Dominic Mapstone, a Catholic social worker, wrote a post I want to highlight. Here are some excerpts:
When you order a meal you expect to be asked some junk like “do you want fries with that?” But what if you are homeless and you line up for a feed and someone starts trying to tell you about what church they go to or what God they worship?
If you don’t know how running a homeless service and running a church could possibly relate to each other – you have not been homeless. Street life and homelessness involves putting up with evangelization. There is no way for ‘the great unwashed’ to avoid it.
It makes me question the true agenda of some Christian service providers.
I wonder if some of these services are just a disguise and the principal agenda has nothing to do with what homeless people want, but what the religious group wants.
Are service providers that allow or even encourage evangelization to the homeless chasing sexy souls? Are they abusing the significant position of power they have? I’d say yes to both, and think it’s a disgusting abuse of power.
Those with power often believe their world view is right and should be shared by those without power. Institutional and structural power has long been abused in this way. Credit to those with the humility to know better.
Today, homeless people in many countries are evangelized to, treated as ignorant sinners who if only they turn to God ‘x’ and attend church ‘y’ then all would be OK. Some are pressured or even forced to attend church services if they want welfare assistance. This is wrong and should not be tolerated.
If you are a Christian like me and aren’t sure how you feel about this post, think for a minute if an Islamic service provider was given the same funding and license to provide services to homeless people and evangelize to them that many Christian service providers are given? What about a Church of Scientology service provider? Would that be an abuse of power? Is it okay for your vulnerable countryman to be taken advantage of and pushed around by any religious group?
Point is it’s not about the religion we belong to or don’t… or the church you or I go to or don’t. When service providers use their position of power to recruit people to their religion it’s an abuse of power and not right….
The first thing I want to say about Mr. Mapstone’s post is that there’s quite a lot more to it than I’ve excerpted here – I encourage you to go over and read the entire post (after you’ve read mine, of course). The second thing I want to say is, I heartily applaud Mr. Mapstone for having the courage to call out his co-religionists on this issue. The third thing I want to say is that I hope Christians will take his message to heart. He’s not speaking as a non-believer, one who has obvious reasons for not wanting to listen to anyone’s gospel – he’s speaking as a believer who is sensitive to power dynamics, a believer who is humble (a characterization based on this one post, I admit), and a believer who recognizes that a charitable organization’s mission should be to meet needs that people identify as theirs, not needs that would-be helpers assign to them.
In contrast to Mr. Mapstone’s gracious attitude toward the needy, I present another Christian’s response (July 20 entry) to Mr. Mapstone:
My friend fired me an article that slams homeless evangelism…. It basically argues that Christians attach strings to their service…..
My quick defence is that when you go to play softball your team-mate doesn’t think she wants to hear the gospel (though deep down everyone wants peace and fulfilment only found through the gospel, so they DO WANT the gospel…). And yet you give it to her. When you go to the restaurant your waiter doesn’t think he wants to hear the gospel. And yet you give it to him. And so on…
Compartmentalisation as suggested in the article apparently doesn’t recognise that salvos want to evangelise anything that moves, in season and out, appropriate and inappropriate, dignified and undignified, friends and strangers, including teammates, waiters, doctors, and homeless people.
The article’s argument makes sense in a conventional paradigm. For those of us fighting in a revolutionary paradigm (read: salvos, amongst others) it seems irrelevant.
Ugh and Double Ugh! Whereas Mr. Mapstone’s post makes me want to give Mr. Mapstone a hug and a big, sloppy kiss, the second post makes me want to slap the author upside the head a few dozen times. What utter arrogance! He’s sure that, no matter what the need, his gospel is the solution. Moreover, his disrespect for those he would “win for Christ” is infuriating. He doesn’t care whether people want to hear his message (he assumes that they do, but they’re just too lost in sin to realize it), he just wants to go ahead and “evangelise anything that moves” in any manner possible, at any time possible. And people think atheists are militant! If Mr. Aggressive Evangelist had his way, non-Christians would have to don Kevlar vests and arm themselves with Uzis just to stand their ground against his full-on assault!
The full extent of Mr. Aggressive Evangelist’s delusion of grandeur is revealed in his final sentence. Mr. Aggressive Evangelist is “fighting in a revolutionary paradigm.” Oh, sure – that makes it okay, then. He’s free to ignore words of caution from other Christians, because those hopeless saps are living in the wrong paradigm. Their paradigm, a conventional one, is irrelevant. The only paradigm that matters is the revolutionary one that Mr. Aggressive Evangelist has erected in his mind. Excuse me while I roll on the floor and laugh out loud.
If I met Mr. Mapstone on the street, I’d probably take him to Starbucks and pass an enjoyable hour or three chatting with him. If I met Mr. Aggressive Evangelist on the street, basic human decency and compassion would compel me to counter-evangelize him with some choice bits from The God Delusion. What could possibly be more appropriate for the occasion?
– the chaplain