Covert Evangelism/Underhanded Generosity + The Vacation Bible School Ruse

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They say that no good deed goes unpunished, so I guess today that makes me the punisher.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about evangelism in response to “Shelonda,” who had left a comment here on the blog. In the comments for that post, my friend Kevin and I discussed mission work, and I expressed my concern that mission work is inherently disingenuous. If folks depend on the selfish motive of evangelizing to motivate their good work, then their good work isn’t truly good work.

This phenomenon is just as evident on the local scale. Last week, I attended Jubilee Day, a big street fair in Mechanicsburg, PA. The one-day event was incredibly well attended, with rides, food, vendors, activities for kids, and lots of other cool stuff. Inspired by the presence of the PA Nonbelievers, I decided to see what exactly the many church groups in attendance had to offer. There were a number of tables where I voluntarily picked up some of the materials, but a few others where items were sort of forced into my hands. This post focuses mostly on the latter, and a whole separate post will be dedicated to exploring some of the resources I got from the Catholics. Yikes. (The rubber fetus alone should scare you.)

I’ll identify the churches only by their denomination and not their specific name. My goal today is to raise awareness about evangelism; not to target specific community groups.

I experienced evangelism before I even got to the fair. One of the local churches (Denomination: CMA) was offering free parking only a few blocks away, so I decided to take them up on their offer. They had a number of volunteers in bright green recognizable shirts (which read “Jesus is the Way!”) that helped people find a spot in their lot and also helped keep them comfortable while waiting for a shuttle. Unfortunately, they didn’t let you into the lot without handing you a a flier they advertised their schedule of services, ministries, and Vacation Bible School. In order to get parking, I had to get info about their church. More on this in a minute.

Later, I encountered a Baptist church booth. I have to say that their good deed was brilliant. They were handing out bags. I don’t know that anybody else was handing out bags, so kudos to them. Of course, the bag was not empty. It included the white brochure you can see peppered throughout the post (with the very trite MS Publisher theme) as well as another plug for a Vacation Bible School.

If ever there were a good argument for year-round school, I think VBS is it. It’s an excuse to get kids out of the house and it’s an opportunity to sneak Bible training on them. I actually remember going to VBS when I was little, and pretty much all I remember was being bored at Mass, being bored in classes, and generally just being bored. The Baptist Church offers two “Quest Weeks.” For Preschoolers, there’s “LifeWay‘s Saddle Ridge Range” where they’re “Roundin’ Up Questions” and “Drivin’ Home Answers.” K-5th graders get to enjoy “Answers in Genesis‘s The Egypt File: Decoding the Mystery of LIFE.” Both come with complimentary cartoon characters and a healthy dose of misinformation indoctrination. If you value your keyboard, don’t even click on Answers in Genesis.

The CMA church I mentioned earlier also plays on the Egyptian theme with, “Egypt: Joseph’s Journey from Prison to Palace.”

Imagine living in a dusty, bustling, noisy city along the Nile in ancient Egypt…you’d gossip about Pharaoh’s palace…work with people who followed countless gods…and perhaps hear about a “dreamer” that Pharaoh put in charge…

If it’s just storytelling, that’s fine, but of course it never is.

It’s too bad that these two churches couldn’t do their little good deeds without evangelizing. You might just say it’s a marketing technique. You’re not wrong, but you also ignore how dangerous it is.

Let’s look at that brochure.

Is there a church that has real answers to life’s real questions? No. No, there is not. They certainly claim that they know what God’s answers are, but no one ever seems to let God speak for himself. They also want you to think that the questions are valid and that they have the answers, but this seems incredibly deceitful. They aren’t counselors, they aren’t teachers, they aren’t accountants, and they aren’t recreational leaders, but they still advertise themselves as such. They use promises of “fun activities,” “short and sweet” services that are “relevant,” and social engagement as a mechanism for drawing people into their delusions. They can’t be all bad? They’re using Answers in Genesis to teach kids that evolution is wrong. There’s a serious problem here.

And truly, kids are who suffer from this mess. A lot of the resources I saw are geared toward the teens who make up a lot of the attendance at Jubilee Day. (Wait until you see all the fun stuff the Catholics had!) But, the scariest part is to see young people’s participation in the evangelism. I was handed the dollar bills you see by a number of young children. One of them couldn’t have been older than five. I don’t think he even knew how to speak, but he knew how to hand me the bill with puppy-dog eyes. In fact, he didn’t even care that one of his other friends had given me one, he wanted to make sure I took one from him too.

I don’t remember which denomination had this fake money, but it was near the line of Catholic and pro-life booths. If you look very carefully at the front of the bills, you can see they represent Living Waters and Way of the Master, which you’ll notice are of course the same website. This is banana-man Ray Comfort’s ministry, where he and Kirk Cameron regularly spew out their anti-evolution nonsense. Apparently the million-dollar and trillion-dollar questions are the same, and apparently the answer, as always, is “you’re going to Hell if you don’t listen to us.”

It’s incredibly sad to see people being duped into nonsense by what appear to be good deeds. It’s scary to see how intertwined these quaint local church groups are with insane ministries like Answers in Genesis and Living Waters, plus how eager they are to market these ideas to young children.

