I must say that it’s been a real treat getting some of the feedback I received from my previous post. I think your responses tell a story of how radicalized religion can be both positive and detrimental to our work as living ambassadors of Christ.
As promised, here was my response to the woman with the bold sweatshirt. Now, I’m warning you in advance: (1) This post is pretty long and (2) its length doesn't necessarily suggest profoundness. I just talk alot. The unimportant parts are italicize. If you want, you can ignore them. They just set the stage for a more important point. *Sigh* So much for brevity, right Mari?
As I stated previously, seeing this woman’s shirt caused a mixed reaction inside of me. I admired the courage it took for her to make her beliefs known so openly, but also disturbed me to see the arrogance and oppression clearly conveyed by the garment. I wanted to call her out on it, but she beat me to the punch. *Please note, I’m not going to be quoting word-for-word. I can’t remember exactly what was said. But it’s pretty close*
The woman first came to me as she was approaching the checkout line. Noticing that I was administering a survey to a shopper, she detoured from the line and came my way. Our conversation started off well enough. She asked me what I was doing. I explained to her that I was pre-testing a survey instrument for my thesis. I went on to answer questions she had about my research. She seemed very interested in my work and wanted to take part (a kind gesture on her behalf, largely because I had been having a horrible time getting people to commit). I politely declined, informing her that I couldn’t use her responses since my sample had to be random (Long story. But to make the story short, a ramdom sampling strategy was the most effective method for my research design). She understood. It should be noted here that this woman had an incredible personality; one of the nicest people I ran into all day.
**End of Digression**
As she was turning to head over to the counter, I jumped in with a question about her shirt (most people who know me would agree that this was a bold move, given how conservative I am when it comes to confronting people) said to her, “I’m sorry; but as I look at your sweatshirt I assume that you’re a Christian.” She flashed a beautiful smile and proudly said “Yes I am!”. She mentioned that she attends some church in the area. I forgot the name of it, but I probably would've kept it anonymous anyway; just to protect its identity. She returned the questioning by asking me if I was a Christian as well and, if so, what church I attended. I informed her that I was a Christian, though I didn’t have a church home. She invited me to her church, to which I responded by saying “I’ll think about it.” She seemed geniuinely happy to hear that, almost as it something great just happened. “Praise God that I ran into you”, she said. Crap! How could I confront her on the sweatshirt and she just thanked God for meeting me?! But, I put that out of my head for the moment, braved it up and said “Yeah. I’m a Christian”, reverberating my previous affirmation. “But I disagree with the message behind your shirt. I think it does more to turn people away from God than it does to attract them to Him”. I was expecting for her demeanor to change, but it didn’t; much to my surprise. She continued smiling at me while responding “I’m sorry if it offends you. But I can’t suppress the truth. If one person turns away from sin from my message, then its worth offending others.”
Whoa. Hard to top that. But I tried. “Has your effort been successful? Have you led anybody to repent?” She responded, “No I hasn’t. But I'm not responsible for changing people’s hearts. That’s why Jesus sent the Holy Ghost. My only job is to get the word out there, even if it makes people uncomfortable.”
Wow. This lady OWNED me.
She thanked me for the time and for the conversation and continued with her checkout. Being the sick one that I was, I was also starting to get angry looks from people. Maybe it had something to do with the sniffing, coughing and hacking I was doing. So I got out of there.
On the way home, I couldn’t help but to recall her words about not holding back the truth. The fact is: for Christians, Jesus is our truth. We are called to be the salt of the earth. Since we are salt (as Will recently put it), sometimes we have to get mixed into the meat every now and then. To that end, the lady was absolutely correct. But I also couldn’t help but to think that our ministry goes WAY beyond wearing apparel that condemns sins. Of course I didn't think to say any of this until after I left the store (don’t you just HATE that?!)
Anyway, it bothers me to think that many of those to whom we are called to minister only experience the condemnation that comes from not following Christ. So many of them will never experience the truth and happiness that comes with following Him. If our lives as Christians have become more about chastising those with whom we disagree (denying rights to gays, vilifying those who commit abortion, calling someone’s religioous belief system a lie, etc.), how can we expect for people to accept our message? How can we expect the Holy Spirit to work wonders if we spend our time creating the obstacles? I mean, Jesus is pretty good at what He does and all, but I’m sure that He doesn't appreciate us making His job harder than it needs to be.
Proponents of the “Apparel Ministry” (as I like to call it) feel like as long as they are planting the seed of inquiry and conversation, the Holy Spirit can move in and take over. Really? Now, I’m not trying to discount the power of God; but let’s not kid ourselves here. Above all else, God gives US the call to be physical extensions of His heavenly hand. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, God expects us to get our hands dirty when it comes to reaching out to others. Relying on some mystical being to change somebody’s heart won’t work after you’ve physically insulted and demeaned them with a shirt. Some people can see the error of their ways and turn away from wrongdoing. But most people don’t. Usually, we're to blame for it.
In every instance in the Bible where God reveals Himself and wins the hearts and/or respect of those who originally didn’t believe, He used some person to be an extension of Him. Those people built relationships with others, worked with them, supported them, fellowshipped with them. They didn’t just wait around condemning others; hoping that it would eventually lead to someone asking “What must I do to be saved.”
I suspect that a large part of the problem is that many of us can’t reach out to others because we don’t even know them. I’m estimating that less than 5% of the Christian world even has a true friendship with people outside of their church circle. When’s the last time you had a meal with a non-Christian? When’s the last time you did something sociable with someone with whom you had varying faiths?
**Digression**It took me a second to realize this for myself; largely because the only people I've really associated with were church folks; especially true since most of my family is spread out all over the country. But as I started breaking away from them somewhat (except for my partner, JD who has been my heart even when I didn’t deserve her), my eyes were opened to how many acquaintences I didn’t have. My inner circle was essentially made of the folks at my former church. Essentially, my eggs were all in one basket.
**End of Digression**
Having closeness with other Christians is pretty good when you’re trying to maintain a healthy relationship with those in the body of Christ. It’s not so good when you become so exclusive that you don't minister to those outside of the circle. I think that’s why I’ve been trying to be more involved with community activities, volunteerism, and school projects. It’s a good way to know people different from myself. The ultimate point is that we need to remove ourselves from our church exclusion and show the outside world the Jesus that lives in us. Building relationships, I think, is far more fruitful to doing so than wearing sweatshirts that belittle people.
Your thoughts?- ACL