When I began to write about evangelism and interfaith relations, I chose the title “Missing in Action” because of its military implications.  Those in the U.S. are used to the black flags and car stickers that keep the issue before us re:  those unaccounted for in military engagements, as well as those who are taken prisoner.  P.O.W./M.I.A.

Evangelism is often undertaken through “campaigns.”  It is sometimes “targeted” to “reach” certain groups.  Whole areas or demogrpahic groups are to be “satruated” with fliers, CDs, callers–sustained efforts that remind me of saturation bombing.  Evangelists are soldiers of Christ, carrying the gospel in “crusades”.  Carried out by folks who have not, and may never, consider the recommendations of “Christian Witness in a Multireligious World” (see preceding post).

Frankly, the goal of too many efforts is to “win” more converts to Christiaity.  This document is careful to use the term “witness” throughout, and to stress that what is incumbent upon Christians is to be witnesses, in our words and in our living,  to the transforming and liberating power of God in Christ.  But it does not make clear enough that there is a line, a limit beyond which “witness” cannot go without becoming agression.

One of my colleagues on the staff of the Presbyterian Church regularly urged new mission personnel not to forget the “urgency” of the evangelical task.  By this he meant the urgency to make sure that all people had heard about Jesus, and had the opportunity to enter into a saving relationship with him.  But isn’t the urgency rather to extend love and care to God’s people?  Not to deliver “the saving truth,” but to be present and to offer God’s love in whatever forms it is needed?

While there is a continuum between these two approaches, they are not the same.  For my colleague, belief in Jesus is the goal, and is what makes the ultimate difference for people.  For me, it is the example of Jesus in the offer of education to all, of healing for all, of caring to all, that is transformative  This MAY lead some to embrace the way of Jesus, as it did me; but this is not our concern, cannot be achieved by us, and, I think, should not be our goal.

Where, after all, is the mutuality in an approach that is oriented to “get” others to “accept” Jesus?  It can be done lovingly — I have seen it being done lovingly.  However, for me, this approach is marred by its own certainty.  It remains agressive: those with the truth vs. the others.  It lacks true mutuality– the sincere invitation to sharing life, and the practice of shared life,  in God’s kingdom, that is at the heart of the message of Jesus.

One more thing:  There is a war of sorts going on about this within the Christian churches.  There are those who go missing because of this.  And, too often, those on either side deal with the disagreement by staying silent, and avoiding those who do not think as they do.  Too many of us are missing from this conversation.

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