Q & R: How do you respond to people who try to evangelize you?

Here’s the Q:

Thanks very much for your part in presenting, with Luther Smith, at the Companions on the Inner Way retreat. A lovely example of generous and soulful inter-racial dialogue.

Like you, I was born into a Plymouth Brethren home (exclusive) and have been on a journey of increasing inclusion over many years. I appreciate the ways that your presentations and books have informed and nourished this journey.

My siblings are very fearful that I’m hell-bound and taking others with me.
One in particular keeps trying to convert me back to the dualism of our youth.
So far I’ve abandoned any attempt to explain my position and so respond simply “Thanks so much for your loving concern. … Warmest love, [my name]”

How do you respond to such attempts to “evangelize” you?

Here’s the R:

Thanks for this question, and yes, what a joy to be (virtually) with Dr. Smith and the Companions. I think your response is gracious and appropriate, and I don’t think I can improve upon it at all.

I just received one such email this morning (not from a sibling, though). Here it is:

Your intellectual talk might sound like an option to people that don’t know that the Bible is the Word of God and is to be taken literally!  You want to reframe, deconstruct, re-imagine, discredit and redefine what God addresses in His Word.  You say we need a ‘new kind of faith leader’…..is Jesus Christ YOUR faith leader…I don’t think so.  What do you do with Luke 1:1-4.  How about Galatians 1:6-10 and John 20:30-31.  While I agree that we as Christians should address the earthly needs of people, the most important need is for a person to realize they are a sinner and ask Jesus Christ to forgive them for their sins because THIS is the ONLY WAY to HEAVEN.  The Bible states you don’t get to Heaven with ‘good works lest any man should boast’.  Your doctrine is making people feel good that they are helping society but your doctrine is sending them to Hell.  I pray that you and your organization and followers will actually read the Bible as the WORD OF GOD that should be taken literally.

I normally don’t have the bandwidth to respond to people who simply want to send me a message, as with this dear woman. I can imagine that I might have written such a letter when I was a zealous young Evangelical! I realize that the writer is trying to be a good soldier, doing the duty she has been given by the authority figures she trusts (who taught her, among other things, that the Bible is supposed to be taken literally and that getting to heaven is the point of the Bible).

I normally don’t have time to respond to people who ask a question that I assess is not asked in good faith. But I do try to respond to questions that feel sincere, non-combative, and non-accusatory.

With relatives or dear friends who are concerned about you, sometimes you can help relieve their anxiety by offering reassurance. For example, with the email I received above, I might say,

“Dear sister, thank you so much for your concern. I want to assure you that I love Jesus with all my heart and have been learning to follow him for over sixty years. I am no less passionate in that commitment today than I was years ago. And although I am eager to “reframe, deconstruct, and re-imagine” some of what I have been taught (or hear others teaching), I do not want to discredit or redefine anything that is truly from God. Very much the opposite, in fact. I have come to see many things differently from the way I used to, and from the way you see them now. If you would ever be interested in hearing the story of how that came to be, I would be glad to share it. But please understand that I don’t want to get into a win/lose argument with you. Those kinds of arguments generally result in people just digging in their heels and getting defensive or aggressive. I understand that your current understanding brings you great comfort and reassurance, and I understand that hearing me differ must be very unsettling or disconcerting for you. I appreciate you telling me of your concern, and I sincerely honor you for your commitment to do the right thing as you understand it.”

But that’s a lot of words to say what you said equally well in under a dozen!