was because C was there. If she’s not around, the full theological onslaught is going to be released. The gloves will come off, as they say in hockey.

It was really a very stressful encounter, and I felt full of adrenaline afterwards. There was a definite fight-or-flight response going on. I couldn’t very well fly, so I fought. As politely as I could, with the only words I knew, but I fought for what I believe to be true.

I don’t believe this style of evangelism has any place in a life of faith. Nowhere in the entire Bible did Jesus tell the disciples to be disrespectful. None of the writers of the Epistles said to do any such thing. My faith is to be shown in the way I live my life, however imperfectly I manage to do that. It has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not I can shout louder than the person who’s disagreeing with me.

Just because someone can interrupt and talk over me, it doesn’t make them right. It just makes them rude.


At 1/21/2006 3:04 PM, Blogger Tirithien said...

Go get her. :-) I'll sell tickets.

I hate when people try and convert others, without concern for them wanting to be converted.

At 1/21/2006 4:42 PM, Blogger Bainwen Gilrana said...

Theology cage match, w00t!

Honestly, I have never understood this way of thinking, "My way is right and your way is TEH SUXX0R and I'm going to convert you to my way!"


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