OK, confession time: One of my pet peeves is people who try to convert me to their particular variety of Christianity. It won’t work with me. It never has. It does nothing but make me want to dig my heels in and resist, no matter what the proselytizer is saying or even how much I might agree with his viewpoint.

I suppose this has roots from my college days when random strangers would accost me on or off campus, shove a Bible in my face and (spittle flying) demand to know WHETHER-I’D-ACCEPTED-THE-LORD-JESUS-CHRIST-AS-MY-PERSONAL-SAVIOR, while simultaneously waving the Good Book over my head as if threatening to clobber me with it. Really makes you want to commit to a Deity on the spot, doesn’t it?

And for those individuals who are irreligious to begin with, this technique is profoundly counter-effective. I’m pretty sure this isn’t what Jesus had in mind for how to spread His word because it sure as heck doesn’t work.

This issue came up again recently when a woman who knows I’m Christian nonetheless felt the need to do the ol’ back-me-into-a-corner-and-convert-me routine. My former aversion rose to the surface, and I told her I had already accepted Jesus, thanks, and how about those Dodgers?

I realize this is a dicey subject because we are biblically instructed to evangelize. I suppose it’s the method of evangelizing that bothers me. I honestly have no desire to back anyone into a corner. So what’s a Christian to do?

I discussed this with a godly neighbor a few months ago, and she had sound advice. “What you do,” she said, “is lay your straight stick next to their crooked one.”

When asked to explain, she said that people who have troubled lives or who lack a religious foundation have “crooked sticks.” Their lives may be complicated by multiple marriages or addictions or bad choices. They are certainly missing that core of peace that a faith in God provides.

So when “crooked stick” people come to visit her, this woman never evangelizes to them … verbally. All she does is lay the straight stick of her family’s life next to theirs, and that’s it. With her quiet shining example of womanly beauty, and the peaceful, happy family life she has created with her husband and children, people clamor to visit. The straight stick gets seen again and again – and it’s remembered after visitors leave.

This isn’t to say she won’t discuss God. But she merely leads. She doesn’t push. If people choose not to follow too far, that’s OK. She’ll be right there for them the next time they care to take a few more steps.

It’s not an instantaneous process, of course, but it’s an enormously effective one. This woman, I might add, is someone I truly admire and try to emulate. Hmmm, so then she’s right – she has laid her straight stick before me, too. Not a bad technique!

WND columnist Vox Day has a book out entitled “The Irrational Atheist” in which he argues against atheism but never uses a Bible quote. (For the record, I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s on my wish list.) What I found impressive was Day’s reasoning against using the Bible to support his position. To atheists, quoting the Bible is like quoting Greek. They don’t understand it, they don’t believe in it, and therefore it does no good to wield it in an argument.

I think this is brilliant logic.

People who are not religious cannot “hear” what the Bible is telling them. I believe they need to “see” it first. If they like what they see (namely, your example) then they’ll get around to hearing and reading the Word when they’re ready. Repeat: when they’re ready. Not when you’re ready.

If the only example unchurched people see is you backing them into a corner, spittle flying as you demand an immediate allegiance to Jesus, then they’re much more likely to turn and flee because they don’t like your technique.

St. Francis of Assisi, somewhere around the year 1200, said it best. “Preach the gospel at all times,” he advised. “And when necessary, use words.”

I’m also reminded of Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” singing, “Word words words, I’m so sick of words. … If you’re in love, show me.” People are seldom converted to your viewpoint, opinion, or religion when you bang them over the head with words (sometimes literally – the term “Bible thumpers” comes to mind). You must show them instead.

I believe the Gospel can best be spread by actions, acts of charity, decency and the example of a life lived by walking with God. You know, laying your straight stick before them. Showing, not telling (as they say in the writing biz).

Think about the people who had the most profound influence in your life. Why did they have that impact? Did they back you into a corner and force their opinion on you? Or did they offer a beautiful example you wished to emulate?

No one likes to be pushed, and pushed “conversions” seldom last. Don’t use your straight stick to whack people upside the head or trap them in a corner.

To my mind, the most effective evangelizers are those who demonstrate the profound changes their beliefs have had in their lives. I’ve heard from people who went from the depths of hell to complete peace once they found God. It’s hard to imagine a straighter stick than that. When that straight stick is gently laid next to someone’s crooked stick, the impact can be profound.

This isn’t to say that all street corner evangelists are deficient in tact and unable to control their saliva output. There are plenty who understand that there are appropriate times, places and techniques for spreading the Gospel.

Just never back me into a corner. It won’t work. Instead, let your light so shine before men that … well, you know the rest. And if you don’t – ahem – it can be found in Matthew 5:16.

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