Every now and then there’s a headline so strange I just have to sit down and write on it. This time it was a Daily Beast article about incoming congressman Madison Cawthorn and his nefarious habit of… trying to convert Muslim and Jewish friends to the Christian faith.
It’s weird enough that such a revelation would merit an article amounting to “Self-proclaimed Christian engages in foundational Christian practice.” The fact that it is seen as newsworthy shows just how religiously illiterate our society is. It’s as though the author is coming across a newfound people group and is learning of their quaint ways.
But what moves the matter beyond strange to downright alarming is a single word they used in the article and in the tweet linking to it: admit. Cawthorn “admitted” he has tried to convert Muslims and Jews. “Admit,” of course is almost always used to imply guilt, particularly in such a context.
So, in using this language to describe Cawthorn’s action, they lead the reader to believe Cawthorn was caught doing something he shouldn’t have. If you’re skeptical about that claim, just look at the response to their tweet on the matter. People described his evangelistic actions as “creepy,” “gross,” white nationalist, and a violation of separation of church and state.
It shouldn’t surprise us at all that the world neither understands us nor tolerates us. Here’s the bad news, though: we’re not too far away from the same distaste for evangelism being held by the majority of churchgoers, too.
Barna research found that nearly half of all Millennial (those born 1984 to 1998) self-proclaimed Christians at least somewhat agreed that it’s wrong to share personal beliefs to try to sway someone of a different faith.
Lest we be tempted to go down the well-worn “those lousy Millennials” path, two considerations should be made. First, a quarter of Gen X self-proclaimed Christians feel the same, along with one in five of Boomers and older. If you want to know where Millennials learned these values, look to the people who brought them up and paved the way for the mantras of tolerance and pluralism that are turning into intolerance and exclusion toward Christians.
Second, to dismiss it as merely a quirk of one generation forgets that the numbers are growing over time, and that generation and their successors will soon be in charge. It’s not just about Millennials. It’s about a societal shift that has brought them to where they are today, and will keep moving subsequent generations in that same direction.
As nice as it is to have our rights, and as much as we should be praying that government would leave us alone and let us practice our faith (1 Timothy 2:1-4), we have very little control over the matter. Governments throughout history have fluctuated in their views of religious liberty, even including the Roman government under which the church began. We have no guarantee that we’ll always be free to practice Christianity as we see fit.
This year we’ve already seen civic authority flexed against churches who met against lockdown orders. Whether or not you agree that the churches should have been meeting, the idea that police would be sent to stop them or enforce consequences for coming together is a dangerous precedent.
The general trend of religious liberty seems to be that it’s perfectly acceptable to practice your Christianity, as long as it’s done in a way that is acceptable to others. Sorry, but that’s a deal we can’t make. Like the Apostles, our resolve must be unwavering: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
As Jesus said, he who is faithful in little is faithful in much” (Luke 16:10), so if we can’t bring ourselves to evangelize now, it seems quite unlikely that we’ll start doing it when it carries social or legal consequences to do so. It’s easy to get up in arms about our rights, but if we aren’t doing anything with them then our outrage is largely for show.
The seeds of persecution may very well be being planted right before our eyes. If push comes to shove, will you be willing to “admit” to evangelizing the lost? If push comes to shove, will you have anything you can “admit” in the first place? Now’s a great time to put some charges on your record.
Jack Wilkie is the editor of focuspress.org and author of “Church Reset: God’s Design for So Much More.” He also preaches for the Forney church of Christ in Forney, TX, where he, his wife, Allison, reside with their four children. You can find his full bio here.