Anyway, I was thinking about evangelism. We currently attend a Lutheran church–ELCA–, and, not having grown up Lutheran (or having any prior experience), I’ve been learning some very interesting things. One of my discoveries is that “evangelism” means something really different to Lutherans than to people in denominations labeled “evangelical” (such as Baptists). The separation on this point is as wide between Lutherans and Baptists as it is between Baptists and, say, Mormons.
The main difference is that there’s no pressure to “share my faith.” That is, I’m not expected to go tell everyone how to be saved, nor am I pressured to constantly invite people to things so they can hear the message of salvation from someone else. In fact, that doesn’t even exist, and Lutherans (at least, the ones at my church) kind of think it’s weird. One woman shared with me that she attended an evangelical non-denominational church with a friend. She said someone at the church approached her and said, “Have you found Jesus?” The woman was momentarily thrown off, but she recovered and replied, “I don’t think I ever lost him.”
I have to admit, I like this approach. I really don’t mind talking about Jesus, but I hate the sense that every single one of my interactions with my friends of other (or no) religions must have some kind of Formula for Sharing the Gospel. Maybe it’s that whole random progression of thought thing, but it always just felt so forced, like I had to find some way to work God into the conversation even if we were just talking about spaghetti sauce recipes or breastfeeding or Doctor Who. I was never good at steering conversations that way.
Plus, it just felt manipulative. Those people who come door-to-door are so much more honest. They’re not trying to be your friend, they’re trying to get you to listen to them talk about their religion. You have the option to say no thank you because you’re not blindsided by it. You also have the choice to engage and either listen or argue with them. There’s no real manipulation there. Sure, they may try to hook you by asking you questions designed to elicit certain responses. But everyone knows that going in.
It’s not like that with the evangelical set. I’m not lying when I tell you that they teach classes on this stuff. You’re instructed to find ways to work it into your conversation, to “share your story,” and to find commonalities with your target. Yes, I said target because that’s what it always felt like. You’re supposed to consider who in your life “needs Jesus” and then try to “build relationship” with the express purpose of presenting the gospel message.
Of course, this all makes perfect sense if your belief going in is that anyone who hasn’t “found Jesus” is going to hell to suffer eternal conscious torment. I mean, who wants their loved ones to end up that way? Or their random acquaintances? Even Mark Driscoll doesn’t deserve that kind of punishment. Honestly, I think that must be a very scary way to live, constantly afraid that when they die the vast majority of humanity will be permanently separated from God and tortured.
Imagine my relief at not having to worry about that anymore. This particular version of hell and the requirement to believe in order to be spared were one of the first things to go when I stepped away from that strain of Christianity. I had never really looked at my friends and family as some kind of mission field anyway, but it was good to give myself permission not to feel guilty about that.
At this point, I don’t really have a clue exactly what happens after this life, and I don’t much care. Being spared some awful fate isn’t the focus of either my church or my faith. For now, it’s enough to concentrate on whether my beliefs are making me a better person. Because if they’re not, then either there’s something wrong with those beliefs, or I’m doing something wrong.
If you’re in process of deconstructing, what are some of the beliefs you want to let go of? What are some of the things that you hold on to?