For those who have been reading The Unlikely Disciple series, you already know that Liberty University is not a normal American university. It’s an Evangelical university that lords over it’s students with a bit of an iron fist. What is not so unusual is that Liberty offers missionary trips (religious version of alt-break) for students to go on during spring break. Many Christian student groups offer missionary trips during spring break. What is unusual about Liberty missionary trips is that there not really missionary trips but evangelization trips. Yes, that’s right, students who want to shove the Bible down people’s throats during spring break.
So, Kevin Roose decided to go on an evangelization trip to Daytona Beach, FL for his spring break trip and it turned out to be the stereotypical Evangelical Bible thumping run of the mill. If you have not been the recipient of Evangelical proselytizing it goes something like this: you are asked if you have heard of Jesus, then they ask if you have been saved, after you are asked if you are a sinner, then you are told why you are a sinner, and lastly, you are told to accept Jesus. This method of winning people over to Christ doesn’t work too well and only retains 3-16% of people who are evangelized. The Evangelical form of proselytizing is often viewed as rude and unapologetically in your face. And if you refuse to listen to Evangelical proselytizing efforts you find a crazed Evangelical following or running after you shouting Bible verses pertaining to the saving qualities of Jesus. So, this what Kevin found on his spring break trip to Daytona, unapologetic Bible thumping.
Most people that the students tried to evangelize where not receptive of their efforts that usually started out with a question on a person’s personal spiritual practices and became more evasive from there. What I found astounding was how at ease the students were with their form of evasive proselytizing and their lack of understanding as to why people were not receptive of their message. One of Kevin’s partners in proselytizing decided that she would follow a man down the street yelling Bible verses when he decided that he had enough. When Kevin asked his normally calm and friendly friend why she took such an action, her response was something like this: I just don’t want to see him go to hell.
This is exactly what rubs me the wrong way when it comes to Evangelical proselytizing. It assumes that if a person is not already an Evangelical (aka has been saved), they are not Christian and will go to hell. Their viewpoint doesn’t allow for different flavors of Christianity or the respect for other’s faiths. And let’s think about it, the rapid pace, poor performing proselytizing that Evangelicals prefer doesn’t have a high retention rate. So why use this method? Other than trying to fulfill an unattainable quota of Evangelical converts, Evangelicals truly believe that they are planting the seeds of Christ in people and that Christ will do the rest of the work of brining people to the Church. To me this is wishful thinking. Brining people to the Church should be more about quality than quantity. Cultivating people to bring them to the Church should be attended to with care, cultivating a tree, in a way that is not offensive. Offensive proselytizing, the Evangelical form, turns people away from the Church instead of brining them into the Church. Drive-by proselytizing doesn’t work but nurture and care does, and you have to choose your people carefully.