They stop you on
campus, knock on your door, "waylay" you on the street. They
just want a few minutes of your time ... to take a survey, or talk about
their faith. How do you respond to these sometimes aggressive folk?
glad. They're trying to do you good. After all, they want to keep
you from eternal fire on some other undesirable end. You may not like
their methods or message, but most of them mean well.
careful. Although many of these persons will respect your privacy,
intelligence, and freedom, others are not necessarily eager to know what
you think, believe, or feel. Their inquiries are calculated a) if they
are Christian, to assess your salvation state (and any response that�s
halting or deviates from their pat formula will get you classified as
"unsaved," even if you have Christian credentials like
baptism, confirmation, church membership)-, and presuming you flunk
their test, b) to make you feel spiritually inadequate and in need of
what they offer. These persons are more like salesmen than ethical
evangelists, who witness to their faith in a respectful, loving manner.
expect dialogue. Dialogue means a two-way sharing of ideas in an
atmosphere of mutual respect You'll soon learn that they have little
interest in your views. They do not expect to find spiritual nourishment
in your statements. (It is possible for persons of differing religious
views to share ideas without attempting to trap or demean each other.
Such an exchange can stimulate the growth of both participants.) Their
goal is, as they say, �to win you to Christ," or to some guru or
religious figure -- a very competitive concept! And they feel very
strongly that they are the authorities on "Christ," or
the temptation to debate! In the first place,
unless you're "well-versed" in Scripture and theology,
you'll come off badly. And if you're ready to debate, be assured that
your superior arguments will rarely convince them to change. (They might
be surprised at someone as sure as they are, having mostly encountered
the unsure and ignorant. But they'll most likely assume that the Devil's
got you or that you're stuck in ignorance.) Furthermore, though debating
maybe fun, demolishing your opponent with argument may not be the
outcome you want.
feel your experience of God is deficient if it doesn't fit their
pattern. For some persons, conversion (turning towards God) is
sudden and emotionally overwhelming. Others experience a more gradual
rebirthing and growth in faith. God's not stuck with a single strategy
for changing humans. Christians and persons of other faiths -- from the first through the twentieth century --
testify to an amazing diversity of "divine styles."
worry if you can't answer questions! Be wary of those who articulate
a scheme of salvation or spiritual growth with the precision of an AAA
map. All such simple �maps" must be taken for what they
are-�attempts to make the Divine Mystery comprehensible. Though we
continually try to communicate our faith in understandable terms, we are
always humbled by the limits of language in trying to grasp the Mystery
we encounter. If their questions baffle and bother you, don't assume
they're right and you're wrong. Share these questions with our pastor,
or campus chaplain, rabbi, or priest (like checking Consumers' Report
before you buy an encyclopedia).
questions of your own. One of the problems with these
"encounters" is their offensive/defensive nature -- very
offensive at times! Though debate or dialogue may not work, you can at
least exchange information.
Don't try to trip them � that's their game. Your questions must be
genuine. But don't let them use your questioning as just another means
of persuading you to do what they want.
to be kind and loving, without being foolish. Remember, these
persons trying to corner you (for the sincerest of reasons) are persons
whom God loves. Despite their apparent strength, they may be needy
persons whose involvement in an authoritarian group satisfies a strong
dependency need. An awareness of their common humanity can save you from
the trap they're setting, and perhaps, help them see more clearly.
to your own faith. You may not be able to support your testimony
with scripture, but chances are you do have strong beliefs, which have
been nurtured through the years by teachers, pastors, priests, rabbis,
parents, friends, and your own study and contemplation. You don't talk
about these deep commitments very often, but they are there. And you can
witness to the values of your religious experience. Perhaps you
appreciate its support in times of crisis, its involvement in making
your community a better place, its serving real human needs, its music,
thankful. This encounter will probably stimulate your spiritual
search. It may encourage you to do more religious study. Perhaps you
should thank your visitors for their help. But ...
sign anything or agree to anything!
These folks trying to save you have been trained, just like
salespeople, to talk you into some kind of "follow-up." They'd
love to get you to one of their meetings..."just so you can give it
a try." (If they haven't "won you," they'd like to get
some help from their veteran persuaders - the folks who �won"
them.) It's best to bid farewell with no strings. You can always find
them if, after much reflection and discussion with friends or clergy,
you decide to explore their group further.
essay has been adapted from an article written by the Reverend Dr. Ross
Miller, former Campus Minister and Director of United Christian
Fellowship, the Protestant Ecumenical Campus Ministry at Bowling Green
State University, Bowling Green, Ohio. Dr. Miller, at the time this
article was reprinted, was pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church,
Eugene, Oregon. His article originally appeared in the September 1983
issue of the Yellow Sheet, the United Christian Fellowship newsletter,
and is used by permission.