Thursday, October 05, 2006

Querying Evangelism

There is a United Church minister in Toronto who took an empty downtown church and filled it by doing a reverse evangelism. Traditional evangelism has people within the church "selling" or "marketing" the church to the unchurched. The idea is that "church" is a package of goods and services that can be sold or marketed and bought at the other end. The church provides the package, the evangelized are the buyers.

Cheri Dinovo's type of evangelism goes the other way. The outsiders evangelize to the church. They teach, we listen. They have more to teach us about suffering, love, neglect, peace, violence, inhumanity, etc. than we have to teach them. We seek them out so that we can remain a church.

Dinovo spent time walking into the rougher neighbourhoods listening to people, bringing them into her church, not to follow but to lead. One person that had a big impact on her congregation was a cross-dresser drug addict who became the music director. She eventually died of an overdose. Dinovo points out that street people and poor people die a lot, so her church does a lot of funerals. But her church is filled with these kinds of people, sitting beside average families. This church requires a lot of close supervision to deal with potential situations -- so they provide it. They don't use the need for more supervision as an excuse not to let these people evangelize to them.

Dinovo's point is that the real preachers, movers, message-bearers always come from the margins of society. Jesus did, so did John the Baptist. If movers and shakers do come from within our congregations, we have a regrettable tendency to kick them out. Consider Lucretia Mott, George Fox, William Penn, John Woolman. The real evangelism comes from the outside in.

Churches do too much talking and too little learning and listening. Certainly, Quakers are a little different because everyone is equally a minister, and anyone can give ministry in Meeting. There is less of a marketable "package" to Quakerism. Yet our meetings have remarkably few drug addicts, street dwellers, runaways, etc. When we do outreach to these marginalized groups, it's usually to provide them with physical necessities, often through a third-party group.We have an arm's length approach to the very poor and unfortunate, perhaps not conscious, but it's still there.

Yet Jesus sat with prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, thieves, fishmongers. He didn't market his religion to them; he just listened to them, accepted them. He used washing to symbolize to them that their "sins" wash away like water, making them just as good as the "righteous" people. His message was: You're good enough the way you are - be one of my apostles.

I will ponder this idea over the Thanksgiving weekend so that I can talk clearly about it at the outreach committee meeting on Tuesday.


At 11:25 PM, Blogger Robin M. said...

It took me a minute to remember that Canada celebrates Thanksgiving earlier than the U.S.

This hits something deep with me. "They have more to teach us about suffering, love, neglect, peace, violence, inhumanity, etc. than we have to teach them." Like one of those things I knew before, but didn't put together in this context.

This connects for me with the film that Gregg Koskela mentions in his post about living like Jesus people.

Please do write more as your meeting considers anything to do with this idea.

Thank you.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...


I'd like to find and read Dinovo's book. It's called "Qu(e)erying Evangelism" Pilgrim Press. She gives it this title since the area of Toronto where she works has a high population of very marginalized non-heterosexuals.

If I find it and can make myself forego walks in the fall colours to read it, I'll post some of the more salient bits.

At 9:55 PM, Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Hi, Nancy!

You wrote, "Jesus sat with prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, thieves, fishmongers. He didn't market his religion to them; he just listened to them, accepted them."

You must be using a different Bible from mine. Mine says that he didn't just listen to prostitutes, tax collectors, and lepers, but marketed his religion quite actively to them.

As regards tax collectors, Mark 2:14 / Matthew 9:9 / Luke 5:27-28 tells how he called one of them away from his books -- an irreversible step for someone in those days, rather like going AWOL from the Army in wartime. Luke 19 tells of how Christ took the initiative and called a tax collector out of the back of a crowd into the open in a (successful) effort to bring him around.

As regards prostitutes, I think of John's story of the woman at the well (John 4); Christ did quite a bit of marketing his religion to her. And then there was the woman taken in adultery; he told her, "Go, and sin no more" -- hardly "just listening."

And as to lepers, the story is Mark 1:40-44 / Matthew 8:1-4 / Luke 5:12-14. Again Christ didn't just listen; he did some very active marketing by working the miracle he did, as Luke in particular took note of. (Luke 5:15)

Agreed, Christ's way of "marketing" religion was very different from modern churches' way. It was real. Christ didn't just market membership cards and dubious promises of happiness and prosperity; he mixed real live miracles with confronting moral teachings that one could tell in one's heart would turn one's whole life around if one practiced them. What Christ marketed put what modern churches market to shame.

But it was still marketing. I think of John 7:37-38, in which Christ is described as doing streetcorner evangelism of the crudest and most blatant sort. That pair of verses is awfully hard to rationalize away.

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...


I didn't mean to imply that Jesus didn't do any preaching or teaching. I thought that was obvious.

But he had more of a you-and-me approach to evangelism, more of an acceptance of others, than I see in current church marketing. Even the website still focuses on top-down evangelism, as if the "holy" teach the "unholy." This bears more of a resemblance to phariseeism than to the way Jesus sat and talked with those that society pushed to the margins.

Jesus had his own marginalization. He was the child of a single mother at a time when people still considered stoning unwed mothers. If there was an immaculate conception, the people of Nazareth certainly didn't know about it. [And if there was a Joseph (which most scholars believe there was not), then he came along a little to late to solve the problem.] So Jesus grew up as "Jesus, son of Mary" which was a pretty big insult in those days. Some scholars believe that's why he didn't marry -- no respectable family would marry their daughter to a man from such a family.

I consider his baptism by John as a turning point, because then he suddenly realized he was holy just as he was. John "washed" all of society's sneers from him. He didn't have to "repent" for the "sins" of his mother. He didn't have to live his life as a social outcast. The Spirit's love was for everyone.

At that point, he felt his mission and started reaching out to all people, whether inside the culture or outside it, letting them know that God loved them for what they were.

Churches are great at preaching that God loves everyone; but once inside, people learn that *churches* don't love everyone. There is strong pressure to change, to become more like the "norm." How many churches welcome cross-dressers, hookers who are dressed like hookers, street people? Even simply gays and lesbians? Some churches don't even welcome feminists or liberals.

The message isn't: You are holy just as you are. But: You are almost holy, but you just have to change this and this, and then God will love you as much as S/He loves us.

Quakers have these sins as well. While we'll welcome the cross-dresser and the feminist, what about the banker, the gun-club owner, the prosecutor? How much change do we require before welcoming everyone to the table?

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Marshall Massey said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:48 AM, Blogger Robin M. said...

One of the important points for me is that Jesus felt that lepers and prostitutes were worth marketing religion to. They were not beneath the notice or the love of God. He said that they too could be healed, could change, that they were not doomed to live like that - that they too could become disciples.

Biblical scholarship is less important to me than the fact that this is still revolutionary teaching.

In my Meeting, I think it would be generally accepted that how you dress, or your gender identification are not the sins we most need to repent of. Pride, sloth, greed, lust, etc. are not limited to any one group.


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