Today is a word dump day. “What’s a word dump?” you ask. A word dump is where you just let it all out, whatever it is. It’s a practice that my 12th grade english teach taught us to get us to write or a way to break through our writer’s block. I debated just doing it in Word or some other writing program, but then I thought it would be so much more fun to do it here. This specific word dump is about my thesis. Yes, I’m writing a thesis. I’m working on a Master’s of Theology (ThM), and my first draft is due in 2 1/2 weeks. It’s a theology paper on interfaith dialogue. It’s hard to focus since my mind has been on our Israel trip and also dealing with other stuff going on.
First, what drives me for this is the problem that so many interfaithers have with the issue of “evangelisation.” The issue that I have with it is that, for me, it means to convert someone. I think its supposed to mean that you are sharing the love of Christ and the message, but not intending to convert. Sharing the love of Jesus is not the same as converting someone. When you try to convert someone, you don’t honour who they are as a person. As a sentient being, they can make up their own minds, by convincing someone to become a Christian (however well intending we humans are), we don’t see the person as they are but as we want them to be. Oh, and did I mention that humans don’t convert other humans, God does. So, if there’s conversion going on, then that’s God’s work and when people take credit for it, then they are claiming to do God’s job. Now, does that mean people can’t be a part of that process? Not at all. People are totally part of the process.
Let me elaborate.
If someone decides to become a Christian, then they have a reason for doing so. Maybe it’s because others have shown the love of Jesus through their actions and they want to live like those people do. But when it’s like the scene from the movie, The Apostle, then it is not genuinely about the person but about another tack on the board. Now, you might be thinking, “look, in the Bible, Jesus says to go spread the message, bring people into the fold.” And you’re right. Jesus does say that. We often call it the Great Commission. It’s found in Matthew 28:16-20.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
But that was back then. We have to think about the atmosphere back then. When we think of Christians in the Bible, we often think of the general population. Think again. Christians were far and few between. They were considered a cult (not a punch drinking cult), but a cult. A small branch of Judaism that had broken off and was going rogue. They were trying to get numbers, they were trying to tell people, “Hey, Jesus is here! He’s fulfilling the promise that God made to Abraham!”
Think about Paul. Most people see Paul as the ultimate convert. Well, technically, Christians weren’t Christians back then, they were still Jews. Atleast that’s what they thought of themselves. This idea of Christian wasn’t really in existence, so Paul didn’t really convert, he simply saw the fulfilment of the promise that we now read in the Old Testament. So, that theory is out. Paul, not a convert. But, I will give him props for turning his life around.
Back to this conversion thing. What’s the point of conversion now-a-days? Why do we try to evangelise people and bring them to God? If we’re really Christians, don’t we believe that God loves everyone? Sure. Atleast, I do. Now, many Christians will tell you God only accepts those who live a certain lifestyle and fit into a certain mould. But that’s not true. God still loves Newt Gringrich, right? And he and many other politicians on both sides of the aisle have committed a lot of sins. So, God can’t only love a select few. Plus, take the creation story, God called all that God made good, right? God doesn’t pick and choose and if you think God does because it says so in Scripture, then, news flash: you’re reading stuff that a bunch of old dead men wrote a long time ago and then was rearranged and hand-picked by a bunch of other old dead men in fancy clothes. If you want to take the entire Bible at face-value, go right ahead. Just make sure and don’t eat the peas that were planted next to the tomatoes, or make sure you’ve brushed your hair, don’t go to church within 33 days of giving birth to a boy or 66 if you’ve given birth to a girl, and don’t mix your fabrics friends. Also, there’s some fun stuff about gang rape in Genesis and Judges, you could look into that too…
See how insane some of this sounds?
So, if God is loving to all humans, they why do we need to make them like us? God made them different. Why is that so bad? Why are we trying to undo what God already did? The point of conversion back then was to spread the message of the fulfilment and that the love of God was no longer for a chosen people but for all who whose to follow. It was no longer about who was circumcised and kept specific laws, because they weren’t needed after Jesus came. There was no need to have all these outward signs because God fulfilled God’s part.
When we try to convert another, we try to change them to what we think they should be. I’d like to try and convert my partner to see that its better when you put the dishes in the sink and not all over the counter so you can keep cooking vs. setting them all over the counter thus taking up counter space. But its’ not that simple. She has her reasons for doing it how she does it, and those are valid. Just like mine are valid for putting them in the sink. We are different people and see things differently sometimes, but we are still good people.
So, what does all this have to do with interfaith dialogue? It has to do with the problem of conversion when a person tries to be in relationship with someone of another faith tradition. Heck, it is hard when it’s even in an ecumenical relationship. Either way, when we come to the table believing that we much convert others to be like us, religiously, then we do not take serious their individuality and their own set of beliefs. We disregard them for who they are and we do not come to the table to have true interfaith relations but with an agenda. This is where we have to re-think what evangelism truly is for Christians.
When I hear evangelism, I also hear the word witness in my head. What does it mean to witness to someone? It means to share the love of Christ. Many people believe that when you witness, you give a verbal testimony to people. I like to think of it differently. When I witness to someone, the point is that I should never, ever, have to say “Jesus” or “God.” My actions and words should be enough that I exemplify Christ and what I have learned from the account of his life. If I’m going to mention Jesus or God, then it’s in response to, “So, why do you do what you do?” Then I can say, “Because I believe in Jesus and that’s what I’m called to do.” That is sharing the gospel. People should know that God loves them through the actions and lives of Christians. I do not feel like God loves me when someone tells me that God hates me because I am a lesbian. I do not believe that Jesus died for my sins when someone tells me I am an abomination. Way to be Christ-like folks. That’s not it. You missed the point.
Here’s the point: it’s not our decision who gets in at the end or not. That’s God’s job. So, please, stop trying to do God’s job for God. You are not God. Stop making yourself a false idol. Please. We will all sleep a little bit better at night.
Well, friends, that’s my word dump for the moment. You don’t have to agree with it. That’s not the point. The point is for me to get some thoughts out there so I can finish writing this thesis and process things. You don’t have to like it, I don’t really care. Maybe the arguments aren’t well written out and maybe they are SUPER flawed, but they are my thoughts and opinions.