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What’s So Offensive About Proselytizing?

Everywhere you go these days people are complaining about proselytizers. “Don’t shove your views on me.” “Don’t tell me what you believe.” Some people have even been sued over it. But it’s interesting that the complaint only seems to happen when it comes to religion (specifically Christianity.) When you tell someone about why you love your new car, or why the new diet is changing your life, they’re happy to hear it.  And nobody complains when someone thinks Islam or Buddhism is wonderful.  But when Christianity transforms your life, forget about it.

The dictionary defines “proselytizing” as: To induce someone to convert to one’s faith, join one’s party, institution, or cause. That never seems to be a problem with 99% of the things people are excited about. I sat for 40 minutes listening to a friend tell me about how a local rehab program had saved his life, and I wasn’t offended, I was thrilled for him. I’ve filmed among voodoo practitioners in the Caribbean and been absolutely fascinated. I’ve witnessed bizarre religious ceremonies in Africa and India and it didn’t bother me a bit.  But the minute you share your experience with Christianity, the wall goes up and people get absolutely hysterical. I have a friend who was actually fired over sharing his faith with a co-worker who had just gone through a nasty divorce.

The truth is, it’s not sharing your experience that’s the problem. Something else is up. Anyone care to take a stab at why people get so offended these days?

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  1. there is one other area where people are just as easily offended.  Parenting.  Talk to a parent about your philosophy of parenting and your likely to offend, because we all want to believe that the way we parent is the right way (because we love our kids and can hardly acknowledge that we might be harming them).

  2. Well, cuz the truth hurts! Darkness is not bothered with anything that happens in the dark.It is only when light tries to wake them up do they get all worked up!

  3. Wow! this is so true. I guess cos of the person of Jesus. It’s not the first time people are persecuted because of Him- The disciples were. And He said it- ‘if the world hates me, they’ll surely hate you because of me-But rejoice. I believe it’s not really the people that want to hate on Him, but the devil trying all he can to blind them from seeing the true Light like Alexandra mentioned and to also harden their hearts.

  4. I think Christianity offends people for multiple reasons – bad press (fallen pastors & ministries), perception of Christianity (experiences of annoying, overzealous Christians in person or on TV), spiritual blindness, pride of life and anger at God for misfortunes. The biggest reason I believe for the offense is – our culture esteems the philosophy or religion of relativism more than ever before. Everything is subject to and filtered through relativism. Because the Bible speaks in absolutes, God is a God of absolutes, which makes Christianity unpopular and seen as narrow-minded thinking. Jesus is seen as an unwelcomed killjoy in one’s life; what He taught is offensive to our New Age relativism thinking. In truth, Jesus is ultimately “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” Great subject to bring to light Phil.

  5. My hunch is that it has to do with the legacy of a church which for so long assumed a position of authority in a country like the US (and in Oz too where I live). As society moved from a Christian to a post Christian place, it’s been keen to cast off the old shackles of the one institutionalized religion -Christianity- which is synonymous for many with control, guilt, etc, etc.

    And let’s face it the church universal and the communicators that it puts in the marketplace haven’t always been so good at communicating the gospel of grace into the society into which they purport to speak.

  6. Interesting post. I think it comes down to perceived intent. When someone carries on about their new car or a recent vacation, it’s typically the case that they’re just excited about it, which is fine. With proselytizers, there’s an ulterior motive to sell someone on the idea so that they take it up themselves. If we take the same example of a person going on about how great their new car is and set it in the context of a used car lot and they’re a salesman standing in front of a car that’s the same make & model, the emotional response is apt to be much different. Most people would be a little more wary and dubious because they know that the person extolling the virtues of the car is trying to get the listener to do something themselves. 
    This is why, in my opinion, proselytizing is best done as part of building a deeper relationship with someone. Getting to know them and sharing bits and pieces as you go and hearing their story and beliefs as well. Make it an exchange of information and a friendship, not a sales pitch. 

  7. The problem isn’t with God, faith, or family values.  the problem is with “Jesus.”  Jesus is the deal breaker.  He is the One who said “No one can get to God the father except by me.”  Satan’s strategy is simple:  “Edit Jesus.”  There is power in the name.  There is a double standard, but it is just something we better be prepared for, and expect.

  8. Because it’s the battle of our world.  It’s the spiritual battle for and of Truth. Tom me, it’s the greatest proof the Christ is the Son of God and that it is the Truth.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It’s the battle of Evil against Good.  Life and Death.  Love and Hate.  It’s proof of the Truth.

  9. It’s the convicting spirit of the Truth. It’s the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit. People are offended because they know in their soul that if they learn about the Truth, they will have to deal with the Truth. They will have to answer Jesus’ question, “who do you say that I am?”. God has placed the desire for eternal life in each of us, and with that is the deep seeded knowledge that God is real. Being offended is an easy form of rejection. Of postponing making a decision. Of buying time and feigning ignorance… That’s my humble take on it.

