Avoiding the dangers of evangelism

Hazel Sayer

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Pagans do not evangelise.  Pagans believe that those who are moved to question their existing spirituality will seek answers to questions of their own accord. Pagans are more than happy to provide answers or to guide seekers towards those resources that can provide answers, but they do not recruit “converts”.  Furthermore, every mature and responsible Pagan that I have met will not teach or involve any person under the age of 18years in any Pagan activity without the permission of that person’s parents or guardians.

Hazel Sayer

In view of the fact that South African Pagans are taking giant steps forward in bringing awareness to the general public with regard to Paganism and its many paths, I have decided to share an experience with fundamental Christianity that helped to strengthen my own spirituality and that may encourage Pagans and their organisations to avoid, at all costs, the temptation to actively convert people to Paganism.  I speak from the heart and accuse no one of doing so, but there is a fine line between enthusiastically disseminating information and evangelizing!

The story I have to tell today happened about 18 years ago, but as the organisations involved in this story are likely to still be active at schools throughout the country, I think that this article will have value.

When my daughter was a teenager and attending high school (she was about 15years old at the time) she asked if she could attend a fun weekend away with a Christian youth organization.  Knowing that it was more an opportunity to spend time with her boyfriend and friends, than to explore her spirituality, my husband and I agreed to let her go.  My intuition prompted me to tell her that she could expect a certain amount of evangelistic activity during the weekend and that she should be aware that a fair amount of pressure would be placed on the children to “find Jesus” during this time.  I told her that, as always, her spiritual choices were her own, but that I would appreciate an honest and open discussion with her upon her return.

Without too much surprise I heard that the usual techniques were employed by the “Team Advisors” throughout the weekend – strenuous physical activity, coupled with late nights and early mornings and much ado about “trust” and “teamwork” and the absolute reliability of the “Team Advisor’s” knowledge and expertise on all matters spiritual.

On Saturday evening there was a celebration.

There was Gospel music, singing and dancing followed by speeches and lectures.  The participants were whipped into a frenzy of “Praise the Lords” and “Save me Jesus”. Anyone who had “Seen the Light” was called to come to the front of the audience to be “saved”.

Upon coming forward, a hand was placed on the shoulder of the (now crying) child, a nerve pressed and the child fell, unconscious, to the floor!   My daughter, having been warned by me was observing more than participating initially, but one of her friends asked her to accompany her to the front, as she was afraid to go alone.  The general hysteria was affecting my child and she, too was in tears, but according to her, when the hand was placed on her shoulder, she felt the pressure and moved away, so did not faint.

Whilst telling me the story, she began to cry and asked me if she had done wrong by moving away from the pressure on her shoulder and if it was true that (as she had been told) evil had caused her to move.

I remained calm, although I was furious and reassured her, then proceeded to explain mass hysteria and the effect of tiredness combined with excitement that had triggered the children’s reactions on that evening.  When she asked me, I told her that she was free to attend the bible classes that were scheduled once a week, provided that her father or I took her there and collected her afterwards.  I did make it clear that I was not happy with the organisation’s methods and that I would like to monitor what she was learning.

After the first meeting, a very strange thing happened.  She told me that she did not want to attend again and that she had told her best friend, who also felt the same.  However, the following week, she asked to go and visit her friend, whose mother would be collecting her and bringing her home.  As she left the house, I noticed that she was trying to hide her bible, which she was carrying out of the house.  I asked if they were going to study it at the friends house, and she burst into tears and told me that at the previous bible study, the children had been warned by their Advisors that Christians expected to suffer for their religion, so if their parents disapproved of their activities, they “advised” them to tell their parents that they would be visiting a friend and make their own way to bible study without their parents’ knowledge!  She sensed that I was not comfortable with the way they had been treated at the camp and although I was allowing her to attend bible study, she knew I was not entirely comfortable with that either, so she decided to lie to keep me happy.

I am not sure where I found the strength to remain calm (again!).  I asked her to tell her friend’s mother that she was staying home and sat her down to discuss the situation further.  I asked her if she thought it was right that an adult who was teaching children to follow Christian principles, encouraged those children to lie to their parents and she agreed that it was not.  I then asked her if such a person could be trusted to tell her the truth about spirituality and again she saw my point of view.  (Fortunately, I had always cultivated complete openness between us and we were able to discuss the most intimate subjects, since she became able to talk, provided I did not lose my temper and start being dogmatic!)

I am happy to report that this foray into fundamental Christianity came to a rapid end and she has moved on and up, finding and following her own spiritual Path.  If I had protested and laid down boundaries to her search for spirituality, she would have, no doubt rebelled against my Pagan point of view and who knows where we would have been today!

In closing I would like to remind all who have a hand in raising children to remember that all teenagers rebel against authority (and dogma), whether spiritual, social or parental and the only way to deal with this is to keep channels of communication as open as possible and to accept that by the time your child is in his or her mid teens, you have done all that you can to establish moral, spiritual and social values – all that remains is to stand back and watch as they try to find their way (and to be there to pick up the pieces when things fall apart) as they tread the obstacle-laden path to adulthood!

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