Conversion: Compassion or Chauvanism?

I am a fan of Amy Putkonin’s version of the Tao Te Ching. I enjoy her blog “Tao Te Ching Daily” very much. This post of hers was eerily well timed to the somebody-get-Ronda-back-to-church avalanche of religion that comes from my family from time to time, especially around holidays.

From Tao Te Ching Daily:

“We had an interesting family dinner discussion the other night. We were talking about people trying to convert us to Christianity. My belief is that people are not generally trying to convert us, but Eric and Tatia pretty much agreed that people are. We all had quite a few experiences where people tried to convince us to accept Jesus, or whatever the correct wording is.

I said that I could not understand why people would try and convert people when one of the commandments is to treat others as you would like to be treated. I suggested that people would not want to be converted to a different religion, therefore they should not try to convert others to theirs. But Eric countered. He said that they don’t think of it like that. They think of it like if they were not Christian and someone had tried to convince them to be Christian, they would want them to. But that is thinking like a Christian! That makes no sense! It’s failed logic.

So I told Tatia to just listen under the surface of what they are saying when they are trying to convert you: they love you. They want you to be safe and to be in a good place. And leave it at that.

I think that many Christians are OK with people being other than Christian. What do you think? Have people tried to convert you or do they leave you alone? If you are Christian, what do people say about this at your church? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.”

My reply:

I’ve been mulling this over for a while.  Knowing my biases, at first I thought it better to say nothing. Since your post, other people have brought up the same topic. There are some observations that need to be made.

I was raised in the American south in a strongly evangelical, fundamentalist family. My Father was a Deacon, my mother and all of her sisters were Sunday school teachers, my uncle a minister. I grew up utterly saturated in the proselytizing evangelical fundamentalist christian culture you describe.

Based on my experience: NO Christians are definitely NOT OK with other beliefs. Even if they don’t evangelize directly to you, the thought is implicit and universal. The religion is by definition exclusive. Technically, to be Christian you have to renounce all other religions first. Other beliefs are believed to be invalid, whether they are tolerated or not.

You can’t paint Christianity with a broad brush, any more than any other group of humans. There are those who truly are tolerant and accepting, but those are never the ones who proselytize or try to convert others. The ones who evangelize are the most virulently intolerant. The tolerant, non-converting ones tend to be Catholic, Lutheran, or others on the liturgical end of the spectrum. But keep in mind, every Easter even Catholics pray for the conversion of the Jewish nation. I’ve been there with my husband. I’ve heard it.

I treasure those in my life who are true to their faith while respecting my world view. Sadly, I’m not genetically related to most of them. My birth family, the evangelicals, are quite another story.

Yes, they try to convert me (or re-convert, or whatever the term may be) on a regular basis. It isn’t only my family, either. I’ve had complete strangers who don’t know me at all on my front porch trying to promote their church and random people in front of a store asking me if I’d gone to church on Sunday. A woman in the local park approached me to ask if I went to church, because she only allowed her little girl play with Christians and her daughter wanted to play on the swings with my daughter. Yes, really, that actually happened.

For some, it is just exactly as bigoted as it sounds. The essential message of evangelicals is “agree with me or to hell with you.” Literally. Many will try to convert you out of a sincere desire to save you from the hell-bound fate of non-believers. Most are well meaning, but their thinking is so saturated with fundamentalist views that they don’t understand they are the ones condemning you in the first place! Penn Jillette very kindly compares religious proselytizing to someone warning you of a train coming when they see you standing on railroad tracks. That doesn’t change the fact that THEY are the ones driving the train! Sure they stick their head out of the window and tell you of the coming danger – but they do nothing to stop the train. Their warning consists of get on board or get squashed.

Failed logic? Logic has no place in their thinking, failed or otherwise.

“Do unto others”  – they are. They volunteer to go get harangued about their religion every Sunday. It is always, always, always repent & hellfire type stuff. Every single week they have “alter call” trying to “save” anyone who may have wandered into their midst. They are doing to you exactly as they already have done unto them.

They are absolutely, positively trying to convert you! They are told to convert others. It is part of their belief system. It is what they are taught and encouraged to do from a young age (or from the beginning of their own conversion). They think they are a bad person and some sort of failure if they don’t try to convert people.

Being born into it, my patience with them was exhausted long ago. Organized religion is psychologically toxic to me, and I not only need to avoid it but have every legitimate right to live life without it. I find it morally offensive that they would inject their bigotry into my life unbidden. They have every right to their religion but I also have every right to live without it. Christian proselytizing is at best arrogance, at worst bigotry and discrimination.

Christians will undoubtedly see this as an outright attack on them and their beliefs. So be it. I’ve walked on those eggshells around Christians my whole life. Hopefully, this will give those who have lived outside of evangelical culture some reasoned insight when the evangelicals try to convert them away from what they have every right to believe.