I was doubly evangelized at a coffee shop this week. First by a self proclaimed born again Christian and immediately after by an atheist. Needless to say as a member of the clergy I found the two conversations fascinating.
The Christian was a man I would say in his 40’s, dressed in nice suit with a latte in one hand and blackberry in the other. He had blonde highlights and really nailed that hip young professional Dad look. He took the fraction of a second that we made eye contact as I reached for my coffee as an invitation to come to speak with me. He said he noticed the book I was reading and wanted to ask me about it. Stunned to have a stranger suddenly sitting at the table with me all I mustered was an ‘alright’.
Turns out he didn’t want to talk about the book I was reading. He then passed me a card, about the size of two business cards. It was solid black on one side with the words ‘What If’?*’ bold and in white in the center. On the back some two dozen ‘What if’ questions are posed. The first couple I think are designed to be funny; ‘What if you could read minds, What if you knew the winning lottery numbers one day early?’ The rest were a little heavier and many focused on my impending death and its likely nearness. Perhaps my favourite is ‘What if it (my conscience) was a beacon- a warning of an impending doom?’
After a quick scan of the card I had a pretty good idea where this conversation was going, it was likely we were not going to talk about the book I was reading. I stopped him and let him know I was a pastor. He stopped and looked a little perplexed. I suppose just to be sure I wasn’t pulling his leg he asked me ‘so you’re a born again Christian?’ Yes I said, though I admittedly almost never use that term to describe myself. Still a little unsure he asked if I agreed with John’s Gospel. Now I wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by that but I figured yes was the right answer. It must have been because then we shook hands and off he went.
No sooner had he left and I picked my book up to continue reading did another man swoop in from the other side. This man was older, likely in his mid 60’s, and he introduced himself as a writer, and professor from Memorial University. He was dressed in older clothes, kind of a faded black turtle neck. He had little hair left and he seemed happy with a newspaper, pen and note book. He mentioned he had also noticed the book I was reading but didn’t want to bother me, like the Christian man did. However since the Christian had, my atheist evangelist must have thought that he ought to come over and help me out after being accosted by such a rude Christian.
The Christian had been ready to talk to strangers that day my atheist teacher had to work off the top of his head. He quickly listed off an ad hoc reading list for me. He named authors including; Bertrand Russell, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche. When he suggested Nietzsche, he reminded me that he had declared God dead. I asked him, ‘yes but didn’t Nietzsche go mad?’ My professor just shrugged that off. He popped back two more times before he left, once to suggest another book Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders and than once again to show me the newest paper he was working on to make sure I knew he was legit. His closing statement to me was that if I wanted to be or not to be a Christian was my business I just had to make sure I could think for myself.
Call me cynical but what I heard when he said that was ‘make sure you think for yourself, and read those books so you know what those thoughts ought to be.’
After my two evangelists left I found myself reflecting on the experience. First both of my evangelists made assumptions on who I was, and both were wrong. The Christian assumed I was a person seeking spiritual guidance, a religious open agent so to speak. The atheist assumed I was a university student reading a book because I was taking a religious studies class. Neither was right; assumptions based on little or no information rarely are.
Second, and more serious after both conversations I felt a little more like a trophy to be won than a person they cared about. My Christian friend was interested in the health and salvation of my eternal soul. My atheist friend was concerned with the developmental of my mind and my critical thinking abilities. Neither man asked me anything about who I am, what I think about anything, or what is going on in my life. I was simply a person sitting in a coffee shop reading a book with God in the title. That was all the information they knew, and apparently all they cared to know. They didn’t care about me as a person they cared about me agreeing with their point of view.
Drive by evangelism has never been my style. But this was the first time I ever have been on the receiving end of it. I didn’t care for it. I felt used, interrupted and ignored all at the same time. Christians, if this is how we are making people feel we need to stop, we need a better method.
Maybe, just maybe we should try to get to know people first and evangelize second. Maybe we shouldn’t follow up ‘hello’ with ‘do you know for sure what will happen to you after you die?’ Maybe we should treat people as individuals to know and not prospects to be won.