BARF People/Organization Profile
Evangelism Explosion International
Letter to an EE Vice President
A reply to an e-mail from a vice president of Evangelism Explosion International who commented on the inclusion of EE in this website.
Thanks for writing. It’s not every day that I get e-mail from a senior executive of a major multinational corporation. :-)
One of the hazards of putting something up on one’s website with little explanation is that someone, somewhere will misunderstand why it’s there. I’m referring to your assessment that inclusion of EE on our web page “was meant to harm [your] cause.” That was certainly not my intent; without comment, it’s just one piece of information. I also don’t believe that others will do any significant harm to your “cause”; like every other movement of its kind throughout history, it will stand or eventually fall of its own weight. If anything, the most effective thing that can be done is to prepare for the aftereffects of the decline and failure of a mass movement of this kind.
The most important thing I have to say is that it’s OK to “just say no” when the evangelist comes to visit, which is the basis of “resistance.” The problem I have with EE, as I think many people also have, is that it’s clear from reading the manual that the word “no” from the prospect is ultimately an unacceptable response. There are references to “green fruit” or “not yet,” but never an acceptance that many or possibly even most people aren’t going to buy your message. There is no end-point for the cause other than complete spiritual awakening. This is not realistic – does any salesman or marketer really expect near-100% acceptance of their product? – and it only sows the seeds of your downfall.
Donald McGavran, who I’m sure I don’t need to introduce to you, wrote in the first edition of “Understanding Church Growth:” “The Gospel must be proclaimed to all men, both receivers and rejectors. Men should not be coerced or badgered into accepting it. Personality must be respected. All this is true.” It’s clear to me that his successors have edited this simple ethical truism from their minds as completely as these sentences were edited out of the book’s third edition. The word “no” as an absolute and final response to the evangelist (and not as an invitation to further engagement) was evidently acceptable to McGavran; is it acceptable now? (Obviously C. Peter Wagner, who saw fit to edit out that statement, probably doesn’t think so, does he?)
I think you might agree, that to understand something like a “Reclaiming America for Christ” conference – where, as it happens, I first encountered EE – it helps to be familiar with something like the EE manual. Observers outside your movement often view the anti-abortion movement, the ex-gay movement, creationism, the Disney boycott, Roy Moore’s Ten Commandments, the whole laundry list of issues that CFRA and similar organizations run, as causes in and of themselves. Instead, I see them all simply as tactics, the inevitable result of a decline in the effectiveness of traditional evangelism and a retargeting on prospects who are viewed to be least likely to say no or to walk away, or who can’t walk away. These are all desperate measures to keep numbers up, to make sure that there are still numbers to fill out the charts in the back of the manual. These are not the signs of a healthy enterprise, and the longer I watch Janet Folger the more I wonder if it’s even being run by healthy people. They all stink of the coercion and badgering that McGavran warned against.
Two quick observations for you. At the last Reclaiming America conference I bought a video tape from the people at the American Family Association table, entitled “The Disney Boycott: A Just Cause.” On this tape is a clip of Southern California pastor Wiley Drake, where he makes this rather “It’s hard for us to fish and win folks to Jesus when Disneyland is pushing the homosexual lifestyle as normal.”
Now if I understand what he’s saying correctly and perhaps extrapolating just a bit, he’s saying that in order for you all to ‘fish’ there must be some number of people who are “broken,” “abnormal” or otherwise “not OK.” Doesn’t this mean that it’s in your movement’s interest that some number of people be allowed to, or even be forced to suffer, so that there will be some pool of people who may be more easily converted? This certainly is in conflict with what most people understand as the usual role of the church, that is, to help alleviate suffering. I doubt if most people would be willing to go along with this role reversal.
I also regard D. James Kennedy’s glorification of the Civil War – down to the point of soliciting for Civil War uniforms in his church bulletin – as an unsettling development. Across the entire range of evangelical popular culture, the glorification of war, conflict and violence has become, over time, just an acceptable part of the rhetorical landscape, and is most obvious in the youth culture. The line between “spiritual warfare” and the physical is deliberately being blurred, by people calling for a “revolution” not as something driven by a need for individual, personal transformation and example-setting but instead as a crusade directed outward towards others. War is just the most extreme form of not taking “no” for an answer; perhaps it’s inevitable that a movement whose entire identity is centered around converting other people and not taking ‘no’ for an answer would find it acceptable to follow a path toward eventual war in some ultimately doomed quest to get its way when peaceful efforts fail. Most people value, and are thankful for, our country and way of life, will not be willing accept this glorification of war and conflict, and will reject this rhetoric, further marginalizing your movement.
Finally, it’s not my role to argue with your personal experience, nor to “evangelize for atheism” or what have you. But even if what you say is true, I will not be joining a movement that’s fundamentally unable to coexist with people who are unwilling to adopt your personal experience as their own. Neither will most people. Good luck dealing with that.
Last updated August 29, 1999