07 November 2013

"Sowing the Right Seeds" - in honor of his birthday!


Swallow hard.

My boy turns 18 today.

I hope he'll be celebrating with friends down at school. I hope his day will be special. I can't say that I wish he was here because I know he's where he's supposed to be, learning lots and he keeps assuring me that he's loving it.

We always thought he looked like Popeye in this one.

One of my all time favorites from his growing up years - turning 2.

His first tux...

Just turned 7 - this photo was taken literally days before Victoria joined the family.

He's really not bad, as far as young men off at college go - we hear from him pretty consistently. He texts and calls... and he even takes the time to chat with his sisters...


I've been waiting for an opportunity to share with you a paper he wrote last Spring... and don't miss a bunch more photos down at the very end.

It's called 
~ Sowing the Right Seeds ~

Christianity has had a presence in America since its very first colony. It has been ever present as the colonies took root and bloomed into a nation. Though the U.S.A. was not directly founded on Christian doctrine (Berlinerblau), the latter did have a lasting effect on the values of Western Civilization. These values had migrated over the ocean with the first settlers and provided the base upon which the founding documents of the U.S.A. would later be written. Unfortunately the growth of Christianity has begun to reach a standstill. Fewer and fewer people are going to church and more and more young people are leaving as they age. Atheism and Agnosticism, belief systems whose tenants are often in conflict with Christians, have grown considerably. Over the past five years their numbers have increased from 15% to 20% of the U.S.A.’s population (The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life). Other non-affiliated groups are on the rise as well. Western culture has become disenchanted with Christianity. It sees its members as hypocritical, judgmental, retrograde and primitive. Christians, because of their convictions towards marriage and authority, are seen as anti-progress (Reno). Christianity is seen as a religion of conflict (Ross). This is because of evangelism. Evangelism, or as many non-Christians call it, proselytism, is the keystone of the Christian faith. It involves sharing one’s faith with those around them. It is what allows faith to spread. The inefficient use of evangelism is not only stymieing the growth of new believers but is driving the lost away in Western Society. The reversal of this trend will require a redefinition of the word “evangelism,” a serious look at the efficiency of modern evangelism in the West, and if the latter is found to be lacking, a change in the manner in which it is done.

Evangelism is a core element of Christianity. Without it Christianity could not have grown. The word evangelism comes from a Greek word meaning “to proclaim the good news” (Holman Bible Dictionary). This good news being that Christ had paid for man’s sins with his death, and that man need no longer strive to be righteous by holding to the law but can receive eternal life by believing in Christ’s sacrifice. The doctrine of Evangelism is based on the last message of Christ to his disciples in Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (ESV). Christ exhorts his followers in this passage to go make disciples as he had done and to teach them all that he had through his life, death and resurrection. Evangelism is simply the act of sharing the good news. Its purpose is to spread hope. In this light, evangelism is a very different action then that what non-Christians dub “proselytism”. 

Proselytism means to “convince someone to have the same opinion as one’s self” (Online Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Unfortunately through the misguided, yet well-meaning acts of some “evangelists” the world has come to label all acts of evangelism as “aggressive proselytism.” They do not see it as “sharing the good news” (Holman Bible Dictionary) but as a “persistent abuse of the right conscience:” one group of people consistently violating the rights of those around them by dictating what they believe to be true. Evangelism is seen as the act of “dominionist evangelicals” trying to force their opinions on to others (Clarkson). Missionaries choosing to minister to people in other countries are labeled as exploiters of “the vulnerable and downtrodden” (Ross). Media writers portray Christians as intolerants trying to force their way into every aspect of life (Stewart). Military leaders equate evangelism with sexual assault and harassment as a divisive element in military unity (Clarkson). As can be inferred from the above descriptions, there is a vast chasm of difference between what Christians call “evangelism” and non-Christians “proselytism.” Some would blame this difference on the resistance of a sinful world to Christ’s message. Others would point out the growing reluctance in Christians to share their faith. The problem is slightly more complicated than the above mentioned. An important factor that has played into Christianity’s stagnant state in the West, North America specifically, is the inefficiency or misuse of evangelism.

