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Christmas: A Plea to Evangelicals Who Evangelize Non-Christian Family Members

confrontational evangelism
Evangelical Tom “shares” the gospel with Atheist Jean

Christmas: it’s that time of year. Joy to the World. Handel’s Messiah. Cookies and fudge. Eggnog. Shopping. Evergreen trees decked with ornaments and lights. Cards. Presents. Ugly sweaters. Family gatherings. Excited grandchildren. Ah, the wonders of the Christmas season.

But there’s one aspect of Christmas hated by non-Christians, and that’s their Evangelical relatives and friends using the holiday as an opportunity to evangelize those they deem lost and headed for Hell.

From tracts stuffed into Christmas cards to Christian-themed gifts, evangelistically-motivated Evangelicals make sure that their non-Christian family members and friends know that Jesus is the Reason for Season and that unless they know The Prince of Peace, They will Have No Peace.

Even worse are those Evangelicals who make a concerted effort to talk to unsaved relatives about their spiritual condition at their family Christmas gatherings. Told by their pastors to use the Christmas season, with its focus on joy and family, as an opportunity to witness to the lost, Evangelicals make concerted efforts to put in a good word for Jesus whenever they are given the opportunity to do so.

We’ve all been there. We’re hanging out with our family at the annual Christmas gathering: eating Mom’s food, swapping childhood stories, drinking wine, laughing, and enjoying life. And out of the corner of our eye we see Evangelical Uncle Bob coming towards us. Oh shit, we say to ourselves, not THIS again. “This” being Uncle Bob snuggling up to you so he can tell you for seemingly the hundredth time that Christmas is all about Jesus, and that the greatest gift in the world is the salvation that God offers to every sinner. Sinner, of course, being you. And as in every other year, you will politely listen, smile, and think in your mind, just one time I’d like to tell Uncle Bob to take his religion and shove it up his ass. Your thoughts will remain unspoken, and after your evangelizing relative is finished extolling the wonders of Jesus and his blood, you say to him, just as you do every other year, Hey, Uncle Bob, how ’bout them Cowboys? You know that there is one thing that Uncle Bob loves to talk about almost as much as his savior Jesus, and that’s America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys.

Several years ago, Fundamentalist Calvinist pastor John Piper reminded his fellow cultists of the importance of giving non-Christian relatives prayed-over, Bible-saturated books during the Christmas season. Piper wrote:

The Christmas season is ripe for “reviving your concern” (Philippians 4:10) for the spiritual wellbeing of friends and family members. We may lament the expectations of gift-giving and the excesses of holiday spending, but we can take it as an opportunity to invest in eternity by putting God-centered, gospel-rich content into the hands of those we love.

Next to the Bible, perhaps the most enduringly valuable gifts you can give this Christmas are books soaked in God and his grace. Online articles, sermons, and podcast episodes change lives and sustain souls, but they don’t make for typical material Christmas gifts. Printed books, on the other hand, wrap well, and can be just as life-changing and soul-saving, and more.

As Christmas approaches, we wanted to remind you of our recent titles from the team at Desiring God. We’ve done our best to saturate them in the Bible and fill them with God and his gospel, and we’ve prayed over them again that they might be a means of God’s grace not only for you, but also your loved ones…

Randy Newman, Senior Teaching Fellow for Apologetics and Evangelism at the C.S. Lewis Institutesuggests that Evangelicals look for opportunities to share bits of the gospel:

I know this sounds counterintuitive. In fact, to some, this may sound like downright heresy! Some of us have been trained to “make sure to state the whole gospel” or “their blood will be on our hands.” To me, that sounds a bit like a lack of trust in the sovereignty of God. In our day of constant contact (through email, texts, tweets, etc.) we can trust God to string together a partial conversation at Christmas dinner to a follow up discussion the next day, to a phone conversation, to numerous emails, etc. Some of our unsaved family members and friends need to digest parts of the gospel (“How can God be both loving and holy?”) before they can take the next bite (“Jesus’ death resolves the tension of God’s love and his holiness.”)…

Back in the days when I was a fire-breathing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, I encouraged church members to use the Christmas holiday as an opportunity to witness to their unsaved relatives. Hell is hot and death is certain, I told congregants. Dare we ignore their plight? Remember, the Bible says that if we fail to warn our wicked relatives of their wicked ways and they die and go to Hell, their blood will be on our hands. Despite my attempts to guilt church members into evangelizing their relatives, not one member reported successfully doing so. Most of them, I suspect, ignored my preaching and said nothing to their relatives. And those who did likely made half-hearted attempts to interject Jesus into family Christmas discussions. Regardless, not one person was saved as a result of our Christmas witnessing.

