Guest post by ObstacleChick
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19,20)
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:15,16)
Those of us raised in Christianity recognize these verses as the “Great Commission,” the charge to go forth and spread the message of Christianity to the rest of the world. As the only Christian religion in the western world for nearly 1500 years, the Catholic church took this message seriously. Since the Edict of Milan in 313 CE decriminalizing Christianity and gaining Emperor Constantine’s patronage, and later the Edict of Thessalonica of 380 CE making Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire, the Catholic church was intertwined with government for centuries. Spreading a religion is quite easy when supported by the government.
Some Evangelical Christians have taken the Great Commission seriously as well, raising large sums of money to support missionaries to proselytize the “lost” throughout the world. Sometimes the “lost” include Catholics, who are not considered “True Christians” by many Evangelical sects. Anyone who is not part of “True Christianity” is considered “lost” and thus ripe for evangelizing. Evangelical Christians are also exhorted by their pastors to proselytize to their neighbors, friends, and coworkers. Where I grew up in the Bible Belt, most of the people I knew were more or less the “right” type of Christians — Southern Baptists as we were, a variety of other types of Baptists, Church of Christ, Methodists, Church of the Nazarene, etc. It wasn’t until I was 16 and went to work that I met people who were Episcopalian, Lutheran, Catholic, or other “wrong,” “liberal,” or “apostate” Christians. I even met some people who were Hindu, Buddhist, or Jewish. It’s possible that I met a few atheists and didn’t know it! The horror!
During college, I was exposed to ideas that led to my further questioning of Evangelical teachings of inerrancy of the Bible, and by the time I graduated I knew that I needed to escape from the religion. So I applied to graduate schools far away from Tennessee, away from my family and from any pressure to attend their church. Moving to New Jersey, just a stone’s throw from New York City, I was exposed to a wide variety of people and ideas. While it was a culture shock at first, I thrived on learning from the people I met.
My husband was a high school math teacher who started his own tutoring business providing classroom support and SAT and ACT test preparation to high school students. He works with students one on one at their homes, and sometimes he gets to know the students and their families quite well. Before we had children, one of the early clients invited us to a barbecue at their home. They had a large, lovely home with a landscaped yard and beautiful pool. Somehow, my husband and I found ourselves surrounded by a group of guests who all appeared to be in their late teens and early twenties. We had a nice conversation, and suddenly a coffee-table book appeared and one of the guests started showing us pictures of the Bahá’í temple and explaining the Bahá’í faith to us. They told us the miracle story of their prophet Bab who had survived a firing squad of 750 shooters and was found back in his prison cell when the guns fell silent. He was brought out again to a new firing squad as apparently the original executioners refused to participate again, and this time he was killed by gunfire. The Bahá’í evangelists continued to tell us about their religion, and we listened politely.
What. The. Hell?
After we left, my husband asked me if we were just part of some sort of intervention. I explained to him that no, we were targets of proselytizing. As he was raised nominally Catholic and had never experienced proselytizing before, he was very surprised that it could occur in the United States. I explained that Evangelical Christianity does the same thing with their own faith and then commented that the Bahá’í stories were strange. As he aptly put it, their stories were no more strange than Christian stories of a virgin giving birth to a deity’s son who teaches and does some miracles, is crucified, and who supposedly was resurrected from death after three days. I couldn’t argue with his statement.
My husband and I did not become Bahá’í, by the way. In fact, within a decade we had both become agnostic atheists.
A few months ago while we were doing a Spartan race (obstacle races of varying distance and difficulty), a thunderstorm came through and racers were removed from the course and sent to various sheds on the ski slope for safety. When the race resumed, it was nearly dark, so those of us with headlamps were able to make our way safely through the woods. I ended up coming across a young man without a headlamp who had gotten separated from his teammates, so I led him through the dark. He was a Jehovah’s Witness whose entire family were employed at the sect’s headquarters in upstate New York. Cognizant of where the conversation was heading, I let him know that I was raised Southern Baptist before he could start witnessing to me about Jesus. He seemed to be satisfied that I knew Jesus, and technically I did not lie. I debated letting him know that I was currently an atheist, but I didn’t want to scare the poor kid with the knowledge that he was alone in the dark with a middle-aged atheist wearing a headlamp. While I was 28 miles into a 30-mile race and thus physically depleted, my mind was still sharp, and it’s likely that a Jehovah’s Witness would believe that atheists are controlled by Satan which might be scarier to him than the black bears inhabiting the mountains.
Have you ever been the target of proselytizing? What did you think about the experience? Did it lead you to find out more about the religion or did you find it annoying?