May 14, 2008

Feelings About Evangelism

Jesus Army evangelism
Jesus Army evangelism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A recent post at Friendly Atheist asked readers about their worst experiences with Christian evangelism and whether there were any forms of evangelism to which readers might listen. Christian evangelism provokes an immediate and intensely unpleasant emotional response for me. Regardless of whether it is door-to-door proselytizing or unwelcome encounters in public, I have the same reaction almost every time I am confronted by someone wanting to share their "good news." It is hard to put into words, but it feels like a mixture of anger, disgust, and pity.

The intensity of my reaction is clearly disproportionate to the actual circumstances. After all, the Christian who feels the need to tell me about Jesus does not mean any harm. She might even think she's doing me a favor. There is no reason for me to feel threatened, and mild annoyance or even compassion would seem to be more appropriate reactions on my part than the one I have.

The thoughts that race through my head in these situations, many of which are not particularly rational, fuel the nature and intensity of my emotional response. You see, I tend to interpret acts of evangelism as unwanted invasions upon my privacy.

"I don't want to hear about your delusion!"
"How dare you shove that mind rot in my face!"
"What makes you think I am stupid enough to be impressed with this?"
"How would you like it if I came to your home in the middle of dinner?"
You get the idea. There is no question that my tendency to interpret evangelism in this manner drives my reaction to it.

Since I do not generally enjoy these emotional responses, I have at least two options to consider:

  1. I can work on reframing these situations so that I will have more realistic thoughts and respond less intensely, or
  2. I can attempt to reduce the frequency with which I encounter evangelists.
So far, I've focused on #2. I have added a combination of "no soliciting" and anti proselytizing signs around my front door to deter these visitors. This has been very successful. The frequency of their visits has declined from 3-4/week to something like one every 4 months. However, I need to do more with #1 because I continue to encounter these Christian evangelists in public fairly often (and yes, sometimes even at home).

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