Is that Gospel Provocation or Are You Just Being a Jerk?

Introduction from Dr. Joel McDurmon:

The post below from John Andrew Reasnor is great not only because of its particular application to abolition of abortion activism, but because it follows a couple principles I have wanted to share for a while. I have in mind the idea of disturbing the peace as a mark of ministry success—as proof you have accomplished the Lord’s work here today!

I have heard it and seen it too many times to enumerate: someone engaged in debate, preaching, street preaching (especially), sidewalk activism, or other similar activity starts out in the most provocative, priggish, obnoxious, condemning, and jerkish manner possible; when the targets of their offense react with predictable annoyance, defensiveness, and escalate to hostility, police, etc., the preachers or activists then play a type of victim themselves.

We’re being persecuted for the Gospel’s sake!

These people are just hostile to the truth!

These delusions and self-justifications are based upon misapplications of a few Scriptures, such as these:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matt. 5:11)

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. (Matt. 20:22Mk. 13:13)

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18–19)

Verses like these are used to justify unnecessarily disturbing the peace, or covering one’s sins of causing dissension, divisiveness, or undue hostility quite often. With these, a couple more colloquial versions appear:

Well, we made everyone mad. We must be doing something right!

Everywhere Jesus went people got riled up. I must be doing it right cause I did the same thing as Jesus!

Then there is the perennial self-righteous favorite:

When you throw a stone into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one that got hit!

That’s true. Of course, it’s also true that sometimes a dog yelps because there’s an intruder in the house. It’s also true that sometimes dogs yelp because humans abuse them. It’s also true that sometimes a lowlife throws stones for depraved reasons.

You see, there are always other possibilities in such scenarios, and the thoughtless, or oblivious, or self-righteous, sometimes even narcissistic, activists often don’t acknowledge even the possibility that they’re doing things wrong, or at least poorly.

Here’s how to consider it logically, and to see how the popular abuse of this is a common but simple fallacy of affirming the consequent. The logical form is this:

If P, then Q.

P.

Therefore, Q.

Here’s an example:

If you have served Christ, then you will stir up trouble.

You have served Christ.

Therefore, you will stir up trouble.

This is logically sound, though it may not be cogent in that it does not account for the truth of all the propositions involved. Nevertheless, it is sound.

Here, however, is the fallacy:

If P, then Q.

Q.

Therefore, P.

This is backwards, and the relationship does not necessarily follow. It is therefore unsound. Here is an example:

If you have served Christ, then you will stir up trouble.

You stir up trouble.

Therefore, you have served Christ.

This does not necessarily follow at all, for there are many reasons you may have stirred up trouble besides serving Christ. It could indeed be that people are reacting negatively to the truth or to Christ. Or, it could be that you’re just being a real jerk.

This is especially unfortunate when it is unnecessary.

It is so bad that I honestly believe some people have twisted the two around in their heads, yet continue to do ministry based on the twisted model. It seems that some try as hard as possible to make people angry, rile people up, and then proclaim they must have done something great for the kingdom. It’s the only evidence they will accept as proof of ministry, and over time they become experts in provoking the reactions needed to assure themselves they are doing ministry.

Michael Green in his book Evangelism in the Early Church makes the point that Evangelism frequently succeeds best when the Gospel flows naturally across already-existing relationships. He demonstrates this repeatedly from Scripture, particularly the book of Acts. While there are obviously exceptions, this was the most common way for the advancements of Christianity in the earliest church. The book is a classic.

As John appeals to us below, there is certainly a place for agitation and even provocative activism. But there is a priority for attempting to build relationships first. I would add that this should not only be the case with fellow believers, but even with unbelievers and those at the fringes of society.

More could be added, but let John’s advice here stand.

—JM


I don’t believe using signs is always the best tactic. Especially outside of a church building. They can be helpful, but they can also be hurtful. When you hold a sign in that kind of location, you’re starting an uphill fight. You didn’t stumble upon an uphill fight you now need to fight, you chose the uphill fight. You are purposely putting yourself in a very difficult position. That can be okay, and even a good thing, but difficulty is not automatically a sign of virtue or holiness.

Being scorned is not a sign of virtue or holiness either. Sociopathic heretics and Jesus were scorned. Let’s just say that being hated is inconclusive on the righteousness detector. Scripture says that we will be hated (Mark 13:13), but it also says that the world will know us by our love for one another (John 13:35). What it does not say is to feel self-righteous because drunkards and liberals on the streets mock you. Again, that sort of reaction is inconclusive as an evidence for righteousness. Fools and saints both get mocked. Both Jesus and a criminal were crucified.

