Essays, general essay

Preaching in the Streets

Evangelizers on Hollywood Blvd. recently, and, yes, they ignored all the homeless people nearby.

Several months ago, I was waiting for a bus across the street from the L.A. City Hall when I saw a group of about five or six young women, all wearing the same bright green t-shirt, surrounding an old Hispanic woman sitting on the next bunch. One of the green-shirts was seated next to her, talking earnestly at the old woman. You could tell the old woman was nervous – as who wouldn’t be? Another group of green-shirts, guys, was nearby and I saw the small pamphlets on the ground and realized what this group was up to.

They were evangelizing – as in trying to get people to convert to Christianity. It’s bad enough when someone is being kind and sincere about sharing his or her faith. It’s bad enough when I tell these people that I am a Christian, and that, yes, I’ve said the magic prayer, but they still keep at it. What really got me torqued off at this group was that right across the street, the north lawn of City Hall was dotted with homeless people. Were any of the green-shirts over there, handing out sandwiches and clean socks? Maybe sitting and listening to somebody? No. They were all gathered on the side of the street I was on, molesting an old lady.

I got mad and called them on it. One sweet young thing told me they were praying for the homeless people. I made an allusion to the Epistle of St. James, chapter 2, verses 15-17 (you know, what good does it do tell someone naked to dress warmly and be well and walk by him) and got on the bus.

I’ve been trying to find a way to write about the incident with the compassion and love I was really not feeling for these people ever since. See, the thing is, most people out there stumping for Jesus are doing so thanks to their pastors, who are playing the guilt card, big time. They tell their flocks that if they really cared about people, they’d make sure they heard the Gospel, how unkind it isĀ not to evangelize, etc., ad nauseum. And you can’t entirely blame the pastors. Not only are they hearing the same message, they’re looking at their shrinking Sunday collections and either consciously or unconsciously (I suspect the latter) figuring they’d better put the pressure on to bring in some new bodies.

The problem is, that same zeal is exactly why those Sunday collections are shrinking. People simply don’t believe in churches anymore. We can go into the whole Millenials are disaffected routine, and that does play a part. But I strongly suspect another part is the narrow-minded self-righteousness of people like the green-shirts, talking about the love of Jesus, but completely ignoring the hungry people across the street.

This bothers me because I happen to think that this planet would be a great deal better off if Christians (including me) really tried to practice the love of Jesus instead of talking about it. And it is practicing. None of us gets it totally right. Practicing the love of Jesus is about being present to other people, not quintuple-teaming an old lady until she says your prayer. It’s not worrying about the state of other people’s souls, but staying focused on the state of your own. If someone is genuinely searching and wants to hear about your faith, great. Be ready. But Jesus’ final directive of making disciples of all nations may actually mean he wants multi-cultural representation (in which case, we’ve met that goal – there are Christians pretty much everywhere), not that he wants everyone to become a Christian.

I can’t say for sure. All I can do is keep trying to be kind and present and loving to everyone, from my husband at his most annoying to the smelly bum sitting next to me on the bus. And give money to the poor. Maybe remember to buy an extra package of clean socks for the local homeless shelter. Carrying a few extra fruit bars in my backpack to share with anyone who asks. And probably a few other things I should be doing. And I’ll keep praying for the green-shirts, too. Why not?

 

Anne Louise Bannon

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