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Non-assertive Evangelism

 
 

I assume we all know the story of the assistant coach, Joe Kennedy who, after every Bremerton High School football game, walked out to the 50 yard line and knelt to pray.  Much has been made of the fact that Kennedy didn’t ask anyone to join him; he didn’t recruit anyone, he was just fallowing his passions.  I wish following one’s passions was enough of a reason to do something but it isn’t.  Passions always need to be tempered by reason.  I don’t know Kennedy’s intentions, but I do think that in spite of what he meant or didn’t mean by praying, it was seen and interpreted as an assertive act.  Anything that is that public and visible is not just a matter of a person’s feelings.  Steve Largent (the famous Seahawk) wrote an article in The Seattle Times defending the coach, sharing that in his life, coaches like Joe Kennedy, became father figures for him and were instrumental in forming him.  There was nothing in Largent’s article I couldn’t agree with, but after reading it, I said to myself, “but what does that have to do with the 50-yard line?”  Largent and I suspect most people seem to miss this point.

For all of our claim to be biblical, I couldn’t help but wonder why there has been not mention of what Jesus says in Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, as an introduction to the Lord’s Prayer:  “…do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others…”  What could be a more central and public place today than a football field?  On such a stage, Coach Kennedy’s act can be nothing but a public declaration of faith implying that he is faithful.  It doesn’t help that the spirit of the venue is competitive either.  People will easily experience his act not as devotional, but as declarative and competitive.  This greases the stereotype that many unchurched people have that Christians are self-righteous and pushy.  Again, Kennedy probably didn’t feel these things, but a little thought could have helped him to see, I hope, that in spite of his passions, sincere as they may be, what he communicated was not the passion he intended.  It is almost an invitation for someone else who disagrees with him to take the stage – and along came the Satanists.  Ironically it was the Satanists who benefited the most from all of this.  Personally I would rather they get as little publicity as possible. Whether we like it or not, the law of the land is equal opportunity for religions to speech and evangelizing.  If a school has a bible study, a Buddhist group must be welcome to do so too.  Well, we don’t mind the Buddhists so much but what about the Scientologists?  It’s a sticky wicket that I think is best left alone.  How would Steve Largent feel about a Satanist coach?

I don’t like the stereotype of Christians being self-righteous and assertive.  When I am on a plane or in a new crowd and I introduce myself as a pastor, I can feel the response – either they are enthusiastic to know that I’m not like all the bad folk in the world or that I am one of those judgmental Christians who will try to convert them.  That’s when I order a beer and send them into a quandary.  One of our jobs is to enlighten people in a predominantly unchurched world that Christians are not full or ourselves and ready to judge them.  I believe that we evangelize best in the context of relationships.  We first work on a relationship, finding out people’s stories and sharing our own, and as we share our story our faith is a part of it – not an abstract set of beliefs but a growing, changing, living sometimes struggling part of the story of our lives – vulnerable, imperfect and reticent to judge anyone.  At the General Conference before the last one, we added the word “witness” to the membership vows for joining the church.  I agree with that and want to live that out.  I just don’t think the 50 yard line is the place.  P.Jim

 

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