Thursday, February 17, 2011

Everyone is Lost

There's something that's been on my mind a lot lately. I've been thinking about the approach American Evangelical Culture takes towards the rest of the world. I think it can best be summed up by "Everyone is lost and we are the only ones who can save them."

I was thinking about this due to a number of things I've seen/heard this week. One was a documentary that an American megachurch produced about how their church got started. In it they discussed how they decided to move to a city that was notorious for the number of churches it had in order to start a new church. They didn't mention anything about the dynamics of the city itself or the people there. They seemed convinced that they were the ones who could bring God's true message to these people in spite of the fact that so many others were working to the same end.

The other was a little more humorous. A girl I know told me a story about a rather sheltered, charismatic Christian, homeschooled boy that she knows. Apparently they were giving him a ride somewhere and without warning he suddenly placed his hand on the top of her head and started praying in tongues over her and saying he was trying to get rid of the devil in her. (I have to think that there is no quicker way to get kicked out of the carpool than spontaneous exorcism.) But the best part about this story is that their vehicle has had some issues with the heating system recently so it intermittently just spits out sudden bursts of air. As he is wrapping up his prayer, the heating system spews a quick burst of air. At which point he exclaims, "Did you feel that!?? It was the Holy Spirit!" In that moment, he was fully convinced that the presence of God was needed in that vehicle and he had ushered it in. Meanwhile, she was completely creeped out and counting the minutes to the end of the ride.

That's the common thread in these two examples: the belief that everyone is without God and it is my job to bring it to them regardless of the circumstances. And to believe so to such a degree that you start attributing things to God that others clearly recognize as having a more mundane source. I keep seeing that attitude again and again in American Evangelical Culture. In college I once saw a video promoting the expansion of a Christian nightclub that featured the "lost" people in the community they would be moving into. It really caught my attention when I realized that one of those "lost souls" featured in their video was the roommate of a good friend of mine. A girl with tattoos, piercings, and a style all her own - a Christian girl who was currently attending a different Christian college in the area. She was absolutely outraged when she heard that her image was being used as an example of the unreached youth in the city.

I also think of my sister telling me about her time studying abroad. She said that she disliked the majority of American missionaries that she met because they didn't seem to truly care about the people or the culture much at all. They had a tunnel vision focus on "saving" everyone and teaching them how to be a Christian in the American sense of the term. A focus that in some instances caused more harm than good as people felt manipulated, marginalized, and uncared for.

My argument isn't about the theological concept of salvation or what it really means to share the gospel. My argument is this: Is this a responsible approach to the world around us? How is the faith of others impacted when they realize it is being second guessed and undermined? Does it help us to feel a sense of urgency when it comes to others? Or does it merely create a framework in which people become projects to be fixed rather than individuals to be loved and valued? Is caring about someone's salvation the same as caring about someone? And most importantly, does it reflect the attitude of Christ or is there a better way?  I think it's something worth considering.


  1. I just wanted to chime in and say that I am really enjoying your blog and its overall sentiments. This post has struck me in particular as this brand of evangelism kept me out of church for much of my life despite the strong sense I've always had of the presence of God in my life.

    When I finally did start going to a church (I'm a weirdo who wasn't raised in the church but started attending an Anglican [Episocopalian] church when I went away to school), I was kept there by the lovely warm community I found that allowed me to explore the Bible and my relationship with God. I was baptized there before I graduated.

    When I moved, I found a new church of the same denomination that seemed similarly sincere and had good sermons. So you can imagine my surprise when after the service one day a young man conversationally asked me "how deeply do you know Jesus?" When I couldn't give the "correct" answer, he took me on as his personal salvation project and lectured me regularly as he "helped" me serve tea and coffee. This was all made more distasteful by the strong impression I got that he wanted a romantic relationship with me and was trying to "save me" for himself. I was already in a relationship with my now husband (a lovely agnostic man with atheist leanings *gasp*) so this was extra creepy.

    I got married and left town.

    Now, I would very much like to return to a church but the prospect of running into another person like this guy is keeping me home and seeking a spiritual community online until I feel strong enough again. I am also really busy doing stuff that I consider to be more useful to the world and fulfilling for me than being harassed about why I have not successfully "saved" my husband or being lectured on a dogmatic viewpoint with which I do not agree.

    I'd much rather read your blog.

    Thanks for letting me share.

  2. Those experiences are always the worst. I hope that one day you find a spirtual community that isn't so hurtful. Until that day (and beyond), I am happy to have you here and am glad that what I write resonates with you.