Over the last few months (it’s hard to believe that I’m now in my 3rd month as a pedicab driver in OKC), I’ve encountered quite a few street evangelists.
The basic approaches I’ve seen are…
1. One old man just walks around with a sign. I’ve talked to him briefly but he doesn’t seem very pushy.
2. One church sets up a little booth on the sidewalk where they give out Bibles and agree to answer any questions folks have (a clever approach and one that I like because they are only talking to folks who want to talk to them).
3. Several young men (early 20’s) behave like bullies. They walk around with signs, and then periodically stand on a step stool and “preach” using a bullhorn about how everyone is going to hell unless they repent. They mostly seem to revel in making young women cry after they attack their virtue. (I’m not making this up)
4. Several conservatively dressed middle-aged men are out handing out tracts. These folks seem pretty mellow and smile alot (strangely enough, smiling is a rare trait for most of the evangelists). I don’t know much about them, but I got a good vibe from them.
5. The last and most common approach is by the disciples of Ray Comfort (IMHO, a total wackjob who with Kirk Cameron… yes that Kirk Cameron, runs the Way of the Master ministry that advocates a fire and brimstone approach to conversion. — This group mostly does kinda sneaky things like handing out phony Million Dollar bills or doing these silly quizes in which the point is to convince folks that they are sinners who will burn in hell if they do not say the magic words (ok, that’s not how they describe it) and become “true converts” to Jesus.
Now I know that I’m not an Evangelical and so it not be fair to judge their faith perspective, but I must say that I’m really troubled by the message and methods of some of these evangelists. First of all, I hear a continual lack of respect by these evangelists. They assume from the get-go that the folks they talk to are sinners, instead of assuming that the folks they talk to are their brothers and sisters. And moreover, if you attempt to give your own viewpoint, they tend to refuse to engage with you on any deep level and instead reiterate their own points (or if you express any theological uncertainty… and only fools don’t have some uncertainty… they often will latch up that as their avenue to go for the jugular).
But also along the same lines is that fact that many of these evangelists do not see the folks they are talking to as fellow human beings who are trying to find their way in the universe, but instead see them as evangelistic targets.
And finally I’m troubled by the use of cheap gimmics (i.e. the Million dollar bills) that make the gospel sound like something that has to be hawked like a new nightclub that is opening up, and by the use by some of extreme pscyhological manipulation and bullying. (a good tipoff might be that if you make folks cry, you’ve gone WAY TOO FAR. I’m sorry but a stranger doesn’t have the right to go there with someone they are attempting to proseltize.
So anyway, I know I’m venting here, but I do wish that Christians would start focusing on what Jesus actually spent his life on (setting captives free, showing mercy to those who are hurt, bringing hope to the oppressed, and calling the rich fatcats of the political-religious establishment to task for their role in keeping poor folks down). Sure, I hope folks share the message (and I guess to that extent I’m an “evangelical”), but I think the message is deeper and broader than ensuring folks will have a good afterlife, but rather is about bringing about the Kingdom of God in the here and now, living out the radical message of the Sermon on the Mount.
Of course, what do you do about it? The first few times I saw the evangelists, I humored them and told them what they wanted to hear (I was afraid of hurting their feelings). Later on, I got pissed off by seeing them bully people, so I started heckleing them (my favorite tack was to yell “There is no hell!” whenever the bullies with bullhorns started telling folks they would go there… and what do you know, they said to me “Oh yes there is a hell, and you’ll go there if you don’t repent!”) And now, I guess I’m trying to let go of the need to heckle them. A good friend said, “you can’t hate the haters,” but boy it’s hard to do that.
Anyway those are just some random thoughts I’ve had about these folks. (of course, only in OKC would there be so many different evangelistic folks in the downtown entertainment district!) I wish I knew better how to handle their presence in a loving way.