A couple nights ago I heard something blaring outside my window. My apartment complex is situated next to a high school football field, so I didn’t think anything of it until the sound started getting clearer. I walked over to my window and looked out to see a truck with a flat trailer hitched up behind it, carrying a sound system, floodlights, a microphone, and a guy singing an (awful) Christian rap/altar-call hybrid.
Yeah, these guys have been through before. I’m not sure if it’s a monthly thing, or if they go for it whenever they can sneak in (I’m pretty sure the management, slum-lords though they are, haven’t signed off on this).
For the most part they just roll up and down the streets in the complex at a couple miles an hour and shout through the loudspeakers that we have got to accept the Jesus into our hearts as lord and savior and…
Well, that’s about it really. And it’s junk like this which is the subject of today’s post.
I’m calling it “Drive-By Evangelism”, though the same basic principle applies to the people who stand on street corners or go door to door handing out tracts and pamphlets. And before anyone gets their hackles up, this isn’t some across-the-board complaint about people trying to engage me in thoughtful discussion.
It’s about the exact opposite- but more on that in a sec. We need first to understand exactly why anyone would drive around someone’s neighborhood blasting demands for repentance like they’re propagandists in some dictatorial dystopia.
It all seems to stem from this idea- and I admit, I’m not quite sure what the term for it is- that faith operates a lot more like a mantra or a creed than a worldview. The general perspective that Christianity seems to offer is that to “Believe” in _____ is simply to state you do so (and avoid certain actions in addition to that). I get that it sounds kinda abstract so far, but bear with me- maybe this will clear things up. “Faith” becomes kinda like a weird game of catch-and-release. You head out, “save” someone, and boom, done, move on to the next one.
The problem with “getting saved” is that it’s a ****y metaphor. The very real problems of life- immediate and existential- don’t just vanish along with the recitation of the sinner’s prayer or getting splashed with water.
And I’m not saying that this isn’t a universal pattern, but it does seem to be a favored tactic among those who don’t have to keep living in the thorns. After all, the guys in the truck blasting get to leave this roachy, police-occupied place at the end of the day- the people who live here don’t. And just because they’ve recited an oath doesn’t mean its going to get any less roachy or police-occupied.
Granted, the whole “here-and-now vs. by-and-by” debate has been raging since, well, forever, but this just strikes me all has having reach new levels of cheap and lazy. Between this, altar calls (that’s when you realize the pastor had an ulterior motive for getting you to raise your hand), and pamphlets, it seems that any kind of attempt at sincere, respectful outreach is being eliminated. Again this applies to everyone (handing out tracts in particular)- it’s just especially evident and pernicious in “Western Christianity”.
And I have to qualify that as well, because again, you’re not seeing a ton of poor churches trying to adopt this drive-by tactic. When we talk about Christian Culture, we’re really talking about the people who own and operate the publishing companies, the movie and music studios, and so on and so forth- namely middle-class-to-wealthy white suburbanites (still pretty heavily skewed in favor of men). It’s easy to discount people’s immediate needs when yours are all taken care of- and after all, depending on which branch of Christianity one subscribes to, the threat that one might lose their faith is all the more reason to hope they die quickly, to ensure they don’t have a chance to fall away from the faith. Once that’s the attitude you’ve got, it’s easy to understand how blaring hellfire and judgment from the back of a truck would be considered a logical move.
We may take some comfort in the fact that the internet is, as it is doing with pretty much every element of culture, bringing a degree of anarchic democracy that’s given the people on the ground more of a voice. As much as the subculture has a lot of issues to be worked out, at least there’s a platform for some alternative views.
Still, this crap has got to stop.
Now I know you’re thinking “But Gordon, you nihilistic demi-god of rock-and-roll, what about the people that this junk does save? I mean, if we hand out a million pamphlets, and still get one conversion, won’t it be all worth it?”
See- that’s exactly the kind of attitude that I’m talking about.
Exactly who is getting “convinced” by this? How many meth-heads are looking at this pamphlet and thinking to themselves, “Wow, this is a really compelling argument. I mean, I like meth, but what will be the destination of my immortal soul?”
Look, “moments of clarity” don’t happen because you “discover” something, they happen because everything up to that point has reached critical mass. And even if it did help, what’s the point of it if you’re just going to leave the person in the gutter?
The Book of James had a thing or two to say about that. Seriously, if you do subscribe to the “if you’re in, you’re in” mentality, then what are you communicating with all this? That hunger, abuse, poverty are all tolerable in your eyes? If that’s the case, then yours isn’t a religion I’m going to want out there. And once again, lest anyone accuse me of targeting Christianity unfairly or exclusively, yes, I’m aware that this applies just as much to other spheres, it’s just especially evident here, as well as typically more shameless and unchallenged than others.
So again- please– enough with the ****ing tracts.
Excellent use of the book of James. For real.
I think this isn’t a problem limited only to drive-bys and tracts but is pretty much rampant in the church. We say “go and sin no more” but there is no support given or community promoted to help in spiritual growth. We view salvation as a on/off switch rather than a process and we abandon converts the moment they’ve stood up after the alter call. Then we wonder why we don’t grow.
I think one of the major driving factors behind this method of evangelism is the keeping of statistics in churchs. In larger denominations centralized funding often gets doled out based on how “well” a particular church is doing. If a church does a drive by and “reaches” 5 people a night that looks amazing. Retention statistics are much less important. This leads to an undue amount of effort spent on trying to get a conversion out of someone and very little effort spent on keeping them in the faith. It’s just a bad situation, man.