We stood there. Four of us. In Downtown Asheville. On a Saturday evening. And watched.
Downtown Asheville is an eclectic place, full of buskers and tourists, the wealthy and the homeless. Some nights a drum circle forms in Prichard Park but on this particular night there was no drum circle. Instead, there was an evangelism service. A man held a microphone, preaching to the masses, proclaiming the Word of God. Modestly dressed young people stood on street corners, neat and tidy, handing out pamphlets and yelling to us, "Jesus loves you."
Jesus loves you, they say. But where does it go from there?
The young woman next to me spoke. "When I was 16 I became pregnant. My church sent a letter to everyone telling them to shun me. I don't go to church much any more."
Jesus loves you, they say. But not if...
All of us standing there had encountered this message in one form or another.
Jesus loves you, they say. But not if you get pregnant out of wedlock.
Jesus loves you, they say. But not if you leave your abusive husband.
Jesus loves you, they say. But not if your addiction proves too much to manage.
Jesus loves you, they say. But not if you step outside the box of the Evangelical Industrial Complex.
We bristled at the sight, at the sounds, at the atmosphere. We know that talk is cheap but love is hard. We know it is easy to get somebody "saved" but considerably harder to come alongside them in their time of need. We cringed knowing that what mattered to these people was getting souls into heaven but caring for them on earth was another matter altogether. One that was above their pay grade.
In college I was told that I had to do evangelism. I avoided it. I hid from it. I hated it. I never, ever thought that walking up to somebody on the beach during spring break and sharing the Four Spiritual Laws with them was really the way to bring God to another person. Some churches still emphasize evangelism. And I just can't get with the program. Nobody wants to be somebody's agenda.
People aren't lectured into the Kingdom. They are loved into the Kingdom. And that is done through relationship. And that is done through relationship that reflects the character of God. The kind of character that comforts the afflicted, stands up for the oppressed, protects the abused, brings hope to the despairing, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, strengthens the weak, and pours out mercy on those who know they need it.
If you can't show somebody that Jesus loves them, shouting it isn't going to do any good.