QOTD (Question of the Day) Introduction: This blog series reviews questions asked to teenagers as part of the NSYR study as documented in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. These questions relate to “seeker attitudes” among American Teenagers. I am also using these discussion questions to engage the kids in our After School program at a deeper level.
Question: Is it OK to try to convert someone to your faith?
“… the slight majority of American teens, 54 percent… believe it is okay for people to try to convert others. A large minority of teens, by comparison, 43 percent, believe that when it comes to proselytizing, everyone should just leave everyone else alone.”
My brief answer:
It would be legitimate to simply say “yes, because the Bible says so” followed by a series f biblical references. This is a worthy endeavor but one I will not undertake at this time.
Instead, I would like to address three objections. (1) Trying to convert someone is coercive. (2) Trying to convert someone is mean. (3) Trying to convert someone is arrogant.
Trying to convert someone is coercive: The crusades, the thirty years war, and other instances of attempts at coercive conversion are a sad historical reality. However, we need not equate evangelism with the crusades. To do such a thing is a fallacy. There are many non-coercive ways to appeal to someone to convert. At this point, it might be helpful to make a distinction between “evangelism” (simply sharing the good news of Jesus) and “proselytizing” (a word with for more negative connotation). Henceforth I will be speaking of evangelism.
Trying to convert someone is mean: Religious conversion typically includes the concept of a change of mind – I thought the wrong way before, now I must change my mind to think/believe the right way. This is seen as mean. One student said it like this: “My friend is a Muslim. He grew up in a Muslim family. I don’t want to talk about religion with him because I don’t want to lose him as a friend.” In other words, simply having a religious conversation would be, by definition, mean.
This is an understandable position, and one with which I can certainly relate, but at a deeper level it strikes me as odd that we only seem to apply this logic to religious discussions. In nearly every other area of life it’s not automatically mean to disagree. We need to find a way to have meaningful discussions about important matters and still do so in a gracious way. Also, we need to stop viewing all religious conversations where there might be conflict as wrong by definition.
Trying to convert someone is arrogant: I think we apply that logic to religious discussions because we form a distinction between “real real” and “faith real” (a topic which came up in an earlier QOTD). In the “faith real” it’s impossible to make claims of truth, at least universally binding truth. It’s all just opinion. To make a universal claim out of a personal opinion is the height of arrogance.
But what if all truth was “real truth”? What if religious truth was the most important truth of all? What if we took seriously Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” If that we true (and I believe it is) than it is not only OK for us to share our faith (and yes, in a way that tries to convince) but in fact, an imperative.