How NOT to Witness – Part 2
Last week I started the idea of giving advice on how to be ineffective in Christian witness and I want to take that up again. Consider this a way to learn from my mistakes rather than having to go through the humiliation of making them yourselves. In any discussion where you are trying to persuade someone to your point of view, and that is what evangelism is, there are some things that are sure-fire ways to offend or alienate. I’d like to discuss another today.
Avoid offensive or shaky analogies.
Analogies are good things. Jesus used them. Remember “The Kingdom of heaven is like…?” But all analogies have weaknesses and many of them, while they might sound like brilliant debate points to us, end up doing more harm than good. Let me share an example.
I, along with much of the country, had been following the information on the Steubenville rape trial closely. The incident where two teen athletes sexually assaulted a teen girl at party, after she had passed out drunk, and in front of dozens of witnesses, was disturbing. Tons of press coverage and opinion pieces were written. Many Christians chimed in with thoughtful commentary. One of the most moving and courageous ones was written by blogger and author Ann Voscamp. If you haven’t seen it, take a few minutes to look at it now. If it doesn’t bring tears to your eyes ask yourself why.
But Christians were not the only ones who commented. As a result I came across this article at Salon.com entitled “My Steubenville.” As I read the subtitle “It was a base for the teen evangelical movement, where I saw fundamentalist Christianity’s power, and its danger.” I knew I was probably not going to like it. Set aside for a minute that the “largest evangelical teen gathering”she is talking about had nothing whatsoever to do with evangelicalism, or for that matter fundamentalism. Rather than ascribe bad motives to the author I want to assume she actually doesn’t know the difference between evangelicals and charismatic Catholics so she mislabeled the gathering.
But the point is that she tied what she sees as wrong, the attempt to preach the views of those sponsoring the event, and created an offensive analogy. She starts with something everyone is horrified by, the rape, and moves on to “her” Steubenville, making a deft tie-in of two different subjects. The horror of the first is intended to carry over to the second. Now, I ask you; if you had sent your kid to such a gathering would you appreciate the comparison? It is OK for her to be against both subjects, not OK to tie them together.
Do we Christians ever use offensive analogies? You bet we do. Here is one – “Abortion is like the holocaust.” I am as pro-life as most evangelicals and I grieve that so many children are aborted, but the holocaust? It is an offensive, and shaky, analogy.
It is offensive because, oddly enough, most people don’t like being compared to Hitler. It is weak because abortion is not some grand master plan of an evil regime, it is a collection of thousands of individual decisions. There is no targeted attempt to eliminate a sub-group, like the holocaust had with the Jews. Finally, there is no mandating; no people forced to have abortions against their will.
Let me state again, I am pro-life. I want to see abortions hugely diminished. Because the decisions to abort are all personal I have always tried to be personal in discussing the subject one-on-one and avoid blanket “condemn everyone” statements.
My point is that, when seeking to persuade others on this or any other evangelistic issue, be careful with offensive analogies. Our goal is never to win debate points by making horrifying tie-ins. Our goal is to win souls.