The Zen of Evangelism

But yesterday, I got a “Relationship Tips” message, and I read it. Interestingly enough, I found it actually applies to apologetics.

These particular tips talked about the difference between concern and enmeshment. Concern is when we care enough about someone to listen to their problems, discuss our beliefs and give advice when it’s solicited. Enmeshed is when we make their problems our problems, their emotions our emotions and their consciences our consciences. Because we’ve taken over their consciences and their emotions, we feel the need to control them, so we can appease our own emotions and consciences.

As apologists, we become enmeshed when, in our zeal for the truth, we struggle to lead everyone to it — whether they want to go or not.

You know, the kind of attitude that emerged in the Crusades.

Many of us first got enmeshed as teens, trying to reconcile our brains (which knew we should date nice Catholics) and our hearts (which were inevitably attracted to pagans, druggies and other bad boys and girls). We would then embark on our own crusades to convert the loser of our dreams into the patron saint of junior high school students. Of course, when sharing didn’t work, we tried begging. And manipulation. And threats. And none of it ever worked.

Some of us have a little of that left in us as adults — especially when it comes to the Faith. We know the stakes. We want to share the truth. We want to make people happy — whether they like it or not.

Say you have a friend who has left the Church. It bothers you — as rightly it should. But what do you do about it? Well, obviously, you discuss it with her. But how does that discussion go? Do you respectfully ask her what she believes, and then tell her what you believe and why? Or do you appear at her door crying and screaming at her about how she’s going to hell and doesn’t even care?

Say a respectful conversation doesn’t work. What do you do then? Do you leave the door open for more discussion, and continue to reach out to her in friendship? Or do you nag at her, make it difficult for her to attend her new church and basically try to manipulate her back into the Catholic fold?

I know it’s tempting. But it doesn’t work, and it isn’t right. People don’t like being manipulated. When we nag, when we manipulate, when we try to control, what we’re saying is, “I know better than you do what’s right for you.” And nobody likes that.

Look at the ultimate apologist, Jesus Christ. Did He nag people? Did He manipulate circumstances to make people follow Him? Did He chase after them when they walked away? No. He presented the truth in love, and allowed them to choose. And then He respected their free will.

Yes, we should share our beliefs with our friends. We should care about their salvation, and make it clear why we care. We should present the truth in love. But we need to do all of that in a Christ-like way. And part of Christ’s way was to always, always respect their freedom.

Even if we don’t like what they’re doing with it. “Of course, there is one sneaky, underhanded thing you can do. You can pray for them. Let those prayers go to work, and you’ll find their lives ‘manipulated’ in ways you could never have dreamed up yourself.”

(This article can also be found at

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