Diane Vogel Ferri is a teacher, poet and writer. Her essays have been published in Scene Magazine, Cleveland Christmas Memories, Raven’s Perch, and by Cleveland State University among others. Her poems can be found in numerous journals. Her chapbook, Liquid Rubies, was published by Pudding House. The Volume of Our Incongruity was published by Finishing Line Press. Diane’s essay, “I Will Sing for You” was featured at the Cleveland Humanities Fest in 2018. Her novel, The Desire Path can be found on Amazon. She is a graduate of Kent State University and holds an M.Ed from Cleveland State University.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Hijacking of Evangelism

To evangelize is to preach the gospel of Christ and to share your faith in a way that would convert non-believers. Christians do this because Jesus called us to make new disciples and, in my experience, because we want others to know the same joy and comfort faith can bring. 

 This is the way I spent my teenage and young adult years. I was so involved in sharing my faith through music and in other ways that that my mother once complained that I was at church too much! I participated in singing groups large and small that traveled and shared my faith with others through songs and witnessing to God’s love. After our productions there might be altar calls in which tearful teens would come forward and choose to follow Jesus. We saw lives change and whole families join the church because of our “evangelizing.” Later our church produced traveling family musicals with participants of all ages with an orchestra, choreography and music that sought to accomplish the same goal—bringing our faith to others through love, compassion and music. 

I knew nothing of prejudice, excluding or judging others during those years. Everyone who came to our church was welcomed and treated with love and friendship. Everything we did revolved around sharing our faith by the example of Jesus—and that is evangelizing.

Does that sound anything like the current understanding of the word?  Is it any wonder that I  constantly read about people trying to distance themselves from the term and trying to understand how it somehow got hijacked into meaning judgement, exclusion and even hatred? 

Even though we used music to bring others to faith, the most important lesson I was taught was to live your life by the example of Jesus and that is the most effective way to share your beliefs. To walk the walk.  To love others unconditionally. This is a very difficult thing to do as a human being, but we continue to grow through prayer.

And what was Jesus’s walk?  It was the definition of loving others. Every single story, parable and example of Jesus in the Bible is one of loving others, helping others and using what God has given you for good. Jesus never judged whether another human being deserved His help or healing. He freely gave food to those in need. He invited the outcasts to dine with him in friendship. He gave His life for those who didn’t deserve His sacrifice in any way. Then He forgave those who put Him to death. All of this to show us how to live. 

Here’s what He didn’t do: berate, criticize, judge, hate, or exclude someone for who they are. Here’s something He never expressed an opinion on: homosexuality. Yet, the conservative movement of this country is fixated on the topic instead of loving people as they are—as Jesus did—remembering that, as humans, we all fall short and are in need of healing, not just those we disapprove of. Personally, I am tired of those Christians who think it is their job to correct others. Judgement and correction are God’s job.

To me, the entirety of the Bible is a very simple message that we have greatly complicated with religion and human error:
God created us and gave us free will. Because we will regularly mess things up as human beings (Adam and Eve) we need to turn to God to help us through this earthly life. He wants our praise and gratitude. He sent Moses and the Ten Commandments to make the rules easy, but some of the Old Testament ways were confusing and even violent, so He sent Jesus to show us the way to treat each other.  Jesus brought a “new covenant” of love. He said the old ways were gone. He taught us to pray so that we can be in communion with Him whenever we want. 

It’s a miserable way to live when all you can see in life is how wrong other people are. It is a futile waste of time and no one will change because of your disapproval. You will always be angry and judgmental and that is why I can no longer call myself an evangelical. I am just a believer and I hope you are too. Life is much too short to spend it trying to force people into your version of appropriate living. Let go and let God.  And God help America out of this hateful and shameful time in our history.

If you are not familiar with the actual words of Jesus as they have been passed down to us here are some verses:
Matthew 7:1-5 and Luke 6:37-38 ask us not to judge each other.
John 8:1-8 says only someone without sin should “cast the first stone”
Matthew 25:35-40 asks “when I was a stranger did you visit me, feed me, care for me?”
Matthew 5:42 tells us to give to those who ask
Matthew 25:40 says when you do something for another person it’s as if you are doing it for Him.

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