All facebook users have seen or been a part of this phenomenon: the attempt to get every Christian on facebook to post and repost the same status in order to accomplish something or other. Let me tell you something. If a person doesn’t repost these chain letter statuses (is there a coined term for them?) it’s not necessarily because he hates God. It could be because he hates status updates that are completely capitalized. It could be because he sees the pointlessness of it.
Evangelical Christians are often engaging in this kind of behavior and this is just the cyber equivalent. It’s just like putting a Jesus fish on your car or wearing a Christian t-shirt. Many Christians believe they do this as evangelism, however outsiders generally think this is ridiculous. Talking about your faith in an open, honest, and humble way is evangelism. Some would say that the Christian bumper sticker/t-shirt thing is a way of opening up lines of conversation. I won’t wholly discount that but back when I was more apt to be a part of this crowd I found it was more likely to strike up conversations with other Evangelicals.
I don’t want to condemn these activities, despite my overarching cynicism that often leads me to be unenthusiastic or non-participatory. I would like to acknowledge what these status updates/religious paraphernalia do since they are not evangelism except by nebulous leaps of logic. This behavior is more about a sense of belonging. They say little beyond “I’m in this group! You’re in this group too? It feels great to be in a group!” Political stickers on cars don’t change anyone’s opinion, Grateful Dead stickers don’t make people suddenly like hippie jam bands, and OBX stickers doesn’t put the Outer Banks on the top of someone’s desired vacation destinations. The owners of these other sticker-sporting cars may be equally confused as to why these stickers adorn their car. But this is all the same. Personal identification through declaring your allegiance or interest in a sports team, rock band, TV show, or religion is about identifying yourself as part of a group.
And there is nothing wrong with wanting a sense of belonging. That’s a normal, natural human inclination that has been around since the dawn of families. However, Evangelicals desire to reason that their acts of group identification are really acts of evangelism shows an insecurity within many Christians. I think of how proudly Christians take ownership of celebrities that convert. Steven Baldwin and Kirk Cameron are horrendous actors who find work almost exclusively through direct to DVD Christian productions. They were put on a pedestal in the Evangelical community merely because they had a measure of fame (even D-list fame). Celebrity identification is America’s sickest expression of belonging and Evangelicals participation in that shows how far they are from being set apart from the world.
I believe that it is this “being set apart from the world” that makes Christians mask their acts of belonging into acts of evangelism. Nowhere in our emotional DNA are people cool with being set apart from the world. It’s actually an awful feeling that inspires loneliness and insecurity. Belonging to a group feels healthy, including feeling like part of a religious community. However, many people inside the community and outside it see the excessive identification activities (disguised as evangelism) as off-putting, excessive, and more than a little weird. Of course, since Christians fool themselves into thinking (through reinforcement by pastors, youth leaders, Christian friends) that this is Evangelism they will bristle at charges like these because in their view these declarations show that they are unashamed of Jesus and unafraid of what people think. But really these are the activities of people afraid of not belonging without healthy techniques to achieve that sense of belonging.
This is certainly not meant as an attack on Christians that want a sense of belonging, that sense of community acceptance and belonging is one of the most positive aspects of faith. Just don’t confuse it. Don’t think others are ashamed of Jesus because they don’t repost statements of faith in their facebook statuses. Don’t believe that you are evangelizing by copying and pasting an impersonal declaration of faith.