As a quick aside that also applies to many street “preachers.” You can draw attention to yourself and your message in several different ways. The fact that your method draws attention does not justify the method. You can draw attention by being a belligerent clown, but that only makes your message the message of a belligerent clown. If that message even looks remotely like the Gospel, I’d rather you don’t present that message like a belligerent clown. No matter what kind of crowd you can draw. . . .

As a starting point for church repent, sending an email or writing a letter is a better option. Perhaps just offering to buy an elder a coffee or a beer (if he’s Presbyterian or Lutheran) would be more effective. That may not rock the boat as much and it’s not nearly as edgy, but it may be remarkably helpful. Probably not, but it may surprise you. Remember that holding signs is just one tactic out of many and that tactics should be employed with wisdom and forethought. Remember that doing something like talking to the leadership first could be wise, even though it’s perfectly legitimate to believe that you aren’t obligated to do so. Let me be clear, you’re not obligated to. However, in life, it’s often best to do something you know you aren’t obligated to do. It can also be wise to do so even if the vast majority of the time it yields no fruit. I know first-hand how those conversations usually go. I know how those coffee meetings go. I know first-hand how the vast majority of local churches will ignore letters and dodge meetings when the subject is abortion. Although it’s possible for God to move and use the eldership in a mighty way, for the large share of the time, consider doing the due diligence of talking to them first as a way to be above reproach and to remove stumbling blocks. A simple and easy attempt will quiet many criticisms and ease the path to persuasion (if persuasion is even the goal).

I’ve participated in outright rebuking of openly and proudly pro-choice churches and I’ve participated in gentle exhortations of other sorts of churches that aren’t pro-choice officially. I’ve stood outside of Joel Osteen’s church and I’ve stood outside of a Reformed Baptist church (to the same effect). I’ve sent letters and sat down with elders. I’ve had the all-day-long private Facebook conversations. Many times. I’ve done it all. After five years and doing this again and again, unless this is a prophetic condemnation and rebuke, I don’t get it as a means of persuasion. I’m sure some abolitionists were knocked off their proverbial Pauline horse and saw the light pretty quick. But most of us were pretty normal conservative Christians doing the best we knew until we knew better. And knowing better didn’t happen right away. Not for me or most. And I think we know that. That is all the more reason to go about this with the utmost humility and charity. If that is not crystal clear, we might as well stay home.

But, I will stand up to those who speak quickly and condemn things they don’t understand just because they’re easily bothered by people holding signs. There’s a wide gulf of difference between engaging in a specific tactic that isn’t the most effective or wise and engaging in a tactic that is sinful or blasphemous or whatever it gets labeled as.

The critics that anathematize abolitionists because of coroplast signs are unhinged and unbalanced radicals. They believe that this one tactic poisons everything else. Their tunnel vision is obvious, and it is a shameful position.

However, both the abolitionist that believes that holding a sign out in front of a church building is the whole point of abolitionism and the anti-abolitionist who will not listen to any correction regarding Church Repent are unhinged and unbalanced radicals (and I don’t mean in the good way). It is only a tactic. A useful one, but it is not the point.

I am not opposed to signs. Not at all. Be we should very soberly consider what the goal is anytime we engage in activism of any kind. Is it our goal to expose abortion to the world? Is it our goal to rebuke a pro-choice “church”? Is it our goal to reason with fellow believers and persuade them of the importance of loving their neighbor?

Recently I did a very informal Facebook poll. I asked abolitionists how they came to be abolitionists. It wasn’t a surprise to me that most became abolitionists through talking to friends, reading articles, watching videos, and listening to lectures. Mostly having long conversations with acquaintances and friends. [See the truth flowing across existing relationships, there?—JM] I am not saying that direct activism will not bring fruit. It does. But it depends on the specific goal and audience. So, if persuading brothers and sisters is the goal, consider a method that fits that goal. If the goal is to rebuke or expose, consider a method that works for that goal. This is not a one-size-fits-all method.

Don’t cling to your coroplast sign as if it is the message and not just a piece of material on which the message is written. Sometimes it is a great idea to try to get that coffee. Don’t become impatient. This is a long fight. Consider how you came to understand and embrace abolitionism. Did it come about because you saw a sign?


Originally published on Nov 15, 2018 at The American Vision.

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