Maybe Evangelicals need to change their tactics

Or: Treating me like an idiot is no way to convert me.

Over in This thread Polycarp said,

Abruptly, I had an epiphany - that the thing that drives me absolutely insane about most conversion conversations is that the person on the other end (the one trying to convert me), when told that I am not interested, appears to assume that I’m an idiot, who has been living on a cave, on Mars, with my fingers in my ears, and haven’t thought through the whole thing and come to my own conclusion on the subject of religion.

Poly’s quote above does no such thing. Jodi has never done any such thing. I’m sure there are others on the board who are the same way. Both of my examples respect my intelligence, and respect that I have come to a conclusion that, although it is different from theirs, works for me. And, therefore, by their actions both of them have a better chance of converting me.

(FTR, I don’t know what I believe. I know that right now being a practicing Pagan is the most spiritually satisfying thing I have ever done in my life - not necessarily emotionally satisfying, not necessarily physically satisfying, but spiritually satisfying.)

Now, someone else suggested (in a pit thread that I can’t find right now) that the idea of conversion was to preach to those who had no chance of ever hearing the Gospel. That makes a heck of a lot more sense than not respecting the intelligence and decision-making abilities of your fellow Christian-aware citizens.

But I’m up to being convinced that I’m wrong.

To be fair, I know that what’s going on on the other end of the conversion conversation is someone thinking “gee, that sistercoyote’s kind of neat. It’d be too bad if she went to the Hot Place after she dies.” Still, treating me like an idiot is never going to change my mind.

Unfortunately, in many of these people’s minds, what they believe is self-evidently true. If you deny it, you must be either a liar or an idiot.

Just think, they’re giving you the benefit of the doubt. :wink:

Any religion that says good, kind, caring people who do not believe in it go to the “hot place” when they die for all eternity is not a religion I would ever give a second of my time to. It’s nothing but a pyramid scheme.

Yeah, I’ve been thinking along SisterCoyote’s lines too, after reading Muslim Guy’s thread. His willingness to listen and debate sparked far more interest from this Pagan in the religion under discussion than most Christian proselytising ever has… because he simply listened to his audience, and answered their questions. He presented his views and let the people look at them, rather than assuming the people were wrong to start with. He respected his audience.

But I still think in the back of my mind that religious belief is not a logical thing!

Why are you, the debating proselytiser, with your goal of introducing everyone to Your Superior Way Of Being[sup]TM[/sup], trying to persuade me by logic into converting? Annoying me and getting in my face does not incline me to look favourably on your religion. And I did not become a Pagan through logical means.

Yes, I realise that, from your viewpoint, you are doing one of the Greatest Things by giving your time and effort to Spread the Word in the service of your God.

But did you ever stop to check whether it’s actually working? Did you ever consider your audience and wonder what they might be actually receptive to? Did you know that, when teaching anything, you need to start by communicating in the language that your audience already knows?

It’s more effective to demonstrate the superiority of your way of life by Doing Good Deeds and thus showing how your religion makes you a better person. It’s even more effective simply to listen. I’ve been wondering when an ‘Ask the Christian’ thread will show up; perhaps it did and I missed it.

Of course, it’s even more effective from the viewpoint of increasing numbers to raise someone in your chosen religion from the start and teach them no alternatives… but if you’re proselytising and run into me when I’m already outside your religion, obviously it’s too late to do that.

I’m at work at the moment so I don’t have my bible with me (card-carrying pagan, but I still have two full bibles and four new testaments around my home - go figure). Because of that, I can’t recall the exact quote I need, but it went something like, “by your words and your actions they shall know you.”

Should the day come when I’m looking at joining another faith, my opinion will be far more swayed by the person who treats me with respect, even if I’m not a member of their religion, who accepts that I may make different choices, who doesn’t feel a burning desire to “save me”. Who believes that God, or whoever’s running the show, gave us free will. Someone who can answer questions about their faith without resorting to parroting dogma - ie, can answer with actual thought - is likely to get a better response.

Talk with me, not to me; live what you believe, let your life be your witnessing.

