The Moral Bankruptcy of Evangelical Ethics, part 3: Proselytization

Note: I’ve been avoiding social media for the past few days because of what it seems like everyone’s talking about. I don’t think I will mention it by name. My own feelings are complicated. I see victims who are terribly isolated in their spotlight. I had enough opportunity to escape the cult I was in, and even though I had tremendous support, I fell hard many times. There are thousands who are still trapped, and it raises the question: is it possible that someone from one of these fundamentalist families could escape and survive to live a full life? In my experience, and according to the stories of many other people with similar backgrounds to mine, the answer is a resounding no, or at the very maximum a slim chance. So I am grieving the total audacity of people who are blaming the victims in this situation, and I haven’t the energy to say more, and I will now continue with my regularly planned series on evangelical ethics, because if anything, it’s relevant without getting into the specifics of how it applies.

With that, back to the discussion: why evangelical Christianity is morally bankrupt and a terrible foundation for ethics. In this part, I want to discuss proselytization. This word means to recruit or convert someone to join a belief system, party, institution, or cause. Throughout its history, Christianity has employed violence of every kind to spread its reach. This is a feature, not a flaw. It is inherently dehumanizing to declare that another way of existing is wrong, and your view of reality is the correct one, and everyone else should adhere to it.

If I were to go through my own introduction to these so-called ethics, I think the first and foremost principle I learned was that proselytizing is the ultimate good thing someone can do. I had been born into a Christian family, so I got to “accept Jesus into my heart” early, or so I was adamantly told by everyone in my world. The goal was for me to be fully prepared to go out into the world and preach the “good news” to anyone and everyone. It didn’t matter whether they wanted to listen, I embraced the idea that any behavior or conversation could impact someone’s relationship with god, and my life was demonstrative of Christian goodness. Which meant I was an insufferable asshole, honestly.

The ”good news” is what I was told the literal translation of the word “gospel” was. I just looked it up, and that is the root etymology, but I can’t be sure what is and isn’t true of what I’ve been told. In short, the good news is that Jesus died so you can go to heaven. That’s it. Also, you killed him. By existing as a human. Humans are also bad. So bad, like disgusting filth and trash to god. But we’re made in the image of god, who is perfect. Anyway, Jesus came back from the dead, which somehow means none of us really have to die permanently. It gets weird when you question how it all works. Some people are content with believing that they will spend an eternity singing praises to god, but this never satisfied me, and my parents encouraged us to believe whatever we wanted about heaven. Some denominations heavily emphasize the specifics of heaven, even mapping it out, but I was not in one of those.

Proselytization has many times been used as a justification for colonization, or just another word for it. To be clear, proselytization has no real value because Christians themselves are not better off for their moral superiority, so it’s not much of a justification. The belief persists that other people would be better off if they lived in a specific way, that is, if they adhered to evangelical Christian values. Christian proselytization is perhaps the most well-funded and widespread experiment on humanity. This experiment is ongoing, though the results are never published, because they all indicate that testing must be halted at once.

All “mission work” falls under the category of this pretense that proselytization is good. While some efforts include benefits for those targeted, like digging wells for people without access to clean water, the ultimate goal is still proselytization. It should be obvious that giving people access to a life-saving resource should come without stipulations. Instead, the goal is the message and the water is a byproduct, a means to an end. It is merely the positive reinforcement to counter the negative reinforcement of violence. A lot of the time, though, what evangelical Christians think of as a positive is not positive at all. It robs indigenous groups of their ways of life, and masquerades as “aid.”

Proselytization by procreation is another approach. My parents, along with many other evangelical Christian parents, believed that having children and teaching them Christian ways was one of the most effective forms of “growing the kingdom of god.” This violates the consent of the children, but again, there is no basis in the ethical system for giving any regard to whether children consent to anything. If given the chance, they wouldn’t consent to being trained to obey with physical violence, but this is considered necessary.

There is no objective reason to believe proselytization is worth valuing. It is only validated from the inside of the evangelical Christian belief system, it’s even in the name, “evangelical.” Evangelism, another word for proselytization, is seen as important because Jesus commanded it. In essence, both proselytization and sexual purity go back to the main virtue of evangelical ethics: obedience. These things sum up evangelical Christian ethics, or what masquerades as an ethical system. In my next post, we’ll explore what is behind this mask.