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The New Christians

We’re currently battling Christian euphemisms here on the blog.

Here’s a passage from my book, The New Christians, about my experience with one Christian euphemism while in college:

Back on campus, I chafed under some of the policies of Campus
Crusade. First, a glass ceiling inhibited women from ever achieving the coveted
position of campus director. When I asked about this, I got fuzzy arguments
from scripture–it turns out that Crusade doesn’t necessarily bar women from top
leadership positions, but the general discomfort with women’s leadership is a
part of a particular angle on biblical interpretation. This was lost on me at
the time, since I’d grown up at a church with ordained women ministers.

Second, we were being trained in so-called cold-call evangelism.
What that meant was, once per month, we left the MnM rally and spread across
campus to evangelize the unbelievers. A partner and I (because Jesus sent out
his followers two by two) went to the dorm we were assigned and began knocking
on doors. When a door was answered, we’d ask, “Are you willing to take a short
survey?” to which any undergrad who’d like to avoid homework answered, “Yes.”

Once inside, the next question we were trained to ask was, “Are
you interested in spiritual things?” Again, virtually any eighteen-year-old
will answer this question in the affirmative (hell, if you can fog a mirror,
you’ll answer yes). From there we’d launch into Crusade’s famous evangelistic
tract, “The Four Spiritual Laws.” There was no survey; we were not tabulating
any results. It was a scam, a classic bait-and-switch. We used the premise of a
survey to get inside the dorm room, steer the conversation, and get out in
under ten minutes. We had to keep moving; we has a whole dorm to canvas.

This method of evangelism troubled me deeply. I found it horribly
embarrassing to “share the gospel” with someone one night and then find myself
sitting next to her in the cafeteria the next day. It was one thing to
proselytize my anonymous seatmate on a plane (“God sat you next to that person
for a purpose,” the Crusade staffers told us)–I’d never see that person again.
It was quite another to witness to my college classmates. I hated it, and I
quickly refused to do it. Upon our release from MnM out into the front lines of
evangelism, I’d quietly steal back to my dorm room, turn out the lights, and
not answer the door.

The final nail in the coffin, it seems, came when I joined a
fraternity during the fall of my sophomore year. Back home, I’d been schooled
in what is alternatively called “lifestyle evangelism” or “friendship
evangelism.” The basic premise is that how one lives makes a more compelling case for Christian faith
than
what one says. Or as Saint
Francis of Assisi purportedly said, “Preach the gospel always, and if
necessary, use words.” With this in mind, it seemed completely natural to join
a fraternity–if any group of guys could use a Christian in their midst, it was
the Dartmouth hockey players who made up the Heorot House.

But when I pledged Heorot, that was the final straw for the
Crusade folks. I guess it meant that I had slipped into the dark world of beer
drinking and other nefarious behaviors. In January of my sophomore year, my
“discipler” sat me down at a table in Collis Student Center at Dartmouth
College and proceeded to tell me (I remember it verbatim), “The staff and
student leaders of Dartmouth Crusade met over the break, and we’ve decided that
you have an unteachable spirit.* There’s no room for you in the
leadership of Campus Crusade.”

I sat there, stunned.

“You can still come to Bible study, though,” he smiled.

Back in my dorm, I called Jeff Lindsay, my youth pastor back
home, and asked him, “Can someone get kicked out of a Christian group?”

“I guess so,” he said with sadness in his voice.

Little did I know at the time, but “unteachable spirit” is a popular euphemism used by Christian leaders (particularly conservative ones) when they mete out church “discipline” on those with whom they disagree.

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