Monday, March 18, 2013

For Progressive Christians, Evangelism is Easy

So to be fair, the title of this post is meant to be a bit of a shocker... evangelism, community development, reaching out to the unchurched and the like is of course difficult and time consuming ministry, and by no means do I want to underestimate the essential work of my many sisters and brothers engaged in such activities.  That said, particularly in the context of hearing so many people of faith lately fretting over the future of the Church and declining attendance numbers in their congregations, I think it's important to recognize that from one perspective, progressive Christians really do have some strengths that are immensely attractive to the unchurched, particularly those with low religious literacy.

I'll draw on one experience I had this past weekend to illustrate my point.  In New York City where I live and work, Saint Patrick's Day (and in fact that whole weekend) is celebrated with vigor, to put it lightly.  With that background in mind, you can only imagine some of the interesting conversations I had while wearing my collar and riding on the subway Saturday night.  After wrapping up an immigration advocacy workshop at Saint Peter's Church where I currently serve as Vicar, I hopped on the E Line down to Greenwich Village in the early evening hours in order to attend the weekly Prayer Vigil for Marriage Equality held at Saint John's Lutheran Church on Christopher Street.  My subway car was absolutely filled with drunken St. Paddy's "celebrants," and one of them, a college-aged frat bro leaned over to me and jokingly said quite loudly, "Don't worry Father, I'm not a sodomite!"  All the folks surrounding us in subway car, including many of the frat bro's buddies immediately got tense, wondering how I'd respond.

For a few moments I felt offended and kind of angry, but after remembering that I had frequently been just that frat boy during my own college years, I calmed down, saw the humor in the situation, and said back equally loudly, "I probably would prefer we use different language, but I'm a Lutheran, and many of the folks in my church are actually quite down with the sodomites... I'm on my way to a prayer vigil for marriage equality right now."  A couple folks in the subway car actually cheered, others breathed a sigh of relief, but the young frat bro responded back to me a in a truly awesome way.  He said something like, "Oh wow, I was just joking, I'm sorry... but knowing that is actually pretty cool.  I've never heard about Lutherans before... tell me a bit about your church."  We ended up having a great conversation and I left him with a handshake and my business card.

I may never speak with that young man again... he might not even remember having that conversation with me, but honestly, I run into these sort of situations all the time.  Even while writing this post in a Philly coffee shop, another young man saw the "Jesus is with the 99%" sticker on the back of my laptop and briefly came over to speak with me.

What's my point in telling this story?  Essentially, our more conservative sisters and brothers in Christ have at this point so alienated a large portion of society, particularly open-minded young people, that the simple notion that progressive Christians are out there, that there are Christians who don't demonize those who are "different," ends up being a really exciting ideaIn general, people who have been harmed by the Church in the past and people who never had much experience with the Church at all are immensely attracted to the idea that some Christians actually affirm that all folks are made in the image of God and are reconciled to Her in Christ... who would've thought?  So although there's of course a lot of follow-up and community building needed afterward, this fact absolutely makes the initial conversations that are part of spreading the Gospel quite easy for progressive Christians.

So, my sisters and brothers, if you're a progressive Christian, if you're a Christian for marriage equality, if you're a Christian who believes that all should be welcomed into this country whether or not they have the right piece of paper, if you're a Christian who believes in a women's right to control her own body, I encourage you to share that good news... it might end up in the literally bringing someone from death to a new life in Christ.

Dustin is currently a vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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