05 January 2009

Bumper Sticker-less Evangelism

By John E. Harris
Designated Pastor, North Presbyterian Church of Flushing
Officer, The Witherspoon Society

By the early 1980’s the Presbyterian Church had been declining in membership for years. Thinking that I would need a theological grounding in and programmatic familiarity with Evangelism in my ministry, I enrolled in Richard Stoll Armstrong’s “Service Evangelism” class at Princeton Seminary. I was one of only a few students to enroll in the courses, a course which was one of the few Evangelism offerings. A few years later and early in my ordained ministry I participated in the Evangelism Consultant Service Training which was part of the PC(USA)’s old New Day Dawning Evangelism Program. Energized and informed by my training, I led the church I served in a “Friend Maker for God” visitation evangelism program and consulted with another congregation to help them think about and plan for evangelism.

A few years later the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) produced a vinyl peel-n-stick bumper sticker. In bold white letters on a deep Presbyterian blue background it proclaimed “Open-Hearted Open-Minded” on the top half and “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” on the bottom half. I have never thought of myself inclined toward “bumper sticker theology” but as the proud Pastor of an open-hearted and open-minded congregation that was one of the fattest growing congregations in the presbytery at that time, I put that bumper sticker on the bumper of my car because I thought it was true. It was my own subtle form of evangelism.

All that changed the day the presbytery of which I was a member voted to send a form of G-6-0106 B to the General Assembly for approval. After hearing vitriolic and misinformed arguments for why we needed such a constitutional provision, and unable to believe that we had actually approved the overture (I officially dissented), I peeled that ““Open-Hearted Open-Minded” bumper sticker off my car’s bumper because I no longer believed it was true. I was no longer proud to be a Presbyterian. I could longer engage in ministries of evangelism with passion because while I still believed that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life that will set us free, I no longer believed that the Presbyterian Church knew such a Jesus.

Over ten years later I am still waiting for us to once again be an “Open-Hearted Open-Minded” church.

How long, O Lord, How long?
How long must we wait for justice?
How long must we wait to once again be a proud Presbyterians?
How long must we wait to evangelize in good conscience?
How long must we wait to put bumper stickers back on our cars?
How Long?

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I am, and have been, proud to be a Presbyterian. Regardless of what the denomination decides. While I would probably affirm a completely open church, I find it ironic that when our notion of "open" is not adhered to, we demand that others see things our way.
/It would seem knowing Jesus would contain at least a semblance of grace and forgiveness for those we disagree with, would it not?