There’s been a certain amount of solemn nonsense going around about what it means to truly live a Christian live and evangelize. Are hot button issues talked about too much or not enough? Do we emphasize the message that Jesus came to save us, or is proselytizing not meeting people where they are? Is what we really need to do as Christians just serve those I need and let our actions speak for themselves, or is that turning the Church into an NGO rather than the conduit of Christ’s gospel?
Myself, I don’t think our new pope’s messages have been that hard to follow if one reads them in context, but certainly there has been both a lot of worry and a lot of people attempting to rub other Catholics noses in things they image they won’t like.
Francis is a concrete thinker, it seems to me, and perhaps it works best to point to a concrete example. I read this piece by Abby Johnson the other day and it seemed to me that it summed up how evangelizing, pro-life activity and serving those most in need are not competing interests, but one “seamless” package of what it means to live out the Christian message:
One night over dinner, a friend of mine told me that he had seen a very pregnant homeless woman on the corner of a busy Austin intersection. I knew the intersection he was referring to…there is a huge non-denominational church on the corner. I felt confident that she had probably received some assistance from them. Maybe they were in the process of trying to help her find resources.
One of the friends with us at dinner, Heather, is the executive director of the Austin Coalition for Life, a non-profit group who holds daily vigils outside of Austin’s four abortion clinics. Their goal is to connect abortion-minded women with pregnancy resources in the area to help them choose life for their child. I was about to deliver my own baby any day, so I was limited with what I could do to reach out to this woman. Heather said she would continue to go by the intersection until she found her.
After several days of unsuccessful attempts, Heather was finally able to connect with her. She explained that there were several pro-life agencies in town that could help her with housing both before and after her baby was born. They could also help with expenses, pre and post natal care, labor and delivery, food, clothing, and all of her other basic needs. She talked to her for a long time and found out that she was running from an abusive relationship and was trying to protect her unborn child from the father.
Heather’s next question was a pretty obvious one … had the megachurch a few hundred feet away offered to help her? Instead of asking the woman and putting her on the spot, Heather decided to go and ask the church if they knew anything about the woman. She was startled at the response. “Well, one of our members took her to the Target Café to share the Gospel with her.” So, no material assistance was offered for her or her baby? No resources offered for where she could receive assistance? No phone calls made to maternity homes or pro-life groups in the area? “No,” the woman responded. “Just the meeting at Target to talk about the Lord.”
Well, isn’t that fantastic. I’m sure the Gospel will help her find a hospital to deliver her baby in. I’m sure the Gospel will help her with food to nourish her body during the last few weeks of her pregnancy. I’m sure the Gospel will help keep her safe from harm as she sleeps outside night after night.
Their answer made me disgusted. How can we expect to nourish someone spiritually when their physical needs aren’t met? How can we expect someone to be receptive to the Gospel when they go physically hungry during the day? How can we expect someone to believe in the power of Christ when they don’t know if they will be forced to deliver their baby in alley somewhere? This is Christianity? This is how we treat those in need of help? Certainly not. That is not what faith is about. James clearly states that “faith without works is dead.” What is faith if we are not willing to step out of our comfort zone and get our hands dirty in service to Christ? We are called to be the “hands and feet of Christ,” right? That means service to those who need him … not just words … actions.
This is what it’s all about. And I think it does a great job of underlining the way in which much of the great work that people in the pro-life movement do is helping those in need (both the unborn and their mother’s) and is evangelization. This is not a focus on “small minded rules”, and it is meeting people where they are.
I don’t think that Pope Francis would ever suggest that these pro-life advocates were emphasizing the wrong things in their work. And they clearly are doing a better job of bringing Christ’s love into people’s lives than the folks who took a pregnant homeless woman out for Coffee to tell her about Jesus but didn’t do anything to actually help her out. That is when proselytizing becomes “solemn nonsense”.