OTOH, someone who’s made it their mission in life to “save me” had better get used to not getting what they want. If you answer my questions, I’ll listen; if you just want another notch on the soul savin’ belt, or if you don’t particularly care about me, but rather you’re saving souls purely because you’ll go to hell if you don’t, then leave me alone.

And if you draw stupid tracts then don’t even be in the same country I am.

[Devil’s advocate mode ON]

Effectiveness is not important. God is the one in charge of leading people to His saving grace, not humans. However, followers of Christ are commanded to spread the gospel throughout the world. Therefore, Christians should be proselytizing everyone, including those who have heard all about Jesus.

In addition, while Christians should never treat people like idiots for not believing in Jesus, if accepting Jesus is going to save someone from eternity in some really hot place, then in their eyes, to not accept Jesus is rather irrational.

Don’t think any Christian will argue that living like Christ is not important. Actions do speak louder than words, after all.

[/Devil’s advocate mode OFF]

My shameful confession: I’ve been known to string people along who think I’m another notch on the soul saving belt. I’ll act like I’m just about to be saved for months and just never do it. Made a lot of people mad this way. I haven’t done this in a while, gladly, but I got mad at Christianity and did this for a few years.

tavalla, that would be a beautiful sig line!

I don’t think it is the passage that you were thinking of, but it sums up the feeling of the OP:

To me, this is a reflection of being secure in the truth/solidity of one’s faith - those who are weak in their faith have to cling to a dogged belief that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Being able to convince others of this will bolster their own flagging confidence, and this is why they are so insistant - their own self-belief requires it of them.

Personally, I have thought about this and decided not to (just at the moment), for two reasons:

  1. Worried about the abuse that may or may not be heaped on me as a result of setting myself up as a target - a lot of people have a large amount of anger just waiting to be directed at someone…
  2. Worried about not being able to do it justice, both from a time point of view, and from a knowledge point of view - there are plenty of pagan/atheistic/unbeliever members on the boards who know more about the minute details of my religion than I ever will… (or care to, in some cases)

I suppose that some of the second point could be avoided by posting in IMHO…


Actually, an “Ask the Christian” thread wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea. I think you’d find that people would jump in and help, as Tamerlane and a few others did in the “Ask the Muslim Guy” thread, so that might lighten the load a little. There are quite a few well-respected posters around here of the Christian persuasion; maybe they could be dragooned into service. If the thread begins in a calm, rational way, and you get a good couple of first posters, I don’t see why it should continue like that.

If the OP included the phrase this thread is not the place for witnessing, that would probably help out too :wink: After all, MG wasn’t witnessing in his thread, he was answering questions.

Christianity suffers some of the same “bad press” problems as any other religion; overbearing witnessing and conversion attempts can definitely (as seen here) turn people off. Jack Chick et al get press, but the “quiet achievers” sort of go unnoticed in the wider world, although their own communities probably appreciate their good work.

Personally, I do respect some aspects of Christianity; that hasn’t come about through witnessing or conversion attempts. Rather, it comes from watching some people who truly do believe, don’t make a big deal of it, and who actively demonstrate Christianity rather than just talking about it. I do understand that evangelising is supposed to be a part of the faith, but these people evangelise by example and action rather than by words. It’s far more effective; the evangelisee (it’s a word, really. Or maybe not) sees Christ and Christianity in action, gets to see that it can be done without being a self-righteous so-and-so, and that it can be a Good Thing to be a Christian.

lel, thank you :slight_smile:

I also have considered doing this, but have hesitated for a few reasons. The first one is that I am pretty sure that I would get bogged down in debating scriptural interpretations with certain atheists. Frankly, that sort of thing does not interest me.

The other reason is that if I were subjected to that sort of barrage, I’m sure that I would fail. My knowledge of Christianity, while pretty darn good, is not that good.

I’ve been hoping that someone would recruit a preist, minister, or some sort of Christian theological student to join the SDMB, just so these sorts of things could happen.

I know what you mean here, I think, but I also wanted to make the minor point that this can be hard to do. I try not to parrot Scripture or dogma as a knee-jerk kind of thing, but there are beliefs that just can’t be explained any other way than as a statement. There are mysteries that are taken on faith and even if you thought about them for, well, forever, you as a human couldn’t really understand. So if someone presses me, I can’t offer any more than, that’s what I believe, and therefore that’s the truth.

