Larry Dixon, an Evangelical preacher and professor, mentioned me again in a recent post on his blog. I am starting to think that Larry wants to have a bromance with me. Sorry Larry, I’m married, hopelessly heterosexual, and I definitely don’t socialize with people who see me as a target for evangelization. I am quite content with being an apostate reprobate who is headed to a mythical Lake of Fire. Now, if you want to join me and Christopher Hitchens in Hell, then maybe, just maybe, we can be friends.
Dixon recently wrote a post titled, What if this Happened in Starbucks? Evidently, Dixon was deep in sleep one night and had what can only described as an Evangelical wet dream. Much like the Bible, what follows is not a true story. I’ll let Larry explain:
So this morning (Sunday morning), I went to Starbucks to get coffee for my wife. The church we attend has a break between services, so I went to get her coffee and a multi-grain bagel.
The place was packed. The six or so Starbucks’ employees that were working behind the counter were swamped. One customer was upset because he was still waiting for his cheese danish. Most of the chairs and tables were taken. People were meeting with friends; laptops were everywhere
Before I placed my order, something came over me. I felt a profound burden to speak to the whole room:
“Hey! Forgive me for interrupting you folks, but I’ve got a critical question to ask you. Are you ready?”
People looked nervous. Nobody speaks to the whole group gathered in a Starbucks! Who was this kook?, they probably thought to themselves. Some of the men looked like they were examining me for a hidden weapon of some kind.
“Why aren’t you people in church?! There are a lot of good churches within a couple of miles of here. Has Starbucks become your church?”
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that one of the baristas was on the phone, probably calling the police. I knew my opportunity would soon be over.
“Folks, I’m not trying to be offensive, But shouldn’t all of you be in a church of some kind, worshiping the Lord Jesus for all He’s done for you? He died for your sins. As the Creator, He’s the One who gives you the next lungful of air that you breathe. Unless you’re on a break from your church like me, what are you doing here?!”
As I looked over this group of about thirty people, there were a few whose faces looked very angry. I had disturbed their Sunday morning quiet time at Starbucks. One or two looked, well, almost remorseful. Maybe they had given up on the church a long time ago, but the truth of Jesus’ giving His life for them seemed to rush back to their minds. The rest, to be honest, were each dialing 9-1-1.
Then I saw the flashing lights outside. As the police officer came in and gently led me to his patrol car, I thought, “Wait! I forgot to get the coffee and bagel for my wife!”
I can imagine Dixon awaking with quite a chubby after this dream. No Jesus viagra needed. Larry was standing at attention, proud of his boldness for the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Savior of his non-existent soul.
Friends: Just so you know, this did not happen. But I thought about it. And I know my friend Bruce (a former preacher-turned-atheist) who sometimes reads my blog would say, “Why in the world did you think you had the right to interrupt those people with your silly message? They didn’t ask you, did they?!”
And he would be right. No one asked me to break into their peaceful moment at Starbucks with the gospel. But what if I did?
Dixon is right when he says I would likely have asked him why he thought he had to the “right” to interrupt people with his condemnations. And he WAS condemning them for NOT being in church. Quite John the Baptist of him. It seems strange to this unwashed, uncircumcised Philistine that Dixon dreams about going into places of business and condemning people he doesn’t know. Maybe the people at Starbucks were Observant Jews, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Seventh Day Baptists, or even garden variety Evangelicals who attend houses of worship on Saturday. Dixon judges the patrons at Starbucks without having sufficient evidence to do so.
People have a right to shop, eat, walk, and play in peace. Unfortunately, Evangelical zealots believe their right to evangelize supersedes your right to peace, quiet, and a nut-free life. If Larry actually went into a Starbucks and fulfilled in real life his dream, he would be breaking the law. You see, the U.S. Constitution guarantees Dixon’s right to evangelize in public spaces, but not in private parks, institutions, malls, and businesses. Dixon, by breaking the law also breaks the law of God. Romans 13:1 states: Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Dixon could legally stand in front of Starbucks and preach, hand out tracts, and condemn people for not being in church or being gay to his heart’s content. Unlike Dixon, I actually took the gospel to the streets for a number of years. I publicly preached on street corners throughout southeast Ohio, and in Columbus, Washington D.C. and New Orleans. I handed out thousands of tracts and witnessed one-on-one to countless people. But what I didn’t do is invade people’s private space, nor did I tell them that I wanted to be fake friends with them. I was certainly outspoken, but I also respected the wishes and space of others. Going into a Starbucks and preaching was never on my radar. First, doing so was against the law. Second, it was rude. And third, to what end? I sure told those coffee- swilling sinners the truth, bless God. And how many of them followed after you to your house of worship? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. The answer is NONE!
If I were still an Evangelical preacher, what would trouble me the most about Dixon’s story is the Jesus-less gospel he preached. Sure, Dixon gives passing mention to Jesus, but the thrust of his message is what? What are you guys doing here? Why aren’t you in church? Has Starbucks become your church?
Dixon is preaching a common gospel found in Evangelical circles — especially among Baptists. “Go to church and thou shalt be saved,” says this gospel. Inside the Evangelical version of the Masonic or Mormon Temple, “secrets” will be revealed. Typical Evangelical modus operandi is to get naive people in the door, lower their inhibitions with “cool” music, and then tell them just enough Jesus for them to walk the sawdust trail and get s-a-v-e-d. It’s only after people have been saved that they learn that their continued salvation and eternal happiness requires a long list of works. Chief on that list is attending church every time the doors are open. Well, that and tithing.
Perhaps Dixon is just sharing different ways to evangelize people; though I sincerely wonder how effective it is to go into Starbucks and condemn patrons for sipping on coffee instead of Jesus. My advice to Evangelical zealots is that they stop with all the magic tricks and games they use to “attract” people to the gospel. Instead, just be brutally honest. Tell people the truth about the requirements for salvation and continued membership in the Club. Let sinners know that they will be expected to devote Sundays and Wednesdays and other nights throughout the year listening to preaching, studying the Bible, and hearing boring, monotonous praise and worship music played and sung by rocker wannabees. Let them know that their family and sex life will have to align with teachings found in a Bronze Age religious text. Let them know their children will be expected to attend indoctrination classes from elementary school through college. There will be fun, food, and fellowship, but lots of Fundamentalist dogma too. Let them know that, in time, the church family will become more important than their flesh and blood family. And most of all, tell them they will be on a finance company-like contract. This contract requires them to pay ten percent of their gross income each week to the church, and several times a year they will be expected to make balloon payments called mission offerings, faith promise offerings, Lottie Moon offerings, and love offerings. And surely they should be told that sometimes God will tell their preacher to ask for additional money for buildings, trips, and anything else the preacher/church board fancies.
Imagine how few people would sign on the dotted line if the fine print was printed in an Arial font, size 24. That’s why evangelizers never tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when witnessing to unbelievers. Get them in church, give them enough Jesus to get saved, and let the Holy Spirit work out the details, right?
Now you know, Larry, what your friend Bruce would say. 🙂 I am always happy to answer your questions (or assertions). Be well. And get your wife her damn coffee and bagel. Your salvation in this life depends on it.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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