...But even more deeply, we have to figure out how to tell our story in language that a person who doesn’t know anything about Christianity can begin to understand. I’m going to suggest that our telling of that great story has to begin in listening. Not only does it say to the other person, “Your story is of great importance, and I recognize your equal dignity by listening,” but it also gives us an opportunity to discern where to help connect that story with the larger story of God’s love known in Jesus Christ.I hope that some of the above words from our Presiding Bishop were familiar to you. We have had a few conversations about effective evangelism in today's world, and have suggested a similar approach. We meet people where they are, and don't try to drag them to where we think they should be. We listen to their story, share our story, and look for the places in which God's story intersects them both.
Frederick Buechner famously said that ministry happens when a person’s great joys meet the deep hungers of the world. We cannot engage in ministry until we recognize where the hunger is.
I have had the remarkable gift and opportunity in recent months to speak to people who don’t know much at all about the Episcopal Church or Christianity. Those opportunities have come through the secular media. Those interviews intentionally have avoided the language of Christian insiders for the reasons above.
The unfortunate result in some places has been anger when Episcopalians don’t recognize their own familiar language. Let me suggest a challenging exercise: How would you tell the great truths of our faith without using overtly theological language? How would you tell a new neighbor that God loves him or her without measure, and invite him or her to learn more? If we are going to hear that person’s story with grace, we have to leave the door open for a while.
It is also worth noting that those who shout so loudly that our Presiding Bishop is not a Christian, and base this most uncharitable charge on statements from interviews with the secular media, have seemed to miss what Bp. Katharine was attempting to accomplish. They were not the intended audience. Her comments were not for the benefit of those who are already within the Church. Their anger, although not surprising, is terribly misplaced, and tells me much more about them than it does about our Presiding Bishop.
This latest ploy, of publically stating that those who disagree with you are not Christians, and even telling others that the Episcopal Church is no longer Christian (well documented in the Network's "Choose This Day" video; see especially Les Fairfield's rant), is beneath contempt and has no place within Christian dialogue. It is a conversation stopper, effectively shutting down any communication. Those who use this tactic know this, and that is why they utilize it. They have no desire to be contaminated with those of us who have the audacity to preach the radically inclusive love of God revealed to us through Jesus Christ. They don't want our kind in THEIR Church. Conversation might mean that "those people" may have to be allowed to share their pews.
As you can tell, the tactic of someone claiming to be a self-appointed doorkeeper into the Kingdom of God is an issue that deeply troubles me. Those who stand in the doorway and block others from the Kingdom will be held accountable one day for their most unChristian behavior.
This poor witness to the world of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ must be countered. I think that many of us who visit here may just be the ones who are called to be such a counterweight.
So, to begin, let's respond to our Presiding Bishop's questions:
1. How would you tell the great truths of our faith without using overtly theological language?
2. How would you tell a new neighbor that God loves him or her without measure, and invite him or her to learn more?