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Evangelizing The Evangelists

By Rev. Ex-Evangelist ~

I drove to St. Augustine, Florida this past Sunday, January 1st, for some R&R. For those of you who are not familiar with St. Augustine, it is the oldest city in The United States. It predates the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. It is rich in history. It has flown the flags of Spain, England, and The United States. The downtown streets are cobblestone and many of the buildings date back to the 1700s. Being a history buff, I always like visiting there because it's a little like going back in time. The city allows you to catch a glimpse of what life was like in the past. But besides all this, it's a great place to spend the first day of the new year just looking around, eating, drinking some beers and listening to live music.

So, I'm soaking up the ambiance of the place and lo' and behold, what do I see among the throngs of tourists but two young men in their twenties holding up a large sign with a bible verse from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 on it in big letters. It read:

"The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. . . Do not be deceived; neither the impure, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who participate in homosexuality, nor thieves; nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor foulmouthed revilers, slanderers. . .and robbers will have any share in the kingdom of God."

As an ex-Christian preacher and evangelist, I could see myself in their place. Thirty years ago I was just like them: taking Jesus to the streets in order to get all the poor, lost, hell-bound "sinners" to "come to the cross" and accept the Savior.

Years ago I had also often preached from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. They are two really powerful verses for inducing shame, guilt, self-loathing and existential fear! All the psychological elements one needs for a powerful conversion experience.

I knew these young men were zealous and sincere but were in dire need of enlightenment. Being the compassionate person that I am, I was willing to offer my skeptical services to them even if they were not interested. And still having in my DNA the evangelistic impulse (Once an evangelist; always an evangelist!), I hoped to plant the proverbial "seed" of reason into their little, brainwashed, poorly informed, fundy heads; but I knew that was a big order to fill.

Of course, right off the bat they asked me if I was a Christian. I said that I had been, and that in fact I had also been a preacher and evangelist.

"What made you change?" one asked.

I explained that from my study of the bible and church history, I had come to realize that the bible was a very flawed book and could not be depended on to be a reliable guide for anything (though there are some good ethical parts to it).

"What would you say you are now?" the other one asked.

"I guess you could call me an agnostic-atheist."

Up to this point, it seemed like we might have been able to have a reasonable chat, but identifying myself as an "agnostic-atheist" made them see Red. . . as in The-Devil-With-A-Pitch-Fork-Red! It was like a switch had been flipped; our conversation went from dialogue to monologue: from here on out, they were not interested in anything I had to say. I was to listen to their words and not speak.

The leader of the two then made the dogmatic declaration that the real reason why I was no longer a Christian was that I was never a real Christian to begin with. He started getting himself all worked up. His voice became loud and in robotic like fashion he started quoting bible verses in rapid succession about my past false faith. (Wow, I'm so glad I was able to find someone who was able to explain it all to me. . . NOT!)

He then launched into this tirade about how I was a person full of "arrogance" and "pride" by not submitting to "the Holy Spirit". Furthermore, I was just like Satan himself, who was cast out of heaven because of his unwillingness to be obey and believe God.

I chuckled at his response and was bemused because what he said is a standard canard fundamentalist Christians use against anyone who has started thinking for themselves and has stepped outside their fold.

I understood that their defenses were kicking in. They had to fit me into one of their well-worn theological slots in order to dispose of my "witness" to them of my apostasy.

I responded by calmly asking the one who doing most of the talking, "How do you know that? You don't know anything about me other than what I've told you. Quoting a bible verse does not prove anything; that's just someone's opinion 2,000 years ago?"

He had an odd response to my question. He said that what he said was not from, "The bible but from the Holy Spirit." You know, like his words were divinely-inspired. In reality, his words were nothing more than bits and pieces of scriptures.

While confidently judging me after a two-minute introduction, they could not see how their own declarations were the height of arrogance! How sad that these two young men are totally in the grips of a cultic way of life and that their skill at spouting scripture verses (something I use to be pretty good at too)keeps them from being able to think or engage with others on any intelligent level of discussion.

After several minutes of them trying to drown out anything I had to say, I decided to leave. I did repeat one message that they did hear: "Go to a library and check out a book on the first three centuries of the christian church and it will show you that you are poorly informed about the faith you proclaim."

As I walked away they continued to offer their slogans and one-liners about my pride and resistance to "God", blah, blah, blah. I just smiled, waved and kept walking.

It went pretty much like I thought it would. I knew they would try to dominate the conversation. No surprises there. I don't regret trying to talk to them. Did I succeed in planting any seeds of doubt? Well, you just never know. I hope that my "witness" of non-belief may budge one of them, somewhere on down to road, to realize that there is more out there than what they have found in their little tightly controlled world of faith, church and bible study.

Finally, for me, these two evangelists remind me what I finally discovered after 15 years in fundamentalism: that "faith" makes a virtue out of ignorance; and that doubt - far from being a sign of arrogance and pride - is actually evidence of humility.