There’s a lot of chatter in Episcopal circles about evangelism, and how we recalcitrant Episcopalians need to do more of it. Or any of it. There’s a whole chapter on it in the otherwise excellent book, My Church is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century by Greg Garrett. Garrett isn’t speaking of standing on street corners waving a bible, or button-holing people at social events or in the elevator. He’s talking about Episcopalians making more obvious the wonderful things this church has to offer and being more vocal about their faith.
Since I’ve been an Episcopalian (about 22 years now) I have never been embarrassed to tell people that I go to church, or where. What I don’t do – and won’t do – is tell people that they need to believe the same things I do, or go to my church, or subscribe to a particular dogma.
I recently shared an article on my Facebook page, 10 Reasons It’s Wrong to Evangelize in the Workplace. Besides the obvious legal reasons, my favorite is #9:
Being emotionally dishonest. When you go into a conversation with an agenda for how that conversation should go, you’re not being emotionally honest. You’re not being real, spontaneous, open, vulnerable. You’re not truly engaging with the other person, because at the very least you’re not listening to them. What you’re doing when “evangelizing” isn’t a real conversation. It’s a sales pitch.
Think of God as water. Fish in water don’t think of it as water, they think of it as that in which they live and move and have their being. Everyone has water in their lives, needs water in their lives, whether they are aware of it or not. Humans are, on average, 65% water. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_water.) It is a huge part of what we are. We all need water to survive.
Now, think of all the ads for bottled water. “Buy our water! It has the extra stuff you need! That other water is insufficient!” Or, “Our water is pure! None of that extra stuff you don’t need and will actually hurt you!” “If you buy our water we’ll give a few pennies to bring water to people who don’t have access to it!” “If you buy that water you’re supporting a cause we don’t like!” Think of all the warnings about drinking “free range” water – it might have bacteria in it! And think of all the water that has been so polluted that it is indeed undrinkable.
I don’t want to sell water. Or anything else. I’m not a salesperson. Never have been. I don’t like salespeople. At work, my favorite vendor rep is the guy who says, “Here’s what we’re selling this month. Don’t need it? No worries, let’s go have lunch!” My least favorites are the ones who act like we’re crazy for not buying what they’re selling.
Maybe if we all worked to make clean water freely available to everyone who wants it without any hassle, the world would be a better place. Maybe if we did the same with God, it would be the reign of heaven on earth.