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For Christians: Why Your Attempts at Evangelizing to Pagans Do Not Work
Let me start by saying that after growing up in a Christian home, attending Christian schools, being involved in the ministry professionally and marrying a Christian, I firmly believe that most attempts at evangelizing pagans come from a sincere, well-intentioned place. My purpose in writing this article is not to engage in Bible bashing or even to convince you not to evangelize to pagans and witches. My intent is threefold:
- To save you time when it comes to using ineffective and often insulting techniques that will only leave you and the person you are witnessing to frustrated.
- To prevent you from doing more harm to a group of people who have frequently been persecuted, bullied and abused in the name of the God you are trying to serve.
- To inform you of why the evangelizing tactics you use don't work on pagans and witches in the hopes that at least when you attempt to do so in the future, you will be well informed enough to have a productive conversation. With enough of those, we just might learn something from each other.
Without any further ado, here are the top reasons why your attempts to evangelize pagans and witches do not work.
- You don't understand their faith. Even the most sincere efforts to evangelize fall flat when it becomes clear that Christians are usually uneducated about other faiths. If your knowledge of world religions comes from books written by Christians in an attempt to convert people, you lack perspective. In order to truly understand another faith, which is necessary for any respectful dialog about religion, you have to be open-minded. Unfortunately, most churches and Christian schools teach that other religions are filled with "false gods" and teach Christians to fear even basic knowledge about these things. You can't be surprised when your efforts to convert non-Christians aren't taken seriously because it's obvious that you don't understand the faith you're asking them to change. After all, how can you truly critique something you don't understand? That would be like someone who doesn't read French writing a review of a novel written in it.
- You apply Christian values to non-Christians. While there are many near-universal values, too many evangelists rely on their own worldview to make a case for their claims. This just ends up in a circular argument that is sure to leave you and the other person frustrated. For example, the standards for sexual purity are often distinctly different in Christianity. What you may view as a doctrine of purity, a pagan likely views as oppressive and psychologically destructive. In both cases, a moral judgment is being made. Don't assume everyone in the world shares your values.
- You say things like, "Because the Bible says ___" Do you care what the Emerald Tablet says? The Book of Mormon? The Satanic Bible? The Egyptian Book of the Dead? (Considering the fact that much of the Bible comes from the Book of the Dead, maybe that last one is a bad example.) If you don't care what other religious texts say, don't expect to successfully convert people with your own. Christianity is considered the default in America, even if many of the people who claim to be Christians are not actively practicing. You *can* come to the conclusion that the Bible is the inerrant word of God through study and critical analysis, but you can also adopt that belief as a default because it's what your parents believed and what society expects you to believe.
For this reason, nearly as many pagans and other non-Christians have read the Bible as Christians--in many cases, the fact that we adopted a religion outside the mainstream means we have studied it more thoroughly than most Christians. Biblical arguments are only effective within the context of theological discussions. You can't prove that Christianity is true by saying that the Bible says so when your only argument for why the Bible is true is that Christianity is true. See the circular logic here?
- You don't understand the Bible. What's even worse than the fact that so many evangelists try to use the Bible as a source for their conversion arguments is the fact that many do not even understand the Bible. I had the privilege of studying Scripture with some of the leading New and Old Testament scholars in the world, surrounded by people who were earnest about putting the intellectual elbow grease into their beliefs. I know Christians can be scholastic and studious...that's why it's so disappointing when many take the easy way out and fail to study the book that is so tantamount to their own faith. Know the Bible inside and out before you try to argue its tenets to others. It's just a basic sign of respect.
- You make assumptions. From assuming that all pagans grew up in a pagan path and don't know the Bible or Christianity to assuming that we don't have real, valid spiritual experiences, there are many assumptions that will get your attempts to evangelize shut down--and for good reason. Show the same respect you would want shown to you. Don't assume anyone's spiritual journey. If you're interested in their wellbeing enough to want to share your faith, then show some humility by taking the time to get to know theirs. You never know what you'll learn.
- You use fear as motivation. In general, fear isn't something that motivates pagans. Sure, we have phobias and concerns just like anyone else, but most pagan paths teach self-reliance and resilience. We don't fear hellfire and many of us hold the belief that if there is a God who sends people to hell, the real thing to fear is spending all of eternity with him.
- You assume all pagans are the same. There are hundreds if not thousands of pagan paths. A Wiccan is not the same as an eclectic Druid, and so on. You're asking someone to abandon their faith; the least you can do is learn what it is.
It may seem harsh, but these are the things every pagan you try to evangelize is already going to be thinking. My goal in writing this is to save you both time. I think that all civil conversation on religion is worth having, but only if both parties are on the same level of understanding and respect. While I obviously don't agree with evangelizing techniques, if you're going to do it, please at least don't fall into these cliches. You will only be wasting your time and driving the wedge in deeper between members of the faith-based community.