Monday, November 28, 2011

Onward Christian proselytisers

From the Oxford dictionary -
proselytize or proselytize:  verb
[with object]
convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another:
     the programme did have a tremendous evangelical effect, proselytizing many
[no object]
     proselytizing for converts
The trouble with people who proselytise is that they don't see anything wrong with proselytising. Some use words like "witnessing", which mean the same thing. This is what missionaries do.

I recently tweeted several times, urging people not to support Operation Christmas Child, the ostensibly kind and generous scheme that invites children to fill shoeboxes with gifts for needy children overseas. The people behind it are evangelical Christians, whose activities are destructive, rather than constructive. To find out why, read what I've blogged elsewhere, and follow all the links: Operation Christmas Child - "racist and poisonous".

This resulted in an exchange of tweets with @mmmcounts, who doesn't seem to think that there's anything wrong with using charitable giving as an opportunity to foist your religious beliefs on other people, uninvited. This was the exchange:
Me (@Flashmaggie): Please, no shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. It's a cover for evangelical missionaries. http://bit.ly/sX0EcO Please RT.
Him (@mmmcounts): Are you also opposed to the Salvation Army? World Vision? World Relief? Catholic Charities? Any, all, or none?
Me: Christian Aid doesn't try to convert people (as SP does). I prefer ones with no religious agenda, like @ActionAid or @Oxfamgb.
Him: Do you have a legal issue related to the line between church and state, or are you a Muslim who doesn't tolerate proselytism?
Me: I strongly dislike proselytising by anyone and think that aid should come without strings.
Him: I agree that aid should come without strings. But if a religious agency wants to do two things at different times, that's fine.
Me: So, you think it's fine for evangelical Christians to convert people of other faiths as part of the deal?
Me: Suggest you read my blog post and follow all the links. It will answer your questions. http://bit.ly/sX0EcO
Him: Christians may ask people if they would like to convert, but aid may not be contingent on that. That's extortion.
Him: However, if a Christian works for a relief agency, that doesn't mean no witnessing. It just means do it without extortion.
So, the reasoning is that it's OK to tell people (in this case, the people are children) that God loves them, etc., and that if you confess that you're a "sinner", you'll be forgiven. This is some of the nonsense contained in a comic strip sent with the shoeboxes  . . .

After some Bible stories, impressing that we were "created", mentioning "Satan", and explaining that Christ died for our "sins", a child tells his father, "I want to be God’s child, so I can be with him." The father replies, "This is the most important decision you’ll ever make! The Bible tells us our sin separates us from God. And it says, 'If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.'"

The child is shown praying, "Dear God, I know I’m a sinner. I made wrong choices and did bad things. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I know your Son, Jesus, died for my sins and I believe you raised him from the dead. I want Jesus to be my Lord. Thank you for loving me and making me your child. Now, please fill me
with your Holy Spirit, so I’ll have all the strength I need to obey you. Amen."

At the end, the child and his family are looking straight out of the comic strip frame, as he says, "Hey! The best thing just happened! It can happen to you, too! You can believe and make the same decision I did! Pray, and God will hear you. He loves you. He’ll forgive you and make you his child." If you're converted, you can sign a pledge, there and then! Whoopee!

Christians who think that this sort of thing is OK are generally ignorant about religions other than their own, or even denominations other than their own. They're probably unaware that some non-conformists, such as the Religious Society of Friends (or Quakers) and the Unitarians, don't proselytise. They're unlikely to know much about the history of their religion, or to care that there's little or no archaeological evidence that the stories in the Old Testament are true. They think that Islam is simply wrong, or, as the man behind Occupation Christian Child, Franklin Graham, says, "a very wicked and evil religion". They think that it doesn't matter what you believe, you can be "saved", but people like me will go to hell. For uneducated, impressionable young people, the threat of fire and brimstone goes with nice presents - stick and carrot.

Mike (@mmmcounts) is typical of many, many evangelical Christians, mainly in the US, who see nothing wrong with trampling all over other people's faiths and cultures. They suffer from the arrogance of certainty and the blindness of ignorance. He says, "If a Christian works for a relief agency, that doesn't mean no witnessing...", oblivious to the fact that many Christians work for relief agencies like Action Aid and Oxfam that don't have a religious agenda, and don't feel compelled to foist their religion on the recipients. If they did, they'd be in trouble. Mike doesn't get it. Neither to thousands like him. They have no idea how much damage they do. And now gullible British teachers are asking the children in their schools to fill shoeboxes, and gullible parents think it's a lovely idea too. It drives me mad!

This is what a friend did, when her children were asked to fill an OCC shoebox:
When my children changed primary school few years ago we joined right in the thick of the OCC campaign. I discovered the school had been involved for seven years.
This gave me a real problem; as assertive as I am, I had no desire to mark my card in the first couple of weeks! I therefore did three things:
- I sat my children down and explained that if they wanted to fill a shoebox they could, but Mummy would send it to a different box scheme. Then I did my best to explain why - they get behaviour based on principles, as evidenced by the lack of Nestlé products in the house!
- I discussed it with parents, explaining that if the parallel was a fundamentalist Islamic organisation doing this in central London, would that be okay? Much as I didn't like using that example it seemed most effective for getting people to actually think.
- in February I gave a dossier of evidence (including alternative shoebox schemes) to the Headteacher along with a letter asking that both he and the Governors give serious thought to changing to an alternative scheme. Although not a faith school, many of the teachers are practicing Christians.
The outcome? No word from the Headteacher despite my chasing it up. But this is our 4th Christmas at the school and the school never participated in Operation CC again (despite a long history of doing so). That's enough of a result for me!
Sometimes, people do see sense.