Georgetown University, a facility with a rich Christian background, has had to formulate a policy to govern proselytism. It forbids “any effort to influence people in ways that depersonalize.” If a Christian university was placed in a position where it felt required, for the good of all its students, to restrict an activity essential to its faith’s tenets, then it is obvious that something has gone wrong. This policy does not so much attack the proselytizers but rather the way in which they were sharing their beliefs. It prevents them from evangelizing in any way that degrades another person (Boorstein). Most Christians would scoff at the notion of evangelism devaluing someone. But all it takes is for someone to generalize evangelism as what “Christians do” and then have “Christians” like Westboro Baptist Church find a spotlight. This church is infamous for picketing military funerals and protesting at gay pride rallies. They show up armed with signs bearing phrases like “God hates Fags”, “God H8s America” and “God H8s U”. These actions have no basis in Christian doctrine and have nothing in common with evangelism. 

Yet when the West thinks of Christians, people like WBC are often what come to mind (Maisel). Civil lawyers also report an increase in the number of harassment cases arising from evangelism (Boorstein). Rick Ross, founder of the Institute for First Amendment Studies describes evangelists as “unethical fishers of men [who] callously drift net the world, not caring who gets caught and damaged along the way” (Ross). Drift netting is a method where a fisherman lets a mile-long net trail from the stern of his boat. At the day’s end he reels it in and keeps the catch he wants. Anything he does not want is jettisoned back into the ocean. Most of the unwanted wildlife is dead at this point. Ross also describes evangelism as a means used by the church for acquiring more political and monetary power. The more believers there are, the larger the offerings. The larger the offerings, the more support can be funneled towards political causes. He goes on to depict them as “predatory proselytizers… [preying] upon…vulnerabilities … [and] feelings of depression and isolation” (Ross). 

Remy Maisel is an undergraduate at Penn State University. She is a Jew and a daily recipient of evangelism at the hands of missions like Campus Crusade. She states that she appreciates the sincerity of those trying to “convert” her but wants them to consider the effect their actions are having on her; how that in constantly “evangelizing” her they are not only annoying her but insulting what she believes. In preaching to her they are decrying her views as false (Maisel). 

Ironically the faculty at Georgetown University is not the only entity dissatisfied with the current use of evangelism. In 2007, Christian students interviewed there stated that the traditional “broadcasting-your-message method had become ineffective in spreading the loving word of God” (Boorstein). Research also shows that the numbers of baptisms and conversions in the U.S.A. have declined (Pinson). With both believers and non-believers criticizing the typical methods used for evangelism in the West, maybe it’s time for Christians to change. Evangelists being described as predators and power-hungry, money-mongers is a far cry from what Christ says his disciples should be known for in John 13:35: “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (ESV).

It is obvious that a radical change in the methods of evangelism and maybe even the Christians themselves is required for evangelism to be effective once more. Nathanael Oaks, a volunteer who works with students at GU, says “the goal of [constant evangelism] isn’t the number of Christians; the goal is to love the people God has placed in your life.” He believes that Christians have lost sight of the true purpose of evangelism and that they are more concerned with the number of conversions rather than the quality. Students there are also reporting a growing tendency towards quiet witness and genuine acts of service as opposed to judgmental rants and outspoken fire and brimstone speeches. Their concern is that in a Christian’s enthusiasm to share the good news, he will push the truth so hard that he comes across as intolerant and overbearing. A popular mantra among these students is “preach the Gospel; if necessary use words” (Boorstein). They believe in letting their actions speak for themselves. 

Another component contributing to inefficient evangelism is a tendency for Christians to use the phrase “the U.S. was founded on Christianity” to support their pro-Christian arguments. In using it as justification for their evangelism they come across as arrogant as well as ignorant. They cannot “reclaim” their Christian country because it was never Christian in the first place. The Treaty of Tripoli, signed in 1796, was a document that negotiated peace between the U.S.A. and the Pirates of the Islamic Barbary Coast. The treaty justifies the alliance with the Muslims “as the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion” (Berlinerblau). Furthermore the presence of Christians in politics is hurting their evangelization efforts. In pushing for faith-friendly policies, they are effectively forcing their worldview and values on an already antagonistic country.