For example, if it’s a discussion about Jesus being completely God and completely man, forget about really understanding that. I could be pressed to explain that, but in the end it’s something I take on faith and believe. That may come off as not really thinking or scrutinizing enough, but there it is.

Hope this made some sense.

Thanks, Sunspace! (Great user name, BTW!) It’s part of the Islamic faith to not get in your face about converting. Even when encouraging someone to convert, it has to be done without pressuring. The Qur’an says: “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and giving beautiful advice, and argue with them in the best way.”. This is the approach I use.

No one ever told me to convert to Islam. I reached that all on my own. In fact, I couldn’t even find anyone to tell me about Islam, so I went about it all alone. Muslims don’t believe that they can get anyone to convert. They just believe that conversion is the will of Allah: if you don’t go for it, then we won’t bother you. If you ask for information, we will supply the information you asked for, but put no pressure on you. This works: people get to Islam on their own without anyone telling them. It’s a requirement of the religion to do it this way.

This reminds me of a story about one of the current General Authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (that’s us Mormons, for those of you keeping score at home).

Unfortunately, I can’t remember just now who it was, but anyway, he was at the time a mission president. That basically means that he was in charge of all the full-time missionaries in a given area. In the middle of a lesson, he brought out a beautiful cake which his wife had made. The room of mostly 19-21 year old young men looked upon this as a Good Thing, as missionary food is pretty hit and miss.

The mission president explained that this cake represented the Gospel, and asked if anyone would like some. Every hand was raised. He picked one young man, and asked him to come forward to get some cake. As the missionary stepped forward, the president stuck his hand into the cake and threw a large handful at him, covering his clean suit with frosting.

When he asked a second time if anyone wanted any cake, there were no takers. The president then told them that no one will accept the Gospel if it is offered in that manner. Effective proselytizing is done with patience and gentleness, not arrogance. We urge our members to study the scriptures and think about their meaning. The same should be expected of investigators.

I know that the majority of my friends probably won’t convert to my faith, but if they have any interest, I will talk with them, and explain any questions or misconceptions (and believe me, there are a lot of misconceptions). If any of them want to look into it further, I will gladly help them along.

Let’s ask this question. WHY do so many religions proselytize? I believe it is not a random occurance. It is a simple matter of natural selection of religions. Religions that proselytize and have rules against backsliding spread faster and become more entrenched than religions that keep to themselves and allow religious exploration.

Just look at the history of Christianity vs. Paganism in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Christians actively tried to convert people. And once you converted to christianity there were major consequences if you decided you really wanted to be a pagan after all. But most pagans didn’t have a problem with christianity…they regarded Jesus as just another God like all the others, and if people worshipped him it would be fine.

So you have a one-way ratchet whereby proselytizing religions drive out non-proselytizing religions. Survival of the fittest, meme vs. meme.

I have heard from friends who have lived in Japan that the Japanese have their own way of handling proselytizing Christians. They will smile, go to your church if invited, tell you that they have accepted Jesus, smile politely and thank you very much for saving them. Then, as soon as you go home, they never step foot in a church again.

This sounds like a very Japanese solution…politely agree until they go away. No muss, no fuss, no loss of face, no arguments, everyone is happy!

Can any Japanese dopers confirm this?

The only problem with that theory is that - here in Australia at least - the numbers of people attending Christian churches is at best remaining steady. In many parishes, attendance is falling. By contrast, the whole pagan thing is very much in growth.

Us pagans are alive and kicking, thank you very much. If it’s meme vs meme, we’re holding our own without much in the way of going out and looking for converts. We did go underground for a while, but not forever. Granted, paganism has changed in some ways since those days, but that’s a natural response to the change and growth in the world. Christian faiths have changed over time as well.

originally posted by gigi
I know what you mean here, I think, but I also wanted to make the minor point that this can be hard to do. I try not to parrot Scripture or dogma as a knee-jerk kind of thing, but there are beliefs that just can’t be explained any other way than as a statement. There are mysteries that are taken on faith and even if you thought about them for, well, forever, you as a human couldn’t really understand. So if someone presses me, I can’t offer any more than, that’s what I believe, and therefore that’s the truth.

