Wednesday, June 25, 2003

How NOT to evangelize

Mac Swift has been having a running dialogue with myself and other Christians over the Christian nature of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Because Mac has a fun writing style, I was looking forward to an invigorating discussion about the nature of Catholicism. I knew Mac saw the Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon, but I still believed that we'd be able to talk together and strive for the truth, whatever it may be. Disagreement and critiques of arguments were sure to be part of it, but there's nothing wrong with that, as long as a common zeal for truth and love of others is present.

Unfortunately, it has become clear to me (and others) that Mac has no interest in such a dialogue. Now, I've met others with whom I've taken issue with their discussion/argument style. But Mac... well, he's a first.

First on my list -- and that which is prompting this post -- is this: yesterday Mac posted some comments at a Catholic board which uncharitably slammed him. And today, he posted on Catholic censorship [sic]. And later today, he posted on his first hate mail. And now, Mac has shut off further commenting on all three posts! Talk about censorship... not only that, but if you read the comments, you'll find first that he editted the comments of one person (in the hate mail post), and then that the turn of the other two comments discussions was not in his favor. In the censorship discussion, I pointed out that David Hunt's work is full of myth, not history, and I cited a couple of examples. Mac--who rejects out of hand any history presented by Catholics or Orthodox--responded by quoting a Catholic priest who became an atheist! He then deleted shut off the comments. Now, his blog is his own, and he can do what he wants. But these actions sure don't help his case.

With the post on comments made at the Catholic board, Mac gratuitously asserted that the Catholic Church was anti-semitic, and to prove it he linked a book. I noted negative reviews of the book by non-Catholics, and posted a comment against anti-semitism made by Pope Benedict XV, and in response, Mac replied about Pius XI (wrong pope). At this point, I asked Mac the following:
    What is your motive with your posts on Catholicism and your choice of language therein? Once upon a time I thought you desired to convert Catholics out of Catholicism, a desire which I would disagree with, but yet respect.

    Over the past week, or so, I've changed my mind on this, because it seems that your approach to such a desire is, well, not very conducive to its success. What do I mean? Well, if you want to convert anyone, honey always works better than vinegar. Belligerantly attacking their current religion is going to fail 99% of the time, because people's natural reaction is to defend what they believe when it is stridently attacked.

    A better course of action would be to engage Catholics in friendly dialogue, avoiding terms or language likely to alienate the person with whom you are talking. Once a certain rapport has been established, you might use questions to lead the person to the truth.

    Such an avenue has a much greater chance of success, and I'd ask you to consider employing it, for your own good and for the good of your interlocutors.
He replied thus:
    As for my intentions, I think you mistake the purpose of this blog. This is not an apologia blog, but a personal one, where the current subject happens to be catholicism. Eventually it will die down, and I'll write about other topics depending on which way the wind blows.

    I could argue till I'm blue in the face about catholicism, but the truth is only a Holy Spirit involved awakening will free a Catholic from the bondage of Rome. I may engage in argumentative dialogue but I expect no converts, and I'm really not out to make any. If people are persuaded by what I write, God bless them, but if not, what is that to you? And life goes on...
Orthodox blogger Karl Thienes responded,
    This is just a hpothetical question, but what if you are the instrument by which God wants to "awaken the Catholics from bondage?" What if your strident and saracastic tone is thwarting the will of God?

    In other words, you may not have planned on using the blog to defend "the truth" but this is where God has placed you. This is the responsibility inherent with owning a public blog. Public statements are *de facto* apologia. Unless your blog is nothing more than "I had a tuna sandwhich for lunch" kind of writing, you are entering into the world of debate, discussion, and apologia.

    I would consider Chris' words again carefully, and prayerfully if I were you. Chris and I totally disagree with you in regards to many things....but if you are convinced that your views are closer to the truth and need to be heard, you might want to seriously consider changing your tone and approach.

    Just some advice from an "idol-worshipping pagan" who so far is neither convinced by your rational arguments, nor your approach.
Mac's response? He said,
    "...instrument by which God wants to "awaken the Catholics from bondage?"

    Whoa, I make no such claims, and if I were such an instrument, I think God would tell me first.

    Really, I'm not out to convince anyone. Honest!

    You'll have your say and I'll have mine, and we'll both go on believing what we choose to believe.
And Karl replied again:
    "You'll have your say and I'll have mine, and we'll both go on believing what we choose to believe"

    That may well be true. But if this is already your conclusion, why talk at all about anything important?

    If we care about knowing the truth at all, we need to have the hope that all parties involved with "come to the knowledge of the truth."

    Thus, we need to take care to make sure of the accuracy of our comments, as well as the tone in which they are delivered. I think my earlier comment still stands.
At this point, Mac turned off the comments at the thread, and so my own response is not available. But I'll summarize it here...

Basically, I'm fascinated by Mac's approach. As I told him, I've never met a Christian who believes that the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon, yet has a "live and let live" attitude. Mac has no desire to convict me of the truth, as he understands it, which is a first (for me) among Christians who believe as he does about Catholicism. Usually, that type of Christian believes strongly in the need to evangelize and bring others (especially Catholics) to Jesus. Mac, though, has no such interest. It's an interesting combination of the zealous Fundamentalist and the apathetic Christian... his views of Catholicism mirror the former, while his disinterest in converting Catholics mirrors the latter.


I've also never met a Christian who believes atheists over Catholics. I personally try to discern the truth wherever it may be found, whether it's an atheist, fellow Christian, another Catholic, or Buddhist. But I can certainly understand why one might take what others say with a grain of salt. But for a Christian to automatically discount what a Catholic says and simultaneously give credence to an atheist... again, something I've never seen.

I'm also disappointed that Mac turned off the comments... it makes it look like he's picking up his marbles and running home. I really wanted (and still want) to engage in a discussion with Mac, in which we both strive for truth, with humility and charity, and concern for one another. Based on his recent comments--and again, much to my surprise--Mac doesn't seem to share that interest.

Hopefully we can continue with this discussion... we'll see what happens.

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