Saturday, September 25, 2010

Street Corner Talkin'

York's annual bike night was this Friday, when hundreds of motorcyclists from all over the region converge on downtown York. The official event kicks off with a parade of bikes through the city. Then the four blocks surrounding Continental Square are closed to traffic to accommodate an antique motorcycle show, food vendors, live bands at several locations, and pedestrians. Even if that scene holds no appeal, it's nice to see the oft-maligned downtown York thrive, for at least one night, and become a crowded destination.

The motorcycle sub-culture, I guess like any other wide appeal pastime, is made up of a broad spectrum of participants. There was a seventyish gent with a nineteen-fortyish Harley Knucklehead dressed in the riding attire of the era when his motorcycle was new. He wore a clean white shirt with a bow tie, calf-high, shiny black boots, and a cap with a white visor. There were heavily inked folks on ''outlaw'' style motorcycles, the younger sport-bike crowd on GSXR's, Hayabusas, and Ninjas, and many many many regular Joes (and Joettes) on modern Harley Sportsters, Softtails, Wide Glides, and Electra Glides. Clearly, I was there for only a limited time, and could only observe a limited area at a time, but I witnessed no hostile, rude, or offensive behavior. No one (not counting exhaust pipes!) was particularly loud or making a spectacle of themselves. With one exception.

On the southeast corner of the square there was a group of sidewalk evangelists. I don't know who they were, but I guess they are from a local congregation. Now let's get the disclaimer out of the way....I in no way dispute their right to be there, and to preach however they see fit. And, theologically and philosophically, I am probably closely aligned with them. I credit them with having the courage to attempt to spread the gospel in an environment most of us would not elect. But I was embarrassed by their methods, and dismayed that they may well do more harm than good.

The ringleader stood on a box and shouted to the passersby. His associates carried signs, and approached individuals strolling past to try to engage them in conversation, stepping into their path to hand them a pamphlet. Their centerpiece sign-propped up along the curb and hard not to see said ''Infant Baptism...The Doorway to Hell''. I observed the corner for a short while, and saw absolutely no success with their efforts to engage people passing by. Most folks just shook their head and kept walking. When the apparent leader stepped down from his pedestal, I approached him and related I found his sign-the ''Infant Baptism, Doorway to Hell'' one-offensive, and in my opinion was counter productive. He clearly relished the opportunity to engage in debate, and his helpers quickly moved in to shout slogans and well rehearsed rebuttals. It was hard to get through to them that my point, my objection, had nothing to do with the issue of infant baptism. They mostly just urged me to read this verse or that verse relative to baptism. I was able to express to the leader, though he rejected it, that in my opinion, we as believers should be reaching out in humility and love and understanding, and that by being intentionally provocative, adversarial, and theologically arrogant we drive away people who already are suspicious, skeptical and reluctant about all things church. He and his disciples quickly responded they believed it was their duty to be confrontational and discomforting, citing Jesus's lambasting of the Pharisees in Matthew 23. I shook the preachers hand and moved on. We clearly had opposite perspectives, and no consensus was likely. I may be completely wrong here. Perhaps some tract recipients will read it before tossing it, and in time will come to truth. I admittedly have no experience in such an arena, but I think there is a much more effective, Christ like approach to such public evangelism.

Suppose their signage, and more importantly their core message, said things that were no less true, but inviting, gentle, and humble. ''What's the big deal with Jesus?'' or ''Christ offers Love and Forgiveness'' or ''Prayer Works''. Most people, particularly at a secular event like a motorcycle rally, would likely still just pass by. I think, though, they would NOT see those ''witnesses'' as abrasive, loud kooks they want no part of. Among those many people, as in any crowd, there are hurting, lost people. There are at least a few people who recognize they are not the person they need to be. There are at least a few people who desperately need answers. Long before we as believers begin to deconstruct erroneous teaching or pervasive misunderstanding with someone, we must first gently help that person know who Jesus is, what He did, and what their response to Him should be.


So, I Begin this Journey...... said...

Jeff, thank you for sharing..... this is a very important message you are sending.... I am the one in the crowd who would pass by the not so delicate preacher and shake my head in embarrassment. I think how you approached the preacher was in "good quality". You were not approaching him or his followers in anyway for them to become arrogant. This is where I still find my knees become weak..... I never appreciated believers approaching me in this manner before I became a believer..... I know many who still would not appreciate the lack of compassion and love.
Maybe you touched one of the preachers followers.... just maybe.
Thanks Jeff! I'm sure God was gently touching your shoulder as you approached the crowd. : )

Anonymous said...

Wow, I too would have ducked out of their way, hoping they wouldn't notice me. What a witness you were to THEM, extending Christ's love and grace, giving them dignity when they wanted to expose the depravity of others in a confrontational manner. You even shook their hand! I hope there were people observing and listening in on your exchange with them.