Walking down the mall to work this past week, I had to veer around a medium-sized clump of people ringed around a shouting man. The man shouted about damnation, Jesus, and sin. Sometimes he stood on a milk crate. Sometimes people shouted back. Mostly they just laughed.
But then I got to work and I heard the conversations inspired by this man and his shouting.
“Christians are so judgmental.” “They’re all just a bunch of hypocrites.” “This is why I hate religion.”
“Would you say I’m judgmental?” I wanted to ask. “Would you assume that I condemn all those who don’t share my beliefs?”
In my fantasy, they answer, “Of course not. You are tolerant and good.”
“Well,” my imaginary self responds, standing to make a dramatic exit, “I must not be a very good Christian then, since you say they’re all so awful.” The less charitable part of me wants to leave them spluttering, awkward, wishing they hadn’t made assumptions about their audience, ashamed of drawing such broad conclusions about a large group of people the same way they say Christians do.
But instead I bit my lip, because I had a shift in five minutes and not enough time to explain how they shouldn’t judge the whole from the part, viewing all of us in the same way as the yelling fundamentalist.
Catholics, traditionally, shy away from street corner evangelism. We are not comfortable with tabling in the student union, or even handing out candy in front of our own church door. But I wear my cross necklace, and if someone notices and wants to have a respectful discussion of belief systems with me, I will gladly sit down with them. I seek more to understand, and to allow the other person to understand my own beliefs, than to convert them.
And this is the problem I have with people who shout one the mall. They are not fostering discussion. They are not leaving their audiences musing to themselves that perhaps there’s something to this whole God thing after all. There is nothing productive about the conversations stemming from seeing this shouting man because those conversations only reflect the judgment that people feel from him. His content may be solid, but the method of transmission is off-putting to say the least.
So, if anyone cares, I’m open to discussion. But please: no shouting.