Today, I received an email from an Evangelical Christian who thinks I misunderstand Evangelical Christianity. He doesn’t question my understanding of Evangelical theology. Instead, he thinks I misunderstand WHY Evangelicals continue to evangelize me. He hopes that I will “PLEASE listen with open ears (unless you want to stoop to the same level as those people who comment without reading your posts).”
The email writer seems to be a decent person, but I learned a long time ago that just because an Evangelical is initially kind, decent, and respectful doesn’t mean they will continue to be this way. Recent emails from David R. Leach are case in point. Leach’s first email was every bit as thoughtful as this man’s email. However, once I responded in kind, Leach dropped the façade and went for my throat. (see Bruce, You Have a Narcissistic and Bankrupt Heart) Long time readers of this blog remember a Baptist preacher by the name of Marty. Marty came across as a decent, thoughtful man. His comments were generally polite and respectful. But, over time his comments became increasingly hostile and then BOOM the proverbial shit hit the fan. It was not long before Marty was permanently banned from this site. So, I hope the email writer will forgive me if I don’t necessarily trust him.
Like many Evangelicals who write me, he wants me to know that he is NOT like the nasty, bombastic, hateful Evangelicals who write me or leave comments on my blog. In other words, yes we are family but those folks are the crazy uncle of the family. Here’s what he had to say:
First off, I want you to know that I am sympathetic. It makes me angry when “Christians” comment on blog posts, send emails, or write letters simply to condemn a fellow human who doesn’t believe the same thing. I also want you to know that my goal isn’t to try to convert you, quote verses at you, accuse you of bitterness or anger, or to claim that I know the “truth” about you. My goal is simply to explain, in love and humility, why (not all, obviously, but some) evangelical Christians do try to “convert” you.
I understand where he is coming from. When I see some atheists act like petulant children who think that a turd throwing contest with a fundamentalist is a thoughtful conversation, it embarrasses me. I want to shout, I am NOT like them. Most Christians who take the time to get to know me come to the conclusion that I am, in their eyes wrong about many things, but, as a person, I am decent, kind, and loving. Those who don’t see me this way are agenda driven, having a need to justify their horrendous behavior towards me. What better way to do so than paint me as a demonic inspired evil man This Bruce Gerencser exists only in the addled mind of Christian fundamentalists.
The email writer asks:
Have you ever seen the video where the atheist comedian Penn Jillette speaks about his encounter with the loving evangelist? This stranger gave Penn a Bible, along with a note, and Penn’s response describes exactly what evangelical Christianity is all about.
He said, “If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell—or not getting eternal life or whatever—and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. . . . How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
Yes, I have seen the video and I agree with Penn Jillette. If I really believed what the Bible says, then I would witness and evangelize too. How could I not do so, knowing that judgment and hell await those who do not repent of their sins and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior? And that is exactly what I did for over twenty-five years. I took seriously the teachings of the Bible and the exclusivity of the Christian gospel. As a result, hundreds of people were converted through my preaching. I get it. Life is short, hell is real. Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.
And that’s the point…I GET IT. Been there, done that. What is an Evangelical going to tell me that I haven’t heard before? Is there a new gospel or a new method? Did God throw over the portal of heaven some new books to be added to the Bible? Of course not. Same gospel, same methodology. I suspect I have used, at one time or the other, almost every Evangelical evangelistic method. At this late date, as the sun is long in the sky of my life, I highly doubt an Evangelical is going to surprise me with something I haven’t heard before. After seven years of blogging and hundreds and hundreds of Evangelicals emailing me and commenting on my blogs, I have yet to read something new. I suspect the former Evangelicals who frequent this blog will say the same.
That’s why when the email writer says:
Now, I understand your frustration when Christians try to tell you you’re wrong, try to convert you, or tell you they’re praying for you. I know it’s frustrating when they assume things and accuse you of being a filthy sinner. Sometimes they are in the wrong (lacking love and humility, speaking in anger, etc), but often times they are just warning you of what they believe is truth. I’ve read a couple of your posts now, and you seem like a reasonable man. My request to you is simple: try to hear what evangelicals are saying without assuming cynical motives–consider what they’re saying from their own point of view. When I “evangelize,” I’m doing it out of love. I’m doing it because I don’t want to see another human suffer; because I believe that the Bible is true and hell exists. If I didn’t try to share that truth with people, what kind of person would that make me?
