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Is Evangelism Religious Abuse?

by Jay Gary, PhD, Jun 9, 2005

jaygary_sIf the Washington Post has their Woodward and Berstein who uncovered Watergate, the Colorado Springs Gazette has Pam Zubeck. For the past two years she has been on the weekly beat of uncovering leadership failures at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Her coverage of the military’s initial reticence to deal with sexual harassment of female students by male cadets brought this issue to our national attention.

Lately, Zubeck has been reporting on “Evangelical bias” at the Air Force Academy displayed by selective Generals, Chaplains, Coaches and students, aimed to proselytize non-religious cadets. This week the U.S. House Appropriation Committee approved a defense spending bill amendment that asserts “coercive and abusive religious proselytizing by officers assigned to duty at the Academy and others in the chain-of-command at the Academy, as has been reported, is inconsistent with the professionalism and standards required of those who serve at the Academy.” The Air Force Secretary now must report back to Congress in 60 days with a plan to ensure, as Zubeck says “religious abuses are corrected” (Gazette, “AFA general under review by Air Force,” June 9, 2005, p. 1).

In my opinion you have three ways to frame this story, if you are an Evangelical: 1) Government encroachment is taking away religious free speech, like prayer was taken away from public schools; 2) Insensitive, overzealous people are sharing Christ inappropriately, an exception to the rule; 3) Government and Religion, whether in the U.S. or in Iraq, have a problem. The task is how to jointly reduce religious conflict, while respecting spiritual identities.

I Peter 3:13-15
13 And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?
14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”
15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.
17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

What do you think? In the past I could easily have argued both positions 1 and 2, but now I see this more in line with position 3. This is a problem that religious and government leaders must tackle together. It is about religion in the public sphere and in the workplace, and about protecting the religion expression of both majorities and minorities. And beyond that, it is about the future of evangelism being seen as negotiating our spiritual commitments, identities and expressions to insure they empower, rather than marginalize others.

For more on this issue of how ethical leaders ought to model a “respectful pluralism” and not let sectarian speech in the workplace be distracting or divisive, see this book:

Hicks, Douglas. (2003). Religion and the workplace: Pluralism, spirituality, leadership. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

I heard Hicks speak last August. He is a professor of Leadership, a Presbyterian, and offers excellent conceptual distinctions and examples on the myriad of ways that religion is present at work. He shares how spirituality must be seen as central to an employee’s identity, but also shows how employers must protect an organization’s culture from the tryanny of the majority.

We must not let evangelism become associated with religious bias. Properly framed, it is an issue of religious freedom, spiritual expression, and respect. But it can only stay that way as we offer leadership, and help believers everywhere learn how to give a defense to everyone who asks about the hope that is within them.

Are you tracking those emerging trends that might disrupt your ministry?

Learn how to track trends by taking our next "Future Proof Your Ministry" seminar

Learn how to track trends by taking our next “Future Proof Your Ministry” seminar

Here is a visual from my “Future Proof Your Ministry” workshop where we talk about how to listen to weak signals, and do the kind of emerging issues analysis I did in this column above. Evangelism as “religious bias” as a trend is now above the “event horizon.” It has emerged and been labeled. Depending on how we respond, it will be further framed as a pressing issue, or a non-issue. Register for “Future Proof Your Ministry” and learn how to turn scan hits into vital intelligence your ministry needs in order to navigate the future, not just survive it.


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