The Most Awkward Missionary Of All Time

My encounter with the most awkward missionary of all time began with a curious and inappropriate question: “Excuse me. Why do you hate Islam?” This message, which seemed to be assuming a lot of facts not in evidence, was followed by three smiley faces. After my discussion about at least a few of the things I hated about Islam, such as its oppression of others, especially those it considers as dhimmi, who are largely far more righteous and decent people than their Muslim rulers, to say nothing of the oppression of women under the barbarities of sharia law, and the constant threat of violence faced by those under the rule of sectarian Muslim governments because people are not considered to be children of the Most High God and worthy of respect but rather as, at best, God’s slaves, my invincibly ignorant interlocutor commented that the 2.5% required charity to the poor, one of the five pillars of Islam, was higher than the tax burden on the dhimmi, which is a ridiculous proposition, and forwarded me to a website I have no interest in going to that purports to be a guide to Islam.

As I was dealing with this most awkward of missionaries in my dry and understated and gracious way, pointing him to the internal contradictions of Islam, not least its schizophrenic way of dealing with people of other faiths, and to the total moral unfitness of its founder, Mohammed, to a moral guide to anyone in perhaps the most subtle way possible, I pondered a set of questions about why this sort of thing happens to me. How could someone first jump the conclusion that I hated people to such an extent, and then when he was told that while I hate worldviews that are used to support oppression, I work very hard not to hate others, he then jumped to the equally ludicrous conclusion that I must wish or even be open to converting to Islam, which is not the case at all, despite the fact that I attempt to deal with it thoughtfully from time to time [1]. The fact that I probably knew more about Islam than the author himself, or at least was far better equipped to speak about it articulately in English, no matter how many Friday sermons he had listened to at his mosque of choice did not appear to enter into the mind of the person who continued to beclown himself to me, and will no doubt do so often, as he has in the past when asking about my opinion on Gaza and Israel.

Being someone who is content with my belief system, I pondered why anyone would bother to convert to Islam at all, ever. Most of the people I have known who have converted to Islam have been young women of a bad reputation who found themselves unable to be forgiven by others after having mended their ways, and in despair at having been considered to be permanently people of ill repute with no possibility of having a good name in their own community and own faith traditions sought to make the dramatic break to a tradition that would only judge them from their conduct after conversion, and not before. This is, I must admit, a powerful inducement to conversion in certain circumstances, and a strong encouragement on the part of others, particularly Christians, to be better at forgiving others and giving others a blank slate upon the obvious and manifest fruits of sincere repentance. We are not always good at letting go of the past and ceasing to bring it up to club others down with, and that is something we could all stand to improve in. Besides this motive, which is easy enough to understand, there are few motives I could think of that would not reflect poorly on the convert, such as having bloodlust or an immense hostility to the people of God—namely physical and spiritual Israel.

I was also led to ponder what would make a missionary less awkward. Being a somewhat awkward person myself, and living a life that appears to justify everyone else being as awkward and uncomfortable. Apparently, few people think it necessary to engage in proper forms with me, avoid asking questions that are uncomfortable and intrusive and impolite, or to respect or regard my own feelings. Do I really do that bad of a job at respecting the feelings of others that people frequently show no desire of regarding my own feelings, no matter how often or insistently they are stated? After all, a large part of what would make a missionary less awkward is a sound knowledge of one’s background and feelings, and a great deal of respect for where someone else is coming from. When Paul spoke to the group of people at the Areopagus, for example, he showed himself knowledgeable enough in Greek poetry and philosophy to be able to discern the longings and tensions within Greek culture concerning matters of resurrection and life, and of the relationship between physical and spiritual matters, and mankind and the divine. If we wish for other people to end up where we are, we have to build a bridge to them, and understand where they are, and where their own culture and worldview point to our own. That is why the Gospel of Matthew or the Book of Hebrews, for example, quotes so much from prophecy. If we know our audience we can speak intelligently to them, and bring them to an understanding of our position, and at least plant a seed of our belief system into their mind as something to consider, based on the receptiveness of the soil of their heart.

Let us therefore examine ourselves to make sure that we are knowledgeable in where others are coming from whom we wish to discuss about matters of importance. Let us also make sure that if we desire to persuade or convince others of a position that we make sure that the belief system we wish to preach to others is, in fact, a good one. One of the most frequent areas of moral blindness is the way that our way of life and belief practices appear to others. We should be honest and forthright about our expectations and about the way that we live, but we ought to place no unnecessary burdens to other people hearing us out and considering what we have to say. We may not be able to convert others, but at the very least we should be able to avoid offending others, if at all possible. No one wants to be the most awkward missionary of all time, after all.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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