he fails the appreciate the overwhelming amount of email, tweets, blog comments, and Facebook comments, I have received from Evangelicals. He fails to appreciate the sermons that have been preached about me and the blog posts that have been dedicated to deconstructing my life. Many of these things are just a reminder that there are a lot of assholes in the Evangelical church. Others? I am sure they are sincere. They want me to be saved, brought back to Christ, etc. But, here’s the thing, there’s seven billion people living on planet earth. From the narrow perspective of the Evangelical, this means there are billions of people who need to hear the Evangelical gospel. Why spend one moment trying to evangelize someone who has zero interest in the snake oil that Evangelicals are selling? Since I have no need of being educated in the gospel message, if God wants me saved or brought back into the fold, surely he is able to do it without further human instrumentation, right?
The email writer wants me to know that Evangelicals write me because they love me. They don’t want me to die and go to hell. I am not sure I believe this. I think that many Evangelicals THINK this is their motivation for writing me, but, I ask again, why focus on me, a man who has made it very clear that he has no interest in Christianity or the Christian gospel. Since I think many Evangelical churches are either cultic or have cultic tendencies, in what universe would I be considered a viable candidate for salvation and re-entrance into the Evangelical church?
You see, I think Evangelicals are less than honest about their motivations. Perhaps, I should give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they might not even be aware of what their motives are. Here’s what I think:
- Wouldn’t it be great story if someone was the means God used to bring me to saving faith or to bring me back into the Evangelical fold? I am not just a generic sinner in need of saving. Oh no, I am the Evangelical pastor turned atheist, a man who once preached the gospel and now preaches atheism. Can you imagine the book sales and speaking opportunities I could have if I renounced atheism?
- Many of the Evangelicals who write me need to have their beliefs reinforced. They NEED the battle. They NEED the bloodshed. What better place to come than They Way Forward? By sending me an email or leaving a blog comment, they reminding themselves of the truth of the Evangelical gospel. I am not their real target. They want affirmation that they are right.
- Some Evangelicals who write me actually have doubts about their own salvation and beliefs. They have questions about the Bible. They wonder, is what I believe really the truth? They may initially come off as just another evangelizing Evangelical, but underneath their bravado is a doubter, a person who wonders if they will some day become just like me.
Regular readers know I have six children. I love my children and I want them to have safe, peaceful, happy, productive lives. When our children started moving out and getting married, Polly and I established a hard and fast rule that governs our involvement in the lives of our children. If they ask a question or want our opinion then we will give it. If they get upset at our answer then that is their fault. Don’t ask if you don’t want to know. If they don’t ask, we keep our opinions to ourselves. They know we have opinions about most everything they do, from the color of the paint in their kitchen to the car they bought. But, it is not our place to meddle in their life. If an issue is important, perhaps life threatening, we will give our opinion one time. The discussion usually goes something this, I know you might not want to hear this but I need to tell you __________________. Most often, they will reply, I know or I hear you. And that’s it. Their life and they are free to do with it what they want. I still love them even if they make choices that I don’t approve of.
Here’s my point, I don’t need to harp at my children to get my point across. We are adults and we are capable of having adult conversations. No need to keep repeating my objection. They get it, I object, but they are going to do what they are going to do. I wish evangelizing Evangelicals would see things this way. Over the course of seven years, I have been evangelized more times than I can count. I really don’t need to hear it anymore. I get it, you think I am going to hell and you want to save me from myself. I don’t want to be saved, and quite frankly if I have to choose between a heaven filled with Evangelicals and a hell populated with the eclectic unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines that read this blog, I am going to choose hell every time.
The email writer doesn’t think much of the page Dear Evangelical. It is a page I put together to answer every question and objection an Evangelical might have. It is meant to keep people like this email writer from wasting their time by emailing me or leaving a comment. He writes:
When I read through some of your posts, especially the “Dear Evangelical” page, your comments regarding evangelistic responses seemed somewhat unfair to me. In your rules, you make it clear that any sort of “warning” from Christians is unacceptable and will be disapproved. Those Christians are sharing what they believe so that fewer people will have to experience the eternal torment they know as hell.
Whether you believe in that eternal damnation or not, please understand that the warning is an expression of love. To ban this sort of comment is the same thing as saying, “Nobody is allowed to warn that man over there, even though some of you believe he’s about to get hit by a truck. This blog isn’t for people who believe that the truck is coming, so warnings are not allowed.” There are two points that I’m trying to make: 1) Why disregard the comments and portray them as annoying, when they’re meant as an expression of love? And 2) What if you’re wrong about the existence of that truck? Wouldn’t it be better to allow an open discussion about that truck, so the man has the ability to decide for himself whether he’s about to get hit or not?
