This is what we do for the joy of the King,
For His peaceable Kingdom,
For a world in despair.
And this is why we bring any hope we can give,
Any bread from the table,
Any touch of His hand.
This is what we do.
This is where we go.
This is why we sing.
This is how we live.
This is who we are.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Abusive Evangelism

First of all, let me say I'm glad to be back. (I think!) I would feel more guilty about my two-year hiatus from the blog if I didn't know that nearly all of the bloggers I followed two years ago are still on their own, hiati? Facebook has managed to steal the wind out of many a blogger's sails. I hope I can remember how to do this.

I probably wouldn't have returned to the blogosphere today if I hadn't gotten a little "negative inspiration" at the gym this afternoon. I'd honestly been dreading sitting down at the keyboard to attempt conjuring up a blog post--mainly because I just didn't think I had anything of substance to write about. That all changed about 3 o'clock today. I knew a simple little Facebook post wouldn't cover it.

It all began, oddly enough, in the shower room. There are 16 men's shower stalls at the gym I go to. When I got ready to clean up after my workout, I discovered that there wasn't a drop of soap in ANY of the bodywash containers. Nada. Sixteen dispensers. All empty. Thankfully I had some Head & Shoulders shampoo with me, so I just converted that into an impromptu zinc-y bodywash.

As I was bathing, I noticed a guy going into a shower cubicle across from me. I smiled to myself as I observed him trying to get some soap out of the dispenser--to no avail, of course. Anyway, he came to the stall next to mine and repeated his attempt, only this time with GUSTO. He was banging the crap out of that dispenser handle. Must have hit it 35 or 40 times. I hope he managed to garner at least a nickle-sized dollop of foam for his efforts--but I doubt it.

After our respective showers, we were dressing in the locker room. I assumed he, like me, was a little annoyed about the soap situation, so I just casually commented, "I can't believe there wasn't any soap today in any of the showers." To which he quickly retorted--loudly--"But we had hot water, didn't we? Lots of it. Ninety per cent of the world's population doesn't have a nice gym like this with so much hot water in abundance." Of course he was totally correct in his observation, but the tone of his comment caught me off-guard. I was suddenly feeling like an Ugly American with entitlement issues.

He then started preaching me a sermon about contentment, etc., including an illustration about his recent shopping spree at a 99-cent store. On that occasion, he was in an aisle with a lady who was reaching for something that was displayed on an overstocked rack. Because the rack was so full, when she tried to remove her item, the whole rack collapsed spilling whatever was displayed all over the floor. He was appalled when the woman "complained" about the display being overstocked. He couldn't get over her audacity of complaining about something so trivial in the midst of all that abundance. He said he'd lived in third world countries where a "store" might have only 5 or 6 things available for purchase, and that "shoppers" in those stores would be overwhelmed by the enormous quantity of merchandise we have at our fingertips.

Again, he was absolutely correct.

But by now, I was really getting annoyed with his preachy condescension. Granted, my frustration about the absence of shower soap and the overabundance of goods in American markets might be things to be pondered, but I didn't need to have this total stranger banging me over the head with the concepts.

So there you have the context for what happened next.

Right after he finished his sermon to me, a sweet little Vietnamese man (who speaks very little English) was about to exit the locker room to go home. As he approached, Preacher Man bent down and appeared to pick up what looked like a dollar bill from the floor. He asked the Asian guy if it was his. The little guy smiled really big and said, "No." The Annoying One said, "Are you sure?" and handed it to the man, who looked a bit confused, but was still smiling. Preacher Man said, "Why, that's a million-dollar bill!" They both laughed. Then PM said, "Of course it's fake. Too bad it's not real. But notice the 'million-dollar question on the back of the bill."

Oh, Lord, NO! I thought to myself. Not that ridiculous money tract bit.

Sure enough. The Asian man flips the bill over and PM goes on to verbalize the "million-dollar question" for him: "If you died today, would you go to heaven?"

I couldn't believe I was seeing all this with my own eyes. This obnoxious man had his gospel gun loaded and was blasting a poor guy who was simply wanting to get out of there and go home. The guerilla attack went on for a couple of minutes. I was steaming!

He crammed an awful lot of fear speech into those two minutes. Mankind's choice of heaven or hell was the main topic (with an emphasis on hell). The Asian guy was able to do a nifty little side-shuffle toward the door while PM was rattling on and on. He kept saying in his broken English, "Have nice weekend. Have nice weekend."

After his audience had disappeared, I fully expected Tract Guy to turn back to me with his million-dollar spiel. I guess he considered me too hopelessly materialistic for conversion; after all, I'm one of those "takers" in the world who likes my shower soap to actually BE shower soap.

I suppose I could have said something to the guy, but I knew I would have been wasting my breath. Besides, any attempt to "set him straight" would have been about as effective as him employing a gimmicky little prop to get a total stranger in a smelly locker room to seriously consider a "million-dollar question."

What I witnessed today was abusive behavior plain and simple. Abusive behavior is defined as that which "treats someone in a harmful, injurious, or offensive manner." The man who was harangued by Mr. Tract-weilder will look back on the incident with zero attraction to Jesus. In a crude--but sadly accurate--manner of comparison, this kind of "evangelism" is a bit like being groped by a sexual predator. It always offends and never attracts.

Abusive evangelism just doesn't work. All it manages to do is further alienate skeptical people from the true beauty of the Gospel. We're not commissioned to be abusive. We're called to be "light" and "salt." Not "repugnance" and "vinegar."