To clarify what I was saying; if I ask you why a particular thing is so, and you say “Because the Church says so” that’s parroting. There are always things in religion that have to be taken on faith, but if you explain that even if the Trinity, for example, is beyond human comprehension but that it feels right to you, then I’m willing to accept that as an answer. After all, the discussion is going to involve the imponderable unknowables, and that sits fine with me; I’m perfectly happy to treat others’ faith with respect, I’m not going to think less of anyone for holding the faith they do (unless it’s one of those groups that seems to have been started for the express purpose of the founder getting as much money and sex as is humanly possible).

I have freinds who were missionaries in Japan. What they said (and what is consistient with Eastern religions generally) is that they syncretise pretty readily.

Westerners often easily persuade somebody that “Jesus is God,” without understanding Eastern presuppositions about the definition of “God” (i.e. one vs. many), for example.

You know the good thing about television evangelicals is that you can turn the channel if you want. IRL, sometimes it’s not that easy. Yes, I am a Christian. I wouldn’t start a thread about ask the Christian because I truly believe that each person has to work out their “own” salvation. While you can tell someone your beliefs, any question could be answered in hundreds of different ways. I read the threads on religion with amazement. I’ve attended several different ‘strains’ of churches. It never occurred to me, even while observing the differences in services, that one was more right than the other. Church to me is just attending a meeting of people that are trying to live the best life they can, serve their fellow man, and follow the footsteps of Jesus. I’m happy anywhere I can attend church. It’s the reason that I’m there and not the ‘religion’ that gives me substance. The denomination has nothing to do with it. I can’t tell you that what I believe is the only way, and the right way. It’s just the right way for me, what brings me contentment, faith, and peace with the being I believe in.
In my response to Esprix’s thread in the Pit, I did state that witnessing is for those that have not had exposure to church, the Bible, etc. and not to those who have been exposed and made their own decisions. There are people here in America, while they are aware of churches and the Bible, they have not actually had the opportunity to sit and talk with someone.
My opinion on the over-zealous types. Maybe it is a reflection of their own personality. They would be as over-zealous on any topic, not just religion. If they were one of those slicer-dicer guys that you see working the booths at public gatherings, like fairs and such, they would be just as zealous over that. I know that I have an out-going personality and tend at times to get over-zealous about something I feel strongly about. In the beginning, when I first started my Christian walk, yep, I was right there in the lot. Would have made some of you throw up I’m sure. I look back now and realize that at times I did a lot more harm than good.
Sometimes actions do speak louder than words. I’ve had a lot more people ask me questions now that I’ve calmed down in my later years and I’ve had some very soul-searching and heart-warming conversations with people. Have I converted anyone? Hard to say. I think I’ve given them some things to think about. I definitely would not look you in the eyes and tell you that I’m right and you are wrong when it comes to our walk in life. For every one thing I believe in, someone could dispute it with hundreds of controversial quotes. But I believe what I believe and I hold fast to it for myself. That is what each person should do.

The problem, of course, is that the active membership of this board isn’t exactly representative of the population at large. It’s a fact that, in America at least, the fastest-growing Christian denominations are the evangelical denominations - so somebody is responding favorably to their approach. (Make that ‘enough somebodies so that the evangelical churches have every reason to view their tactics as successful.’)

They’re probably doing pretty lousy in converting the ‘intelligent, skeptical’ demographic that is fortunately overrrepresented on this board. (Fortunate for us, that is.) But that doesn’t particularly bother most of them - they kind of enjoy looking down on people whose very intelligence ‘blinds them to the truth of the Gospel’.

So from our POV, their tactics suck. But we’re not exactly representative.

FWIW, I’m another one who’s considered, in passing, the idea of starting an ‘ask the Christian guy’-type thread. But I’m somewhat short on spare time these days, so I’ve shelved the idea, at least until early next year.

And even then, I think Christianity is far too big for one person to be able to speak well about more than a particular part of it. I was thinking of titling mine, “Ask the born-again, non-fundie Protestant”, or something along those lines. :slight_smile:

RT beat me to saying it. I agree that there seem to be significant differences among the various Christian religions. I’d think it would be hard enough to master one’s own version, let alone all the others.