I'm a practicing Christian, but in a denomination that doesn't proselytize (even though we have the word "evangelical" in our title ). I'm also an academic in a field where one of my main jobs is to train people who are going to work mainly with immigrant and refugee communities. I've also served on the university committee that oversees search with human participants. As such, I'm highly sensitive to power imbalances in relationships. Teachers will always have more power than their students. People who give will always have more power than those who receive.
Under these circumstances, there is no possible way for the person in power to evangelize (even after the help is given) without it smacking of coercion. I think if you have any other agenda when you're giving charity, it's going to be coercion. So, when our church prepares meals for the local family homeless shelter, we go, we prepare the meal and we serve it. We don't tell them where we're from unless they ask. We don't say grace, even. There's a local church who volunteers a lot at our kids' school. They serve as an act of charity and grace, not because they have an agenda.
Originally Posted by FarmerBeth
I think you are referring to my first post, and while I agree that some people "build a relationship" under false pretenses of conversion, that is not what I was personally talking about. I'm talking about having an actual relationship and sharing your point of view even if it is not secular or politically correct. For example, working as a nurse in long term care, I worked with some residents over a period of several years and really developed a relationship with them. I'm sure some people working with or volunteering for charities have long term relationships for recipients of the charitable help, too. Over time, some of these people, power imbalance or not, are like family. Being "professional" is important, but being kind means more, and if you have an actual relationship with a person, that can mean honesty within the scope you are allowed for your role. So if Mrs So and So's husband that I've known for three years is dying, and she worries for him and the loved ones left behind, can I not ask, "Would you like me to pray for you?" rather than a lame "I'm thinking of you?". If someone says, "Why was I made to go through this suffering?" and I know them well enough to tell if this would bother them, can I not say, "God gave you the strength to withstand this and you are in our prayers. It seems unfair, but you can get through this with help". If that is how you feel and what you believe, is it any more honest to wrap things in politically correct language.
Given the power imbalance, there is no possible way you can say these things without coercion. It just isn't going to happen. But, there are other ways for you state your beliefs with out the coercion. You can pray for them without telling them. You can ask her what her beliefs are. You can listen to her concerns and empathize with her. You can say "I'm holding you and your family in my heart." IF she states she's religious, then you ask "Would you like me to pray for you?"
You can skip the "God gave you the strength to withstand this..." if you don't know them well enough to know if they believe in God. You can still say "It seems unfair, but you can get through this with help. What can I do to help? Can I contact someone for you?" (I'm not sure I agree, theologically, that God gives people the strength... having been through a very rough time recently, what I can say is that God gave me a community to help me through. The people who came over to walk with me every day to were members of my church community, but they weren't talking faith then. They were there to support and listen and love. Maybe it's too fine a theological point to worry over, but my point is that you can create that community for someone without bringing God into it at all. The single most helpful thing our pastor did for me was to call all these people and ask them to help. I was not in a spot to do that myself, but I get tears in my eyes when I think of the outpouring of support those phone calls brought.)
But because they're dependent on you, anytime you bring religion in, it's not without strings.
I would never, ever say such a thing to one of the college students I teach, even if I knew they were Christian. My students, if they pay attention, know that I go to church. Part of my 'teaching experience' is teaching Sunday School to 2-4 year olds, and I tell my students that if it's relevant to the class I'm teaching. I tell anecdotes in class to help my students link concepts to something in the real world, and sometimes I'll mention something that happened at church. But that's scene setting, not evangelizing. I never go further than that, and all they know is that it's 'my church'. I've even had students seek me out as an advisor for their MA work because they wanted to write on a topic related to Christianity (e.g., developing a curriculum for church-based ESL teaching), and academics who are also religious are few and far between. I'm happy to advise them, but one of my tasks is to help them become intellectually honest about (a) their beliefs and interpretation of the Bible and (b) the fact that this is a situation fraught issues related to a power-differential. If they're teaching people who are already Christian some English, that's very different from teaching people who want to learn English as a way to spread the gospel.
Originally Posted by philomom
I think its one thing to offer a helping hand and just be a shining example of your faith. But to use food, clothes or some other material gift as a way of coercion is terribly wrong on a basic human level. That's my big beef with xtianity anyway, is that they feel called to proselytize all the freaking time.
Not all of us do. Unfortunately, the denominations that focus on proselytizing are the ones you hear about all the time, because they're out there front and center, well, evangelizing. When was the last time you were approached by someone from the United Church of Christ? (And no, I don't belong to the UCC, but I like their belief system.)
Originally Posted by genifer
I havent had a chance to read thru all the responses, but as a christian I wanted to just quickly point something out. We are called to serve the community, love our neighbour as ourselves, and give generously. We are also called by our God TO share the gospel unreservedly.
But if the two are linked, then it's not serving the community, IMO, it's evangelizing. I have no trouble with evangelizing, but I'd much rather it be straight out "let me share my beliefs with you" than have evangelization be delivered under the guise of charity.
I also have some trouble, personally, evangelizing, having been told several times that I'm not "really" Christian because I don't believe whatever the evangelizing person believes (e.g., I do not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, nor does my denomination preach that.)
Originally Posted by Karenwith4
There is an implicit power imbalance between someone needing help and someone offering it. I really have a hard time understanding the motives behind anyone attaching expectations around faith (proclaiming or listening to testimony) to that help and I'm not really sure why the two ideas (help/witnessing) are entwined. Why not just help those who need it and let that be the end of that story? What is the upside of helping only those who would 1) listen to a testimony or 2) promise to convert? Do those ties not make the "charity" more about the needs of the giver than those truly in need? (I'm genuinely asking because I can't wrap my head around that concept.)
I would also feel as though I had been offered help under false pretenses if someone "developed a relationship" with me in that context and then tried to convert me. It would erode every bit of trust I had in that person, their motives, or the intentions behind their association/church/charity . I am (clearly ) not a fan of proselytizing and even less so if it is tied to "help".
I agree -- I think that if people are using charity to evangelize, then it is more about their need to spread the word than the their serving people. I think the two should not be entwined. I also agree that someone tried to 'convert me' after developing a relationship with me, it would erode all my trust in them. I've had students who, when they find out I go to church, have asked to pray with me. It makes my skin crawl because it feels wrong on so many levels.