I’ll end this post by highlighting two good deeds that I think were actually genuinely good. The first was a car survival kit (or “Community Love Kit,” according to the bag) that I was handed by a Methodist mission outreach group. The bag contained a business card and a plug for a fundraiser through a local restaurant chain, but not really any evangelism about their ministries. I have to say, the kit was pretty cool, and I’ll probably use it.

As you can see, it contains a number of bandaids, soap, toothpaste, a comb, nail clippers, and two nail files, all of which fit into a nice tidy bag that’ll fit nicely in my glove compartment. This is a truly thoughtful form of outreach that didn’t require I actually learn anything about their actual ministries. Kudos to the Methodists.

Lastly, I want to highlight something I picked up from the Mennonites’ table. Now, when I saw their booth, I wasn’t optimistic about what I’d find after what I’d been handed by Mennonites in Ithaca, NY back in April. They had various information about their different beliefs, but the only thing I decided to walk away with was this pin:

I’d Rather Be Waging Piece. What a great message. It doesn’t make me want to be a Mennonite, but I certainly respect them for it. There’s a sticker on the back of the pin identifying the church it came from, but that’s it. This is a pin I can proudly wear, and it reminds me that church communities really can be forces for good, so long as they stop talking about all that religious stuff.

Stay tuned for the detailed exploration into the Catholic vision for my sex life and some other interesting learnings from the materials I picked up!

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There are 5 Comments to "Covert Evangelism/Underhanded Generosity + The Vacation Bible School Ruse"

  • Mark Holsing says:

    I will agree, that often times Churches use Missions work as an opportunity to spread the Gospel. But you have to understand, to a Christian, the biggest service we can give you is life we receive through Jesus.
    You can make the pessimistic arguement that the church doing the service is trying make their population bigger, therefore bringing in more revenue, but if I were interested in making money then I would probably be a banker orĀ  a lawyer not a pastor. So while yes money in needed to pay people to help run the church, most Pastor’s are preaching because they truly believe in what they are preaching and truly care about people coming to know Christ and the Church is paying them so that they can help support their family and so that they can devote all of their time to the people of their church.
    Regardless, the evangelism is ACTUALLY the service. The money they make goes TOWARDS the spread of the Gospel. Perhaps the way that the group goes about evangelising is not the best way to connect with people, but if I truly believe the only way to eternal life is through Jesus, by not sharing it I am hurting you.
    The good deed is only meant to get us into your life. The REAL good deed is sharing the Gospel with you. If you don’t believe and aren’t willing to listen, then it’s annoying and it’s sort of the “cost” of the service, but to us it actually IS the service. Your post is nothing more than misunderstanding that the evangelism IS the service. The “free stuff” is just stuff we’re willing to give up/do to give you the REAL service.
    However, I do agree sometimes, the best way to love people (which is ultimately the goal even though some churches forget that) is sometimes just to provide a service to people and just have the service no evangelism. My Church at home does a great job of doing both and honestly, I feel that is the best policy.

  • ZackFord says:

    Mark, I appreciate that what you are saying you believe to be completely true.

    Can you appreciate that from anyone else’s point of view, assuming evangelism IS the service is both pretentious and condescending? You’re essentially saying that you know better how people should live their lives than they do and that they should be grateful to you for pointing that out.

  • ZackFord says:

    I just read your comment again and am so disturbed by it. In particular:

    The good deed is only meant to get us into your life.

    That is just so nefarious.

    As an outside observer, I can’t help but think that the only reason you’ve been taught that sharing the gospel is good is to perpetuate the religion. It’s truly like a virus, and I think it’s downright shocking the way you admit that you don’t even care about the good deeds so much as infiltrating others’ minds with your onerous, life-controlling beliefs. Are you truly proud of this, Mark?

  • Mark Holsing says:

    The good deed is important but MORE important is sharing the Gospel. I don’t believe that I never make mistakes or that I’m better than a non-believer but I do truly believe the only way to eternal life is through Jesus. So compared to eternal life, yeah the good deed (in a purely evangelistic mind set) is insignificant. Not all interaction with the community needs to be an evangelising opportunity. Sometimes it’s best to just serve people, but when you are “on mission”, sure I may fix your house, but the REAL gift is me sharing the Gospel with you. Fixing up your house seems so inconsequential to me when compared to eternal salvation. It’s not to “further my religion” it’s the best way I know of to help people. By talking to them about Jesus I AM serving them.
    I think it’s important to make the distinction though that serving people without the evangelism is important too. I want to serve people not because God tells me I should but because it feels nice to make other people happy. But sometimes that service is painting a shed for an elderly lady and not bringing up Christianity at all, and sometimes it’s baby sitting kids and going over a Bible Lesson. Caring and loving people is what is important and sometimes the best way to do that is to share the Gospel.

  • ZackFord says:

    Mark, you have not addressed my concerns about deception, pretentiousness, andĀ condescension. YOU believe the Gospel to be the best way to live, but is it fair or appropriate for you to try to force (often through shame and guilt) that belief system upon others? And isn’t it at least somewhat dastardly to use good deeds to try to sneak in your teachings?

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