Let me conclude this post with a heartfelt, honest appeal from non-Christians to Evangelicals bent on witnessing to family and friends during the Christmas season:

Christmas is all about love, joy, peace, and family. Religion, like politics, is a divisive subject, and talking about it will certainly engender strife and resentment. I know that you think our negative response towards your evangelistic effort is the result of our sinfulness and hatred of God. What you fail to see is that our irritation and anger is the result of your unwillingness to value family more than you do Jesus. Besides, we’ve heard your Jesus shtick before. We get it: we are sinners, Jesus died on the cross for our sins and resurrected from the grave three days later. If we want our sins forgiven, we must repent of our sins and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. If we refuse God’s wonderful offer of salvation and eternal life, when we die, we will go to Hell. See? We heard you. There’s no need for you to keep doing your best imitation of a skipping record. If we ask you a question about your religion, then by all means answer it. We asked, and we wouldn’t have asked if we didn’t want to know. However, if we don’t ask, please keep your religion to yourself. If you truly love and respect us, please leave us alone.

If you choose to ignore our request, we will assume that you are determined to be an asshole for Jesus. While we will likely walk away from you, we might, depending on our mood, decide to give you a dose of your own medicine by sharing why we think your God and Jesus are fictitious. We might even challenge your so-called Bible beliefs. You see, we know a lot more about Christianity than we are telling. It’s not that we don’t know. We do, and we find the Christian narrative intellectually lacking. While Jesus gives your life meaning, purpose, and peace, we have found these same things in atheism, agnosticism, humanism, paganism, or non-Christian religions. We don’t need what you have because we already have it.

Most of us who are non-Christians will spend the Christmas holiday surrounded by believers. In many instances, we will be the only non-Christian in the room. While we love the Christmas season — with its bright colors, feasts, and family gatherings — contemplating the fact that we will be the only atheist at the family Christmas gathering can be stressful. We understand that Christmas is considered a Christian holiday. When Christian prayers are uttered, we will respectfully bow our heads.  When Christmas carols are sung around the hearth, we will likely join in (many of us like singing Christmas songs). We will do our best to blend in.

Please, for one day, when we are all gathered together in expression of our love for one another, leave Jesus and your religion at the door. By all means, if you must talk about Jesus, seek out like-minded Christian family members and talk to them. When talking to us, let’s agree to talk about the things we have in common: family, childhood experiences, and our favorite football team.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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  1. Avatar

    I always hated that verse about their blood being on my hands. I couldn’t admit it of course. But now I see why i hated it. it’s a complete lack of boundaries. Each of us is responsible for our own lives, which is more than enough to handle. Why do we need to feel responsible for the whole world?

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    Tammy, it took me half my life ( over a quarter century) to even think that most obvious, simple question…. half my life. And every time I hear someone express it, I still have to weep a bit because it make me feel that somebody else knows… I’m in my sixties now. I appreciate what you are saying and am thankful for it.

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    J.D. Matthews

    Yeah, I’m not bowing my head for the prayer. Sorry, but I draw the line there. And I don’t care if it’s awkward. Not holding hands either.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    I am so lucky that my in-laws have gotten less overtly religious over the years. When I first married in 1980, Mom had just a couple of years previously given up attending church (she’d finally gotten too disgusted with church politics) and was still obviously a devout Evangelical Christian. Fortunately, Dad was never that into religion himself. But I married into a household where alcohol was verboten, swearing was seriously frowned upon, prayers were required before every meal, and my Catholic background was suspect. I tiptoed around religion for years. Husband managed to avoid the issue altogether, but I spent more time with Mom than he did.

    36 years later, the situation has changed completely. Mom is still Christian, but is more prayer-focused and love-one-another focused than Bible-focused now. I have been served wine by my in-laws. With multiple atheists in the family, they’ve abandoned before-meal prayers. One of their children and her husband converted to Mormonism, a granddaughter converted to Catholicism, and by golly, the sky didn’t fall. I can even make Mom chuckle with a very well-placed swearword.

    I now look forward to Christmas with my in-laws.

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    In the UK every year, churches advertise carol services and carols by candlelight and report how thrilled they are that these services pack out their churches. I too used to be pleased these heathen came once a year and was (delusionally) convinced they would get converted at them – which never happened of course. In 5 decades of fundyism, I can’t recall knowing of one person who ‘accepted jesus’ through attending a service where they peered through the gloom of a candle-lit cold church. And savvy churches worked out that if you got kids to perform, then parents came to watch and again. we’d get lots of miraculous conversions – NOT! And we’d just jesus on and jesus harder (as Captain Cassidy says) with plans for Easter miracles to happen instead
    As you say, Bruce, the dark side is a much happier place! I recommend it heartily.

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      Getting a poorly-printed leaflet through the door every Christmas time which bears the times of services for three of the local churches (the leaflet is produced ecumenically) reminds me rather forcefully of all the days the rest of the year when I see no evidence of these people. I live in a small town in England, people see me out and about with my son who has autism and severe learning disability, and in all the years my son has lived on the planet, the town’s Christians have been notable by their absence: no offers of practical support, hardly ever even a greeting in the street. But when Christmas rolls along, without fail, they have a recruitment drive. “By their fruits shall ye know them”?