  10. As rwhitmer pointed out, Jesus is the deal maker/breaker. I’m a huge fan of relationship/lifestyle evangelism and have exercised it for years, but there will come a time in every relationship we are building when we must ‘risk the offence of Jesus.’ Thos who are ‘lost’ do not come to faith in Christ by osmosis. They must encounter the Cross and what Christ accomplished there. There are ample scriptural admonitions which challenge us to be prepared when the opportunity arises for us to explain the Hope within us. As one wise spiritual leader once said, “Evangelism may not be your gift, but it is sti your call,”

  11. Rebellion. Rebellion against truth and authority. Just like
    a teenager often rebels against a parent, we struggle to maintain our independence, lack of accountability, right to our selfish pursuits. I was one of those people who labeled someone who shared their faith a Jesus freak. Now I am one. God has a sense of humor.

  12. I think that MaryJo & Rod Carlson hit the point solidly. From my experience whether in business, media, ministry and just personal life, people will be offended whichever ‘technique’ you use to share your faith even if you are friends with them. I have friends who are not Christians (and they still are not) who practically like being around me yet when I talk about what the Lord has done in or for me based on something they observed in my life, you should witness the ‘horror’ on their faces so I swiftly segue to another subject. The people who oftentimes (not all the time) have asked me about my faith are those who just shared my faith with, without any relationship being formed, and a problem happened in their life and they would ask me again why Jesus. I think that sharing our faith in Christ Jesus will always be met with some sort negativity especially in the West (US, Europe etc) but we are not in control of the results/outcome/response from the hearer/s. People come to faith in Christ Jesus and it is not really down to a technique per se but a myriad of reasons. I feel that we should not be under pressure to share our faith but when we do, not to feel pressured that we did not a get a good response the first or second time or however many times our faith is rejected when it is shared. Sometimes if the opportunity arises ask the person why talking about Jesus Christ offended them… the answer may surprise but also help. Finally, in my opinion, Christianity should never ever have been a state religion and the New Testament demonstrates that.

  13. Telling someone about a car is not equivalent to telling someone they are fundamentally and ontologically lost and “guilty” and not connected with God. Yours is a false comparison.

  14. I’m an agnostic leaning toward atheist. I have absolutely no problem when someone tells me they are a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist…whatever. That’s fine. What irritates me, and the thing I find most unprofessional in the workplace, is if that same person tries to convert me even after I’ve told them I’m not interested in their spiel. I’ll be polite for the first time. I’ll tell them I’m not a believer and I have no wish to become one. If they come at me again, I’ll tell them, “Sorry, not interested. Please let’s keep our relationship professional and not discus religion.” If they persist a third time, I’ll straight up threaten to report them. This isn’t me attacking a good Christian, just doing his/her thing. I realize you guys have to recruit, but when your intended devotee gives you the brush off multiple times, perhaps it’s time to take the hint. You’re no longer “witnessing”. You’re harassing, and that’s a problem. Imagine someone of a different faith doing this to you. Imagine they told you your god is a lie and everything you believe is wrong. Now imagine they just. Won’t. Stop. You’d tire of it too.

    And that’s the thing. I have rarely ever gotten this from any other religion other than Christians. You guys have a freaking hardcore, gotta catch ’em all attitude for converting nonbelievers, and that is a BIG turn off. It’s what makes the rest of us cringe when you tell us you’re a Christian. Because we know what’s coming, and that makes us put our guard up.

    So when you go into work, and people are giving you the stink eye, just know it’s not because of your religion. It’s how you present it.

    1. This post has been up for a long time and I’m glad you found it! Thanks so much for your honest comments. I agree with you that many Christians (and people of other faiths as well) can be unrelenting and could stand to be a bit more sensitive when it comes to sharing their faith. On the other hand, I remember this video from magician Penn Jillette – a famous atheist – he posted when a Christian came backstage to give him a Bible after a show:
      It is a great dilemma. If you honestly feel that you’ve experienced something life-changing, you want to share that with people. But I do get that quite a few go over the top in their enthusiasm.
      Either way, your comment is a good reminder that being sensitive and gracious is incredibly important when trying to convey a point of view about anything.
      Thanks again for the comment!

  15. Many people have religious trauma when religions have been spread violently and used to abusively control others. I have been abused at the hands of a pastor. So I have to step away from Churchianity to heal for a while. Not only that, but I needed to develop my personal relationship with Christ on my own as a previous pastor was overly controlling and disrupting this process. They are only supposed to point to Jesus, not take Jesus’ place. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing and they turn christians away. When you look at the statistics there are more Christians leaving than converting right now, much of this is related to abuse. Many pastors are narcissistic abusers. There is a problem with accountability, standardization, and unity in leadership, and this leads to bad experiences. People lose trust in anything deemed Christian once they are hurt and abused by Christians.

  16. While that doesn’t describe the VAST number of pastors and churches out there, it does describe too many. Thanks for sharing your story Elijah, and it’s always good to be reminded of wolves in sheep’s clothing…
    Thank you for posting!

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