Estimated reading time: 4 minutes.
I believe Christians should have relationships with unchurched people and that pro-lifers should have relationships with pro-choice people. Atheist Ira Glass recently did an interview that includes the best argument I’ve ever heard regarding relational evangelism.
Last year, I hosted an episode of Life Report on the topic of whether pro-lifers should have pro-choice friends. I did this because I was surprised that some of my closest pro-life colleagues had expressed some strong concerns about the fact that I had (and still have) pro-choice friends. By “friend,” I don’t simply mean “acquaintance;” I’m talking about people that I genuinely care about and would like to hang out with, whether or not we’re talking about abortion on that particular day.
I recently happened across a fascinating interview that Jim Henderson did with Ira Glass, the host and producer of This American Life. Toward the beginning of the interview, Ira explains how he thinks Christians are unfairly portrayed by the media and that the Christians in his life aren’t anything like the stereotype that many atheists hold. You can see Ira talk about this in the video below:
Ira says that even though all sub-groups complain about being treated unfairly by the media, it seems like Christians are portrayed more severely — that is, they’re portrayed as crazy, evil people — which is not at all the experience that Ira has had with the Christians in his life, even with the fundamentalists.
In the next video, Ira spends seven minutes describing his friendship with a couple of missionaries named Glenn and Jane Fitzgerald. He met them because he wanted to do a piece on Chicago gangs, and they were the only people outside of the Police Department who had any contact with the gangs in Chicago. You can watch Ira talk affectionately about his relationship with Glenn and Jane in the embedded video below:
In the interview, Jim asks if Ira was anticipating that Glenn and Jane would give him “the pitch” for Christianity. Ira responds that Glenn did talk to him about Christianity during an evening drive, although they discussed religion on a fairly regular basis. But it’s in the beginning of this video that Ira says the most interesting thing in the interview:
Jim Henderson: Yeah, that’s what I find fascinating is that you have this capacity to be non-threatened by people who are different from you are, and I do think that’s a unique characteristic… and I think that that’s admirable.
Ira Glass: I was open to that stuff from Glenn and Jane because I was their friend. You know what I mean? I was becoming their friend. But if some random person who I didn’t know or like just tried to pitch me, I think I would be like anybody else. I would be like, “Why are you talking to me about this? I don’t even know you.”
I think this statement is the strongest argument in favor of relational evangelism that I’ve ever heard (as opposed to conversational evangelism and proclamation evangelism which I’ve written about here and here.)
This doesn’t mean the other types of evangelism should never be used. On the contrary, I engage in conversational evangelism every time I go on a campus to talk to pro-choice people, except for the rare instance when I get to talk to someone I’ve met before. But some people dismiss relational evangelism in favor of other types of evangelism, and I think that is a mistake, and I think Ira’s statement is evidence of that.
I completely identify with what Ira said. If I knew somebody with different theology wanted to convince me that their viewpoint was correct, they would be wise not to tackle the subject during our first conversation. It would be better to wait until we were friends. It would be best to wait until I developed respect for them as both a human being, AND, as a careful thinker. I’m most likely to take differing viewpoints seriously after forming a relationship with a person, rather than in the beginning, when I have no idea who the speaker is or what they’re like.
Dialogue Tip: In every conversation I have, the person I’m talking with should easily understand that I’m both a gracious human being AND a careful thinker. If they can’t tell those things about me after a few minutes, then I’m probably not doing a good job of communicating.
If you’re interested in learning more about relational evangelism, this article from SmallGroups.com has nine principles that are worth reading. My two favorite points are to “be the kind of Christian unchurched people have never met before” and to “give and take ‘refrigerator rights’ with unchurched friends.” In other words, this isn’t just about being willing to hang out occasionally with your unchurched friend at your local coffee shop. You should be at each others’ houses often enough that you both feel comfortable enough to open each others’ refrigerators and grab a soda.
Question: Do you have pro-choice friends? Do you have friends that have a different religion from you? If not, is that something you would like to cultivate? Why or why not?