Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Will You Live for Jesus Today?"


(My response to "Why I Don't Witness to People on Airplanes" by Rachel Held Evans)

I abhor "evangelism", "witnessing", and whatever else people call proselytizing for Christianity. Now, in my late 40s, I am much more confident striking up conversations with strangers than I ever was growing up in Evangelicalism, but I'm also much less inclined than ever to sell someone an ideology they likely don't need and definitely weren't looking for before I crossed their path. I had my fill of the guilt trips for being a preacher's daughter who'd never "brought a soul to Jesus" and who couldn't work The Four Spiritual Laws into my conversational gambits. I'd had my fill of the guilt and subsequent doubting of my own worthiness and salvations long before I actually gave up the practice, though. Peer pressure, I guess.
But the real reason I stopped trying to "advance the Gospel" directly was my experiences as a summer missionary working the local beer fests for the annual evangelism push of a church in Dusseldorf.
Given no training or advice beyond a pick-up line ('Can I talk to you about love?") and a stack of church literature, I was sent out to the streets during the day and into the festivals in the evening. Not surprisingly, women didn't want to have anything to do with someone pushing religious literature at them and turned away before I could even get my line out.
Men, however, especially with a liter or two of lager in them, were delighted to "talk about love". And to fondle me, grope my breasts, and press their leering, beery bodies close to mine. The conditions of love they suggested didn't involve attending church the next Sunday.
Given my upbringing in the church, I was sure that there was something I was doing to entice them, that I led those men into thinking I was offering something besides Jesus. I was also trained that no price was too high, no insult too much, not when it was the Gospel. So I continued my duties, night after night at the fairgrounds, feeling ever more like I'd totally failed God.
Finally I broke down at a street theater evangelism at the end of the week. I walked away from my assigned task of working the gathered crowd. I sat down on a bench across the plaza, sure that I was cheating God--despite the fact that I was shaking, my teeth were chattering in my effort to hold myself together, and I could barely stand anymore I was so weak from the strain. I let myself cry for about five minutes, wrote in my journal about how unsuited I was for the Lord's Work, and worried that someone from the church would "catch me playing hooky."
It wasn't until two decades later that I realized how traumatized I was by the sexual assaults to which I'd been subjected, that what I'd experienced had been sexual assault. Twenty years until I got pissed off that any young woman (or girl, we had teens on our team) should be sent out alone into partying crowds, that women are taught that we have to accept such insult, that it is our fault when men act disrespectfully. Twenty years before I realized that it had never even occurred to me, nor to my fellow team members (male or female), to inform the evangelism organizers of my experiences; much less to expect that I be given a place of safety and refuge in which to recover.
But after that summer, I never again felt guilty about not "living for Jesus today".

5 comments:

  1. powerful. i couldn't sleep so i read that post and this one. i added an article to the comments that you might find interesting.

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    1. http://freebelievers.com/blog-entry/what-s-a-witness

      I wish I could hyperlink in the comments! This is an excellent article. It was for me as it was for this author a revelation when I realized that "witness" was yet another word that Christians have co-opted with their own twisted meaning. So many words that Christians use in church make so much more sense and are so much more freeing and loving to the spirit when the regular old secular definition is intended. Christian definitions tend to be so damning.

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  2. I read the post from Evans … of course, I really enjoyed and identified with her book. This post is so good … so right on … and I’m sure you identify with it on several levels, including the German geographical context, and the sexual abuse within the fundagelical environment. I expected some comment on your blog from you; but unless I missed something, it was not there.

    Terry Gray

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    1. What is posted on my blog IS my response. Rachel's original post to which I am responding is linked in the italics at the top.

      The experience in Germany is mine. I was repeatedly sexually assaulted doing evangelism during that week in Dusseldorf. I was so trained by church doctrine and family dynamics to accept such behavior as normal male response to inherent female seductiveness that it really didn't occur to me (nor to my friends) that these events were very far out of line.

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    2. Sorry … I guess I don’t quite understand how blogs work … but that makes what I read even more powerful to me. That you were, as you say, “so trained by church doctrine and family dynamics to accept such behavior as normal male response to inherent female seductiveness that it really didn't occur to me (nor to my friends) that these events were very far out of line,” is so weird … yet in my ignorance and blind following of the fundagelical status quo (so much of which is see reflected in the Tea Party today), I was a significant part of that negative influence on you. And, I know I fall back into old habits by knee-jerk: I just came from my therapist’s office and this is one of the things I mentioned to her. It is so difficult to be rid of some of that old stuff … but I do feel I am making some progress, even if slowly, even if by fits and starts.

      Terry Gray

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