Monday, March 9, 2009

What it is Hard to Talk to an Evangelical : Emotional Dishonesty Cont.

I like to illustrate the points I’m trying to make with real-life examples. I think most readers know what I mean. Do you feel comfortable talking about honest feelings when you are in conversations with Evangelicals? Remember they are holding up this idealistic grid of the “Fruits of the Spirit” to evaluate your comments. Can you show your anger, when you are honestly angry? Can you talk about your real-life fears? Can you talk about being depressed?

Here is one real-life example.

Setting: I participated in a national evangelistic campaign of Campus Crusade for Christ in 1978 called “I Found It.” It was program that came right out of Madison Ave. I worked in a phone bank as a “telemarketer” with the purpose of calling up people and reading them the “gospel” off a flip chart. Here is how Campus Crusade evaluates it in on their history page:

1976 "I Found It!," an evangelistic billboard/bumper sticker campaign, is launched. 85 percent of all Americans are exposed to the campaign.
1978 "I Found It!" campaigns are established in more than 100 countries. As a result, more than 3.5 million people become Christians.

During the training sessions for this ill-conceived project, I watched a movie put out by Campus Crusade on techniques for evangelism. This film was put out by a guy that was Campus Crusades’ director of evangelism. It had several scenarios role-played with the goal of teaching us how to take advantage of evangelistic situations or what they would call, “Divine appointments.”

One scenario bothered me even then and I was a hard-core evangelical, or, at least I was trying to be. I will tell it the best I can remember.

There were a line of people (actors of course) at a grocery store check out. The check out counter had a sign that said, “Maximum of 15 items.” It was taking the clerk a very long time, having to call for price checks etc. One man, near the back of the line seemed fidgety. The lady in front of him had a crying baby plus about 40 items in her cart.

At the back of the line was our good Christian. He was well-dressed and well-groomed, plus it had a big (fake) smile strung across his face.

Fidgety Man (turning to Christian guy): “Man this is taking forever!”

Christian Guy (still with the big smile on his face), “You know, I used to struggle with impatience too. Then I met Jesus Christ. He completely turned my life around. Now things like this don’t bother me at all. As I walk in the spirit, my life is always filled with peace.”

Fidgety Man
(with a soft humble smile): Really. I would love to have peace. Can you tell me more about this Jesus?”

This is what I’m talking about. The so-called Christian man was such a fake that I’m sure no intelligent “Fidgety man” would fall for this tactic.


I know for me, I become impatient when I’m in a long check-out line, especially if I have to be somewhere. The difference between the old, non-Christian Mike and the Christian Mike is that I will now try to talk myself out of the frustration. “Okay, Mike there is nothing I can do about this. Complaining won’t help. Relax.” The Christian Mike would also avoid saying hateful things to the people in front of me because that is not the gracious thing to do and the fact it won’t help the situation. But the emotions are really the same.

If I said, “I don’t get impatient anymore because I am controlled by the Spirit” then that would a lie and an emotional denial.

I mentioned before that I had to can a home Bible study I was leading two years ago over this issue. It was on marriage and no one would share when I asked pointed questions (about hard things in their marriages). To be fair, I shared things that irritate me about my wife, and shared (for her since she didn’t share either) things that I do which I think irritate her.

Then, during refreshment break, two of the husbands approached me and confronted me that all I was doing was trying to, “dig up dirt.” They also said things that suggested that hey didn’t think I had a healthy marriage. I think I have a very health marriage . . . but I don’t deny reality.


Anonymous said...

I remember "I Found It! (TM)"

Just like the later "Baby on Board" signs, within a couple weeks of the first "I Found It!" bumper stickers, the joke parody stickers started showing up. The three I remember offhand:

"I Lost It!" (don't remember the context, but it was an obvious takeoff)

"I Never Lost It!" (with Mogem David)

"Campus Crusade for Cthulhu:
It Found Me!" (H.P.Lovecraft supernatural-horror reference)

-- Headless Unicorn Guy

craig v. said...

I was very sad to learn of Terry's death. You and his family are in my prayers.

Back on topic, here are some random thoughts:

1. Did you see House last night? I thought last night's episode did a good job of exploring "honesty".

2. I, too, participated in "I Found It". My car at the time was rather old and when my sister saw the bumper sticker on my car she said, "It looks like you found it."

3. Perhaps I'm self deceived, but the evangelicals I spend time with don't embrace a lot of the things you describe. Of course, rightly or wrongly, we would also tend to look down upon Campus Crusade. In our heart of hearts, I suspect (I hope) most of us want much more than what can be dreamed up in a marketing campaign.

MJ said...

No, I didn't see House last night. Can't remember what I was doing.

I'm glad Crag V that you can't relate to some of these things.

I went to a large Evangelical church in MN and there were certainly a group of men that I could talk to, where you didn't have to put up and guard. I mean, I could tell them if I were depressed or having a hard time in my marriage. Haven't found that in my present living situation.

craig v. said...

For House, the malady of the week was a case where a man said whatever he thought. In doing so, he was a lot like House. The episode looked at the damage done to relationships by this kind of truth telling but also explored its value in House's friendship with Wilson. I think you would have liked it.

As far as your current situation, it's certainly sad and lonely that you can't be yourself. I should probably treasure more the evangelical friends I have.

Bryan said...

How would you respond to C.S. Lewis' argument that Christians should pretend to be better than we are?

" When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already."
--C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity Book 4 chapter 7

Do you think there is any merit in acting in a way that could be called "emotionally dishonest" in order for it to eventually become honest? By pretending that I am patient when waiting in line, could I really become a more patient person?

MJ said...

Bryan, That's a good question. I think Lewis is right . . . that we should behave in the laws of love when we don't "feel" like it. But I think you can (and should) do that with emotional honesty.

The law of love is about the other person, serving them, honoring them, respecting them even when we wouldn't naturally want to do it because of our selfishness.

The kind of emotional dishonesty that I'm talking about is where we deny emotions in order to either fool ourselves or others into thinking we are better than we are. I hear Lewis saying that we should behave better than we are, not to fool people into thinking we are better than we are.

The difference is, say someone calls and wants me to do them a favor when I really didn't want to (other plans for example). I can obey the law of love and go serve them even when I have desire to do it. That is fine, and the honorable thing to do.

But if I lie and tell the person, "Oh I had no other plans," or "there is nothing else I would rather do than to be here helping you" then that's being dishonest.

Also to smile and tell others about your serving others and "how happy it makes you to serve the lord" is dishonest.