In part I, we looked at the first of four reasons why evangelists might be reluctant to discuss the Church in evangelization. In the present article, we look at the second and third reasons.
Another difficulty that street evangelists might encounter with respect to discussing the Church is the view that it is too similar to a “sales pitch.” In other words, we sound like we are trying to sell the Church like some kind of product. This characterization should be taken seriously for a couple of reasons.
First, contemporary American culture is awash with media and marketing for sales. We practically swim in it every waking moment between our phones, televisions and computers. As a result, we have become conditioned to what some have called the “sound-byte culture.” It is tempting for us to default to this kind of position (sometimes unknowingly) and try to explain the Church accordingly.
Second, the Church is decidedly not something for sale in the marketplace. She is our mother, the bride of Christ, given to us for our salvation. Christ died for her and we must treat her with reverence. If we treat her as a product for sale, even inadvertently, it shows that we have a warped theological foundation. We would be misrepresenting the very thing for which we say we represent as evangelists!
With these considerations in mind, there is some practical advice for the street evangelist. If the topic of the Church happens to come up, you will speak volumes by treating it with respect and reverence. Speaking, for example, with great care, attention, and love for the Church because she is our mother sends an important signal that there is something more going on here than a sales pitch. It is here that the earlier point about manifesting the love of God comes up. One’s witness of life is incredibly important.
Also, try to lean on the exchange that you are having with the person. Be authentic. If the conversation is truly back-and-forth, give and take, and just all around fun, you might be surprised at how much actually gets done, even in a short amount of time, and it will be clear that you are not trying to make a “sales-pitch.” Asking questions, being engaged in active listening are all tremendous aids. Don’t settle for a person’s subjects either, but rather look at what is behind those subjects and try bringing them into the conversation.
Regretfully, the Catholic Church has received a lot of negative press in recent years, especially for pedophilia and ephebophilia among her clergy. These painful matters have been a deep source of shame and embarrassment for Catholics. How then does one discuss the reality of the Church and salvation in street evangelization against such a background? Let’s look at this question through a practical example.
A street evangelist engages a passerby who has good will. During the discussion, the passerby brings up the matter of scandals within the Church, “I can’t figure out how Catholics can say that their Church is founded by Jesus and necessary for salvation. I mean, look at all its sex scandals.” Although we are talking about a street evangelization encounter, this kind of a situation necessarily calls for a little apologetics.
The kind of apologetics that will be most helpful in this situation is not ready-made theological responses. Once again, it is here that the sincerity of the evangelist can speak volumes. A good first response to such a question is to acknowledge (sadly and sincerely) the fact of scandal in the Church. After that, and depending upon the person, you can challenge him or her a bit by asking more about their understanding of scandal.
Most people tend to think of scandal as a negating factor. Note that I said “negating” and not “negative.” “Negating” here means that people tend to think that scandal somehow cancels out or destroys something entirely. This thought, while prominent, is a mistake because the abuse of a thing does not take away its use (abusus non tollit usum). A pen can also be turned into a weapon, but that does not mean it is no longer a pen.
With respect to the Church, there are people within it who abuse her good name and tarnish her purpose. While wrong and tragic, this fact does not mean the Church isn’t what she claims to be: established by Christ for the purpose of continuing His saving mission on earth. Jesus Himself foresaw scandals and tells us in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Woe to the world for scandals! These scandals must come, but woe to the man through whom the scandals come” (18:7)! A popular meme on Facebook a few years ago put it rather succinctly: “Not going to Church because of ‘hypocrites’ is like not going to the gym because of all the ‘out of shape’ people.” Another helpful idea is that we should not leave the community set up by Jesus because there are Judases in it. Remember, do not be afraid to express a sincere regret about scandals in the Church. At the same time, know your stuff. Be willing to challenge the presuppositions of someone you meet on the street (with gentleness and in accordance with where the person is at in life). Simple questions, done conversationally, often go a long way in making people think about things and respecting the person who challenged them. Also explaining honestly how you, as a Catholic, have struggled with the scandals in the Church, can be a very good approach. In that way, the scandals can become the occasion of a compelling testimony.