Don’t Try to Convert Me!
I was having a lively conversation about society and politics with a couple of fellow boarders in our common space, and the conversation eventually turned to religion. I was in and out of the conversation, so I forget how the conversation ended up there, but one got my attention when she exclaimed “Don’t try to convert me!” She wasn’t speaking to us, but was saying that’s how she often felt when approached by people of faith. She shared her experience of growing up in a hyper-religious community that might well be classified as a cult, and she said she’d had people trying to convert her all her life and she was really tired of it. The other person in the conversation shared her sentiment, though without having had the same traumatic experience.
That exchange made me pause to reflect on the various motivations people of faith can have when spreading the Gospel. The way they spoke of people trying to convert them sounded a lot more like people attempting to control them and conform them to a certain pattern of behavior than people attempting to share genuinely good news about Christ. They had certainly encountered ideology, but it seemed like they hadn’t really encountered Christ’s love for them in those who professed His name.
For the Christian engaged in society, discerning the difference between ideology and love is paramount. Ideology is an idea of how the world works and ought to be. Ideologies motivate individuals to shape the world around them and impose a certain type of order upon it. Ideologies come in many different forms, and may be religious, secular, conservative, liberal, or anything in between.
Because God is love, Christianity is not an ideological faith. Christianity can be and has been made into an ideology, but ideological Christianity is not the Gospel. God’s love invalidates ideological Christianity because love gives for the benefit of the other, whereas ideology merely controls. Even God’s commands are for our good, and enable us to share intimately in His life.
Love gives freedom to choose against the good; though love doesn’t remove negative consequences, nor does it sanction evil. But love is the constant call upwards, the constant call into light and truth so that the other might be healed, might be blessed, might grasp hold of the abundant life made possible by Christ. Love is always acting for the benefit of the other, and not for the satisfaction of our own minds about the way other people or the world around us ought to be–nor out of annoyance that people aren’t as we think they ought to be. And love respects the individual enough to affirm the capacity of each to choose right and reap the benefits, or choose wrong and suffer the consequences.
People often shirk away from those attempting to speak about Christ because they sense–sometimes wrongly, sometimes rightly–that the person sharing isn’t really concerned about their good but more about getting them to act a certain way or to affirm a set of beliefs that validate the other’s worldview. People can often project negative motives onto others where they don’t exist, but too many times the perception is true. Speaking the Gospel (or the truth more generally) in love isn’t so much about how something is said as much is it is about what is motivating the speaker. It’s about a heart that is genuinely moved by concern and compassion for the other, moved by a deep desire to see the other blessed. The truth–even when spoken in love–often offends those who don’t want to hear it; but even so, if we want to truly bear witness to Christ, then His heart must be our heart. We can only give what we have; so to communicate His love for another, His love for them must first be in us.