There are a variety of factors affecting the current inefficiency in evangelization in the West. They come from both Christians and non-Christians. The growth of unaffiliated systems like Atheism plays as much a part in how evangelism is viewed as the efforts of “Christians” like Westboro Baptist Church and their message of hate. An old proverb says “actions speak louder than words”. Just as students at GU are leaning more towards trying to live out their faith, so do other Christians need to make an effort to reflect Christ in their lives. The West is tired of Christian speeches and terminology. They are weary of listening to Christians rant about what they are not: anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-change. They are assailed with mixed messages: God loves people but hates gays (Maisel). Maybe it is time for Christians to stop worrying about their political standing and representation, and live as Christ and the early church did: their faith made obvious by the love they lived. And yes, Christians do “target” the downtrodden and vulnerable. They do seek to aid those who are lonely and depressed. But as Christ said in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous but the sinners” (ESV). The good news is for everyone, but only people who are discontent want it. People who are content with their earthly fare have no desire to worry about eternity. They live in the present. Is it no wonder then, that in the materialistic and hedonistic West, when faced with Evangelists declaring that the way to salvation has been provided, they scoff. If they do not believe in sin, then how can they believe in or want salvation?

To reverse the current trend of the decline and inefficiency of evangelism in the West, Christians need to redefine the word evangelism as according to the Bible. They need to reevaluate their form of evangelism and make sure it falls under the category of “sharing the good news” (Holman Bible Dictionary) as opposed to trying to “convert” (Online Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Finally if they discover that their method of faith sharing has been inappropriate they need to make amends. People will forgive. Not all non-Christians are as aggressive as men like Rick Ross. Some, like Penn State Undergraduate Remy Raisel, do appreciate the genuine effort of some Christians to share what they believe to be the “good news.” But when evangelism is replaced by hate speech directed at homosexuals and pro-abortionists (Maisel), and is equated with sexual assault (Clarkson), something is definitely wrong. By using hate speech Christians are not only driving away those who might believe in their message and going specifically against Christ’s last mandate, they are making a mockery of the very Savior they claim to serve. Christians are here to invest positively in others, to sow seeds of peace and love (Boorstein). Yes, divisions, even conflicts arise from non-Christians turning to Christ, but that is work of an unworldly message taking root in a worldly heart. Christians are not here to “depersonalize,” (Boorstein) but to help each and every person find themselves in Christ. They are here not to prey upon the vulnerable, but to help them find hope. If the world wants to label Christians as “narrow-minded” so be it, that is a consequence of serving a Holy God in a sinful world. But Christians do not need to exacerbate the condition by corrupting their purpose. 

Works Cited
  1. Berlinerblau, Jacques. "Is America a Christian or Secular Nation?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 May 2013.
  2. Boorstein, Michelle. "Spreading the Word." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 21 July 2007. Web. 20 May 2013.
  3. Clarkson, Frederick. "Daily Kos.": Christian Right Default: Blame the Jews. Kos Media, LLC, 04 May 2013. Web. 23 May 2013.
  4. “Holman Bible Dictionary.” StudyLight.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2013.
  5. Maisel, Remy M. "Please Stop Trying to Convert Me." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 08 Nov. 2012. Web. 23 May 2013. 
  6. Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 29 May 2013. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/>.
  7. No Religion' on the Rise: 19.6% Have No Religious Affiliation - Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Rep. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 9 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 May 2013.
  8. Pinson, William M., Jr. "The Apparent Decline in Evangelism by Baptists in the United States of America." History Speaks (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 23 May 2013.
  9. Reno, Russell R. "Religion and Public Life in America." Speech. Hillsdale College 
  10. National Leadership Seminar. Bonita Springs, Florida. 20 Feb. 2013. Hillsdale College. Imprimis, Apr. 2013. Web. 19 May 2013.
  11. Ross, Rick. "The Missionary Threat." The Missionary Threat (1995): n. pag. The Missionary Threat. Institute for First Amendment Studies. Web. 20 May 2013.
  12. Stewart, Katherine. "How Evangelicals Are Making Children Their Missionaries in Public Schools." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 25 Sept. 2012. Web. 20 May 2013.
  13. ESV: Study Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007. 

And a few photos scavenged from Facebook... from new friends at Messiah...

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