I have updated my original post (see italics) and added a direct quote from iMonk.
Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, has a post this week entitled “Is Evangelism Child Abuse?” He is responding to the newest attack on religious people and leaders — the view that attempts to evangelize and convert people (especially young teenagers) is ultimately unethical and, umm…well…abusive. Spencer writes:
“I can see that the handwriting is on the wall. Those who speak of Christ, even in a private school, are going to be labeled abusive. Those who seek for decisions from anyone under 18 is going to be called a child abuser. Ministries to young people will come under increased scrutiny for everything they do if there stated goal is to bring about conversion.”
Well, this is a serious matter for a guy like me — whose vocation involves proclaiming, teaching and inviting teenagers to bring their life under the lordship of Jesus Christ and the gospel.
I, along with iMonk, am well aware that some presentations of the gospel do border on manipulative. Some tactics should come under scrutiny and preachers should be very open, upfront and honest about their motives when sharing the gospel and it’s goal of conversion. We especially need to be careful when respected, influential adults are challenging groups of impressionable young people.
But child abuse? Really?
I could say a lot in response to this absurd claim, but I will just limit myself to one main counterclaim today:Everyone — religious or not — is peddling a message, trying to influence and persuade, seeking “converts” to their point of view and calling for our allegiance. Everyone is guided by a particular worldview, and worldviews are comprised of particular beliefs about reality that make truth claims and by nature pose a challenge to differing worldviews.
For example the capitalistic, free-market, ideology driving the so-called American Dream bombards our teenagers daily through every mode of media, making truth claims, pushing particular values, seeking to persuade and influence others to bring their life under it’s powerful metanarrative of a ramped up secular, materialism. If we want to talk about ethics and start unmasking mass manipulation in our society, let’s start with the subtle, mind-manipulating marketing tactics of advertising companies or the entertainment industry. Go google “marketing tactics” and check out how many millions of dollars are being spent researching how best to market products, or as I see it, “convert” our youth to some pretty powerful secular, materialistic ideologies of the day.
If we really are so concerned about influential teachers indoctrinating our youth with a particular belief system, seeing young impressionable minds converted to the teacher’s point of view, then we also need to bring charges against every university professor, labeling them abusers as well. Their very name (i.e., “professors”) reveals that their vocation involves standing in front of their class and “professing” their beliefs. Of course, they are over 18 so they aren’t full-fledged “child” abusers; but, according to this line of reasoning, they are unethical, manipulative abusers nonetheless. Right?
You see, the folks making this sort of claim aren’t really concerned with young minds being unethically converted to another belief system by older, more influential teachers. The folks making this claim have themselves been “converted” by their own teachers and preachers of the gospel of a false tolerance that is propagated daily in the halls of the university. They really don’t want freedom of thought to reign in America. They merely want to push and peddle their own intolerant, anti-religious views and promote their views of philosophical naturalism — converting as many people as possible in the process.
Now, let me make myself clear here. Many of my fellow Christians at this point are saying “Amen” and letting this sentiment add more fuel to their passion to fight the “culture war” — you know, “take American back for God”, get prayer back in schools, wage war on the university curriculum and all the rest. That’s not my response. I believe in freedom of speech and a good, robust separation of church and state.
I merely want for Christians the freedom to be the counterculture movement we called to be — “shining like bright lights in a world of perversion and corruption” (Phil. 2:15). Likewise, I desire that people of no faith and other faiths to have the same freedoms. I expect that liberal university professors will be propagating the popular philosophies of our age, putting forth the most recent theories and research in their respective fields. I expect an economy built on consumerism and greed will use every marketing tactic available to persuade us that we need to buy their product to be happier. In a culture of intensifying moral relativism, I’m not a bit surprised Hollywood is capitalizing on sexual desire and licentiousness to attract viewers. Christians will be Christians and “the world” will be the world.
I’m not surprised at any of this. I’m only surprised that the preachers of tolerance are so often blind to their own intolerance. And I’m aghast at the anti-religious direction the rhetoric is going. If you are part of the Hitchens or Dawkins crowd and you disagree with me, please tell me why I shouldn’t be disturbed by the over-the-top rhetoric out there (e.g., “Religion poisons everything”) and accusations of unethical behavior by preachers sharing their faith.
At the end of the day, I will continue to teach and preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I will unabashedly tell teenagers that they are of immeasurable worth, and no matter how many times they messed up, they are loved unconditionally by their Creator. I will demonstrate, to the best of my ability, that God has a grand purpose for each of their lives, and central to this purpose is the call to love and serve those on the margins of society with the unconditional love of Christ. I will not ignore the blatant power of sin in each of our hearts, and how it separates us from God and alienates us from one another. I will proclaim the good news that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, dying on the cross to forgive us and bring us back into relationship with God. I will speak openly to our students about the other worldviews crying out for their allegiance, and challenge them to weigh the evidence, test each worldview, and make their own decision of who they are going to follow and whose teaching is going to guide their life.
And if this message gets me cuffed and hauled off to jail with the charge of ”child abuse,” then I’ll find myself following in the footsteps of a long line of other godly men and women falsely accused and imprisoned for the sake of the gospel concerning Jesus, who himself was accused, tried, condemned and crucified as a common criminal.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
[God] has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:19-21).