I stumbled upon an interesting website this week. In the wake of the failed plebiscite and planned postal vote on same-sex marriage, there’s so much noise around the issue that it really wasn’t hard to run into The Equality Campaign.
Titled Having a conversation about marriage equality, this particular page struck me because it was so, well, familiar.
“[R]eal life conversations are incredibly powerful. They’re what change (sic) hearts and minds.”
“[T]he people you know — whether friends or family, work mates, people at church, your local sporting club – will be far more influenced by their personal conversation with you than by any advert or message they see from an organisation.”
“[B]y listening, sharing our experiences, and approaching this as a conversation rather than a furious debate, we have a much better chance of bringing as many people as possible along with us.”
It’s a how-to guide, complete with FAQs and a ‘sticky questions’ section, and I’ve seen it before.
I’ve seen it before … at church.
I have to admit, I cringe a little. Despite the strength of my faith and my commitment to the Church, evangelising has never sat comfortably with me.
If you find this video offputting, know that it makes me squirm also:
Even though I agree with everything it says.
While Two Ways To Live was a part of my youth group curriculum, I also had a foot in a culture that pushed back against talking about our faith, let alone proselytising. We can thank my atheist, artsy public education for that.
Over the last decade I have come to own and embrace my faith more, to love the Church while questioning the attitudes and beliefs some of us hold, to serve us while interrogating how we can “do church better”.
I’m keen to talk about different elements of my faith, why I follow Jesus and how that shapes my life – in the right context.
But there is something about conventional evangelism – whether it’s in favour of the gospel or same-sex marriage – that produces a stifled gag reaction in me.
“And this is how you talk to people about [insert important issue here].”
Gay people getting married, for dummies. Jesus, for dummies. Same diff, right?
Could it be that this offends my intellect more than any other sensibility? Because ultimately my aversion comes down not to the content, but the artifice.
There’s a lot on the Equality Campaign website that echoes modern approaches to sharing the gospel. Take this point in the ‘sticky questions’ section:
“Don’t take this personally. It can be hard when people you know don’t see things in the same way or share your values. But all it means is that for now they are someone who cannot take that last step with you on this issue.”
In a different context, Don’t take this personally. All it means is that for now they are not yet ready to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Maybe The Equality Campaign’s content writer is a Christian evangelist. More likely, personal experience and storytelling as an effective way to convert – oops, influence – people is not unique to Christianity.
There is a point to be made here. I’ve been describing the similarities between these two expressions of evangelism, and the commonality turns on conversation as a device.
As much as I find The Equality Campaign’s approach and Two Ways To Live painfully clunky and just a bit yuck, I actually don’t think there’s anything wrong with strategic conversations.
I’m not pretending we can always be intentional in our speech, or that we must always be serious and seeking to influence. But when dialogue can be so powerful, it’s sad that we’re not often mindful of the things we say. Our words are careless.
There is a vast middle ground between keeping our views to ourselves and being “too opinionated”. It’s worth stepping out of the echo chamber and engaging in conversations with those who hold different views. We learn through dialogue, and external input can help us interrogate and form our own opinions.
We don’t always have to talk politics. We don’t always have to talk religion. But we should, more often.
Header image: Priscilla Du Preez (added 2022).