When I was an evangelical Christian, I don’t think I ever successfully brought someone to church. I mean sure, I had plenty of conversations about God, I had plenty of conversations with those who were ‘straying’, but I never had the guts to invite someone unacquainted with church lore. This was less about the strength of my faith and more about a fear of thrusting a religion onto someone enough to turn them away entirely. My friends knew me as the “God girl”, that was enough.
Since writing this blog, I have conversations about Christianity and the Bible on a weekly basis. These conversations have been with people who are experiencing similar struggles with guilt, with Christians who want to love their brothers and sisters better and, more frequently, with people who don’t believe (and never have) in the Christian Bible. It’s amazing what kind of relationships you can build when you remove the pressure and assumption that you’re only talking to someone to convert them.
In the last month, I have posted several Christian books to soul searchers and I have connected a number of people to local churches in their area, pairing them up with others I trust will welcome them and facilitate open-minded conversation.
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” I hear my non-religious readers say. “Aren’t you supposed to be against all this stuff? Don’t you want to prevent people from living their life in guilt and a state of disarray? Don’t you want to prevent them from pain?”.
However, I think stopping someone searching, in this context, would be hypocritical.
I am thankful to my parents for allowing me to explore faith. I am thankful that they let me stay home from church, that they didn’t reprimand me for getting drunk as a legal adult, that they provided a space for me to openly relay drug-infused stories. If I wanted to go away with a boy who was not my husband and maybe not even my boyfriend, they didn’t say anything about it- there was nothing they could do to prevent me from having sex. It was my life. Because of that, I felt free to return to church when I was 18 and live 4 glorious years embedded in the Christian family, and I felt free to leave and explore afterwards. They respected the journey.
If I encounter people searching for God in the Bible, then I will point them to the Bible. If I encounter people searching for the enlightenment that Buddhism teaches, I will pass them the Tripitaka. If I am opposed to someone standing up and preaching at me to believe one thing, I’m not going to stand there in front of my friends and preach at them to not believe one thing.
I strive to provide the means for my friends to come to me on their quest without fear, like I regularly go to my parents.
I trust that my friends are educated enough to be wise in their search, to not just pick up a book and take it for Truth because it convinces them in a matter of seconds. You don’t write an essay with one source. You write it with 30. I like to think that making a decision about where you stand when it comes to God, spirituality or a complete lack of faith, involves multiple sources. For the first 20 years of my life I didn’t do this. I suffered for it. I built my life from one reference point and I don’t want to see others do the same.
I had a conversation with a good friend and Anglican Minister on the phone the other week while walking through Kings Cross.
“I’m sending more people your way now than when I was practicing! What the heck?”.
He laughed. “You still know the joy” he said, “otherwise you wouldn’t point people there.”
And yeah, I guess there’s truth in that too. I do recall the joy of Jesus. I recall the joy of the community and the sense of security and the constant reflection on love and grace. I maintain the joy of knowing and feeling that there is something greater. Everyone deserves to explore faith and the joy that comes with finding something that rings true. I’m not talking in a quasi-spiritual, half-arsed meditation kind of way. I’m talking about reading books and listening to lectures and going to churches and mosques and temples. Who am I to build road blocks for those who come to me with questions?
What can the church do?
My recent conversations have encouraged me to reflect on the ways that the church teaches its congregation to speak about Jesus. I remember visiting my parent’s house one day and finding typed palm cards on my father’s bedside table, obviously given to him by a member of his church. That broke my heart. I stood there and wept. There was something so simple and so pure in that little pile of cardboard with the paragraphs someone must have typed and printed and cut and stuck. At the same time, it seemed so naive and ignorant. I wanted to throw them in a fire, watch the flames lick at the sentences that disregarded the human element of conversation, the unstructured unpredictability.
I remember attending leadership camps that taught us the correct way to structure our testimony so it had more impact. These exercises made us think that if we memorised the right words, they would be enough to convert the world (with the help of the Holy Spirit of course, because even though it was not our words but God’s that were converting, our words had to be learned and structured well.)
The concept of Jesus and the concept of God is not digestible. It’s not simple because it’s not logical. To an unbeliever, your rote-learned understanding of Jesus-dying-on-the-cross-for-our-sins makes most people smirk and raise their eyebrows. The idea of faith is frustrating for logical thinkers because it’s completely ungraspable on an eternal, change-your-life kind of scale. Therefore, preparing with your answers with the hopes that you box someone in, fails to provide a safe space for the person you’re talking to, to freely articulate their rejections or hesitations.
I want the church to allow for more self-directed learning on Sunday mornings- more dialogue- where the person teaching can also be taught by the person listening. This kind of dialogue must also happen in our schools, and it must certainly happen in our conversations. Remove the pressure of eternity and meet your friend on mutual territory. Listen first. Be prepared to learn something from them. Converse from your heart, not from your Bible Study worksheet.
Originally published at The Gravity of Guilt.