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    Just started following this site, and very pleased to find those of like mind!

    I’m not an atheist myself, but dealing with my Bible verse spitting sister and her husband for years has made me appreciate what non- believers and former believers have to deal with at this time of the year. We finally cut off contact with her a year ago. Their religious bullshit is a part of it, but there is a cultural gap between us as well that made us realize that some family relationships are simply not worth maintaining. The aggravation and yes, the pain, are simply not worth it. Better to surround yourself with friends whose company is a pleasure rather than an onerous obligation.

    Cold? Perhaps. As we are now in our sixties the realization that life is too damned short to suffer fools- even fools within one’s family- was a reality check.

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    Ross Kardon

    About pushy evangelical fundamentalists being extremely aggressive to convert relatives, friends, and even strangers, I remember reading a magazine article in the 1970’s about the rising religious right, In this article, I read of a case where, a when a Jewish boy went to the dentist, who just so happened to be a Christian fundamentalist.

    When this dentist was working on his teeth, he made an very aggressive effort to try to convert the kid! Talk about a captive audience!

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    John Arthur

    One of the problems with evangelical Fundamentalists is that they have an “us” and “them” mentality and they make Christmas time so difficult for their non Christian relatives. They often don’t seem to have the capacity to look at our common humanity (all human beings created in the image or likeness of God to use Christian terminology) and to focus on what lifts us all up and to be joyful without creating unnecessary division by reverting to conversion tactics or bible bashing their relatives.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Christmas is one of the few times in a year to make happy memories that last over the decades. It makes sense to at least save that preaching effort for other times of the year, unless you are asked to do otherwise. Now that it’s 2020 and another Christmas is on the horizon, I hope that happy memories can come first, and the Bible later, whenever it gets done. Much less antagonistic that way.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Christmas is one of the few times in a year to make happy memories that last over the decades. It makes sense to at least save that preaching effort for other times of the year, unless you are asked to do otherwise. Now that it’s 2020 and another Christmas is on the horizon, I hope that happy memories can come first, and the Bible later, whenever it gets done. Much less antagonistic that way. Besides, nagging never works, lol.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    I don’t much care if the proselytizers drone on anymore. Remember the first talking dolls, well, the ones from the 1960’s? Chatty Cathy? You pulled a string on her back and she spoke a phrase. Evangelical Chatty Cathy pulls her own string whenever she sees an opportunity to repeat the same-old same-old… It all falls into insensible syllables in my ears now.

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    My mother could never miss an opportunity to make any event an opportunity to preach. Never mind that everyone present already believed five minutes could not go by without mention of Jesus. If someone felt the need to constantly mention uncle Bob regardless of the occasion you might feel she was a little off but replace uncle Bob with Jesus and it’s not something you can criticize. Nothing can bring down a group of people, even Christians, who are having a great time than the sudden entrance of Jesus into the festivities.

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    Douglas Kolacki

    I cringed the moment I saw that picture. When I visited my older brother as a new convert in 1985, that was me.

    Curiously, just this past Friday, my brother and I exchanged emails, reminiscing about our lives. One thing I wrote to him was:

    About religion, I think I’m wiser about it now. It’s dominated by an unfortunate recruiting-drive mentality as you know, and which you saw on full display in me. It puts undue pressure on believers and spawns guilt. What would you think of a Christian quoting Ayn Rand? “The worst guilt is to accept an unearned guilt.” I sort of blush to remember that time in 1985. If I could live it over again, when you told me you were set in your ways, I would have just said “OK” and that would have been the end of it.<

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    I thought Christmas was all about colonizing an innocent festive season celebrating the fact that warmer days would returen with the changing of the seasons – and hoping like hell that the season Would change to spring once again whilst feasting so as not to waste food in case the world ended this time.

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      dale M

      Yep. The festive season of praying is all about the resurrection of all life on Earth from the Deep Freeze. In higher latitudes, the Sun goes down for 6 months of darkness. If the Pagans had not created this ritual to the Sun god (Zeus), you can believe that the Christians would have. Why oh why the Jews didn’t is really a head scratcher.

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    I believe that we are created in God’s image. I believe that God is relational. I believe that God, therefore, created us to also be relational. That begs the question of how God relates to people. I believe God could choose to override free will but does not because that does not bring him any glory. Humans (Christian and non-christian alike), me included, very often fail to relate to people in the same manner. We often think we can override another person’s free will but obviously we cannot. All we really have the power to do is to receive the deep deep love that God has for us manifested through Him sending His one and only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him will be saved. We have the power to receive that love and to weakly and inadequately try and share that love with others. I want to show others the deep deep love of God but don’t know how. My inadequacy in doing that is no different IMO than my inadequacy of teaching math to my kids. My inadequacies don’t mean the principles aren’t principles.

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Bruce Gerencser