I thought: I sell chastity to teenagers. I’ve debated abortion at Berkeley. How hard can this be?
And I thought: Really, when it comes down to it, evangelization is a form of sales. We’re “selling” the gospel. And, in a certain sense, we use the same “techniques.” We need credibility. We need to understand the product thoroughly. We’re aiming to “close the sale.”
(Yes, I sat in a sales seminar and thought about evangelization. Perhaps I’m not ready for the real business world.)
But I found an important difference between salesmanship and evangelization — the part about “overcoming objections.” How do we answer the hard questions?
Our trainer’s solution turned out to be an excellent lesson in how not to handle evangelization. His technique boiled down to this: Obfuscate. Minimize. Downplay this aspect. Ignore that aspect. Make it seem like we offer something, even though we don’t.
Obviously, I wouldn’t sell a product — any product — I didn’t believe in. And I have to say I was uncomfortable with the prospect of minimizing certain aspects of this product in order to make a sale.
I’m uncomfortable with that strategy in evangelization, too. Evangelization has always been easy for me, even in the toughest situations such as debating abortion at Berkeley, because I’ve always had the truth on my side.
I’ve never had to equivocate, or manipulate, or deflect attention away from weak arguments. I’ve never really even had to “prepare.” I’ve just made sure I’ve had the facts straight, and then I’ve climbed onto the podium. And I’ve never struggled to overcome an objection or argument. It doesn’t happen. In debate, my biggest frustration is usually that the audience isn’t rolling over laughing at the truly outrageous claims being made by the opposing side.
Sitting in this seminar, I thought that this must be the kind of training Planned Parenthood and NARAL put their debaters through. “Minimize this. Ignore that. And whatever you do, stay off the question of whether or not it’s a human life!”
Certain religious sects use the same techniques in their evangelization efforts. Emphasize these Scripture passages. Ignore the other ones. Quote Catholic sources out of context. Anything to make themselves look good and Catholics look bad.
As Catholic evangelists, we need to be careful about falling into these traps ourselves. Are you using shortcuts so that you can “win” the argument? Are you avoiding scriptural passages you can’t explain? Quoting sources out of context?
If you are, you’re doing nobody any favors. You’re not being honest — with yourself or the person you’re dealing with. And you may “win” the battle, but you’ll lose the war. You aren’t presenting the real truth in all its glory.
Hans Urs von Balthasar said that “truth is symphonic.” If you really, truly understand what you’re trying to explain, there will be no such thing as an inconsistency. It all fits together.
If that’s not happening for you, you need to do some more work. You’re still just reciting arguments. And that’s not good enough. So dig deeper. Think deeper. Take those hard questions as a challenge, to learn how everything fits together.
And once it all fits, there ain’t no such thing as a “hard question.”