When I get a notification that someone has liked a post or has decided to follow The Unexpected Pastor (which you can do with the “Follow” button on the right, by the way), I usually check out their blog. The other day, someone known on WordPress as “hessianwithteeth” became a follower of this blog. Hessianwithteeth appears to be atheist or agnostic. (It is awesome that folks of many different beliefs – and unbeliefs – read The Unexpected Pastor!)
Among the intriguing posts I read on hessianwithteeth’s blog was one called “Should We Attempt to Convert Others?” I found it a balanced piece that was fair to both Christians and unChristians.
The post struck a nerve with folks; there were the seventy-some comments from all kinds of perspectives. Of course I had to add my own (slightly modified here) . . .
I believe what happens when we try to “convert” other people is that they become commodities, simply objects of our perceived will and overestimated powers of persuasion. Whether Christian or Atheist, entering into communication with someone simply to convert them is the antithesis of relationship.
Rather than trying to convert people with other beliefs (or non-belief), how about if we try to get to know them? Try practicing empathy rather than beating them over the head with our right-thinking. Perhaps in the context of relationship they’ll come around to the way of thinking we believe is right, perhaps not. But in the context of relationship we might just learn something about how other people think and feel and believe (or not), and even about ourselves.
I don’t believe I can convert anyone, anyway. I don’t have that power over other folks. Once I remove that fallacy from my interactions with others, especially unChristians, then I can have actual relationships with them. I trust that the Holy Spirit will take care of the converting (or not).
One of the reasons I was an unChristian for so long before I embraced Christianity was the in-your-face “Christians” who seemed to be only interested in me as a trophy for their wall of conversion (metaphorically). I didn’t want to be a part of all that . . . and I certainly didn’t want to encourage it by letting it succeed. Since I’ve been a Christian, I have met atheists with the same unproductive zeal.
Let me be clear here on my own blog – I am not saying that Christians should not practice evangelism. Evangelism means sharing the Good News, specifically the Good News about Jesus. Sharing the Gospel – hopefully not just, or even primarily, in what we say but especially in how we treat (love) others, especially those who are “other” (different in any way than ourselves) – is not the same as interacting with someone with the sole agenda of somehow converting them.
We Christians believe that conversion is the Holy Spirit’s work, not ours. So let’s relax and do our job – treating everyone (yes, everyone) with the grace and love we believe we have received from God.
So, Christians, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, whoever – I know you’re out there – what do you think about hessianwithteeth’s question? Should we attempt to convert others?