I have heard some Mennonites use the term “non-violent evangelism.” It is a way of sharing faith that does not harm those with whom they share. It is built on mutual respect, love for others, and a commitment to the other person’s freedom. People are treated as seekers, not potential converts, without pressure, arm-twisting or coercion; and no manipulation of words or emotions.
Seekers are not vilified, targeted, pursued, or argued with. They are simply invited into radical hospitality where questions and exploration are not only tolerated, but encouraged and expected. These non-violent evangelists share their faith with a “come and see” attitude, opening their arms and hearts to others, leaving the rest to God.
The church could learn a lot from these quiet souls. Many of us, overtly and subtly, have taken a very militant approach in sharing our faith with others. We corner people. We demand immediate decisions. We use emotionally charged environments to wrangle decisions. We are sometimes disrespectful. We say, “Follow Christ and we will let you in.” But maybe we need to learn to say, “Come on in, and learn what it means to follow Christ.”
Here is an example: My friend Sabrina, and her husband Blake, live in a Christian community on a working farm. By “Christian community” I mean a group of people who are attempting to live out the way of Jesus while sharing life, space, and the same values. It’s not a commune – Sabrina, Blake and the other two dozen folks living there are definite individuals – it is a community: A group of people helping the world and welcoming others.
Welcome, in fact, is what brought Sabrina to the farm. She wasn’t a Christian when she arrived. Actually, she was rather hostile toward faith. But she loved the earth, she was trying to stay sober, and she and Blake wanted to give self-sustaining, organic farming a try while they were still young enough to pull it off.
Through a series of inexplicable events, but mostly because of the dramatic welcome others at the farm gave them, this couple found themselves moving out of the city and into the cornfields. Sabrina was going to farm with gusto, but she had no intention of getting involved with what she called, “the Jesus stuff.” And her co-farmers respected that.
But one day, after being surrounded by all this grace and love, and having begun to pray again and study the way of Jesus, she woke up in half panic, in half celebration, and all surprise: “Oh, my God, I think I’m a Christian!” It was a beautiful conversion; one made possible by giving plenty of margin, not plenty of manipulation.
Maybe it is because I hang around with too many Mennonites now, because I long ago defied my own coercive religious upbringing, or because of precious people like Sabrina, but I have come to the core conclusion that we need to give people some space. Should we share and live our faith? Absolutely! But I believe every person is capable of relating directly to God without coercion or interference by others.
In the words of that old Baptist from Oklahoma, Herschel Hobbs: “The Church cannot fasten its iron grip upon anyone’s soul…This is the worst of all tyrannies. And it is made worse by its claim to be in the name of God who created men and women to be free.”
Thus, every person should be given the right of free choice in his or her relationship with God (or without God). Every individual should be given the dignity as image-bearing creations of God to arrive at their own spiritual conclusions, choosing to be Catholic or Coptic, a Methodist or a Muslim, a Buddhist or a Baptist, a Jew or a Jainist, an Anglican or an atheist, without heavy-handedness of any kind.