Recently, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was not a Christian and it went like this:
“Hey dude, how’s our friendship going?”
“Good. Well have I told you about the good news of Jesus Christ?”
(friend rolls eyes)
“You see…. I love you too much to much to watch you rot in hell for eternity because you went to second base with your girlfriend in junior high. Listen nobody is perfect….. especially you. God can still save you.”
(laughs) “You’re a dick.”
I love my friends. I have Christian ones. Non-Christian ones. Gay ones, straight ones. Black ones, white ones. I’m friends with humans, I’m friends with dogs. I love my friends. I also love Jesus more and what I love about Jesus is how he treats human beings.
About a year ago I was sitting at a Barnes and Noble reading a book. A guy with a Bible in his hand came up and started talking to me. He asked me about a book I was reading and told him it was a Philosophical book on the problems of evil and justice. He asked me if I believed in God, so I said with a condescending smile “no.” After asking me why not, I continued my web of lies saying I grew up a Christian and renounced God and religion on the count of logic. I said religion and God is a fabricated belief system that human beings give to themselves to give their life meaning and purpose. I told him I studied theology and found that God was merely a system of the mind, with no real existential value. The guy stood up and replied “unless you repent of your sins and re-find your faith in God, you’re going to burn in hell.” I remember sitting there thinking “Wow, that guy did not care about me, my story or anything I had to say.” This was not my experience of Jesus.
The woman caught in adultery is a famous story in the Bible. The Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery to Jesus. The Pharisees, trying to trap Jesus asked him what to do with her. In his typical brilliant way Jesus said “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” After the Pharisees had left, Jesus stood up and asked her “Where are they? Has anyone condemned you?” She says no. Then Jesus says “neither do I. Leave your life of sin.”
Richard Rohr commentates on this passage wonderfully when he makes this observation:
“the woman caught in adultery is a good example of Jesus giving people the “gift of guilt.” He said two things to her: “I do not condemn you” (shame is not the answer) and “Go and sin no more” (take ownership of yourself and then you can change).”
It seems to me and my own experiences, that evangelism or inter-faith dialogue is so often filled with shame. We Christians want to maintain hierarchy over others. We make statements that give us the power. I’m going to heaven. You’re going to hell. I am right. You’re wrong. Rather, if we treat each other like human beings, like Jesus did, we don’t need to play those shame games. We don’t need to make people feel inadequate, less than human (shame).
Donald Miller makes a brilliant human observation when he says this “”Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself.” Sometimes, people need to watch us love God before they can love God. Sometimes, people need to watch us love them, before they can love themselves. Before they can let God love them. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The spirit that causes renewal, rebirth. Rebirth and renewal will never be found in shame. It will be found in letting God love them and taking responsibility for their own lives. This is our job as Christians. To love others and serve others. If we love others and are there to help them take that responsibility, this is true evangelism.
Are we there to love them without an agenda?
Are we there to help them observe their pain?
Are we there to help them carry the burden of that responsibility?
I haven’t lead anyone into “the sinners:” prayer in a long time but I know that antagonizing others for not being “one of us” isn’t revealing the kingdom to anyone.