Despite all the warning signs and roadblocks I put in the way of zealots for Jesus, they either ignore them or they think they don’t apply. They show me through their behavior that they have little respect for me. If they respected me, they would accept the fact that I am not a prospect for heaven and they let me go to hell in peace. It is, after all, my choice, right? And here come the Calvinists to remind me that it is NOT my choice but God’s. Fine, then let God email me. When THAT happens I will most certainly pay attention.
The email writer is confused about the purpose of this blog. Like many Evangelicals, he thinks his God-given right to evangelize supersedes my right to personal space and free association. (see Steve Sanchez Thinks He has a Right to Harass People for Jesus) While anyone can read my writing, that doesn’t mean they also have a right to comment. I want to build a community here, a community of people who have common interests. Oh, we squabble every once in a while over politics or Honey Boo Boo, but generally the people who comment on this blog are in agreement with what I write. When they don’t agree with me, they voice their objection and I try to learn from them. That’s how it works here.
The Way Forward community is a varied lot. Dare I say a motley, Heinz-57 lot? Think everyone who comments here is an atheist? Don’t put that in writing…you will find out quickly that the spectrum of belief and unbelief is quite broad. There’s even a smattering of Evangelicals, odd ducks to be sure, who have learned to play well with others. Christians of all sorts, atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, universalists, and pagans. We are one, big messed up adopted family.
The one thing most regular readers and commenters have in common is that we understand Evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Some us spent a lifetime in the Evangelical trenches and we have the mental and emotional scars to prove it. And some, tragically, have the the physical scars to prove it. Since I think Evangelicalism is generally abusive and mentally and emotionally harmful, would it be right for me to allow Evangelical zealots the freedom to evangelize at will in the comment section? In my mind, that would be like inviting a convicted child molester to my child’s birthday party. Not going to happen. Since I know that back story of some of the people who regularly comment, it would be irresponsible for me to let Evangelical evangelizers run roughshod over people I consider my friends.
The email writer needs to understand that I am not interested in open discussion with Evangelicals. I have no desire to debate them, argue with them, or disabuse them of their mythical beliefs. I give each Evangelical one opportunity to say whatever they want to say. No one has been banned before they comment. Every Evangelical that has a Jesus hard on is free to leave one comment; one comment for them to say everything they think God is leading them to say. If they show the ability to play well with others I might let them comment again. If I think some good can come from having a discussion with them then I will play along. Sadly, in almost every case, when I give an Evangelical enough rope to hang themselves, they in short order follow in the steps of Judas.
I get it, Evangelicals want the right to defecate in my cat box They see all the heresy and error espoused by not only me but the deluded people who comment here, so they want to make sure we all know the truth. They either forget or don’t care that most of us have forgotten more theology than they will ever know. I know it is shocking, but there are people who look at the wonderful grace of Jesus and say no thanks! There is nothing within the Evangelical church and its beliefs that is even remotely interesting to me. If I am given the opportunity to choose between Sunday church with a bunch of Jesus loving Evangelicals and an NFL football game, even if it is the Jets vs the Raiders, I am going to choose the NFL e-v-e-r-y time.
In the end, no matter how nice this Evangelical seemed, he couldn’t help himself. Here’s how he ended his email:
Even though you obviously don’t appreciate when Christians pray for you, I just did. I prayed for you because I love you as a fellow person, and because I believe that this matter is of the utmost importance. I will continue to pray for you, because I don’t want to see you face eternal damnation.
He KNOWS I don’t appreciate Christians telling me that they are praying for me, yet he tells me anyway. In one brief act he illustrates the point my counselor made to me several years ago. I naïvely thought that if I just told my story and explained myself to Evangelicals they would “understand.” My counselor laughed and said, Bruce, you think they should give a shit about what you think. They don’t. I now know this to be true
The email writer could have prayed for me without telling me. Does his prayer become more efficacious if he tells me? Why not pray in secret for my soul? Why not go into the holy of holies and grab the horns of the altar and bombard the heavens with prayers for my soul? Instead, this Evangelical does the one thing I ask him not to do.
3,090 words. Didn’t I just say in a previous post that people quit reading after a thousand words?