I was walking down a street in Chicago one day and this old guy holding a big bible in a black suit and white shirt was standing on a street corner preaching. Hee talked into a microphone and his voice was coming out of the small speaker in a loud distorted crackle that made it unpleasant to listen to. As I walked past he said a bunch of stuff about hell and whatnot, then he started a sentence with, "Those of you who are fornicating.."
I walked on a few steps smiling to myself at his choice of words, then I decided to go back and talk with him for a moment. I wandered up to him while he was still in full preaching mode waving his bible around like a gun
"Fornicating?" I said when he stopped for a moment.
He looked at me side-on with a mixture of surprise and suspicion. He seemed slightly wrong-footed by my one-word question. Perhaps he wasn't used to anyone engagingwith his holy ranting.
"Sorry sir?" he said.
"You said 'fornicating' right? Well, I'm just curious, I only know what that word means because I've heard it in a couple churches, but I'm wondering how many of the people walking by on this street know what that means."
He kind of stood there for a moment obviously reviewing his language in his head and thinking of a response.
"I think people know what it means, and besides, I'm talking to their hearts, sir. They don't listen, they don't stop, but their hearts can hear me, sir," he said.
I challenged him a little more by saying that I felt that the word 'fornicating' was a little old fashioned, and was probably seen as a religious word with overtone of condemnation. He listened respectfully and then asked me what word I might use. I hadn't really given that much thought before I asked him.
"How about sinning?" I said, then I though on a bit more and suggested that he stop with the hellfire and brimstone stuff altogether and talk more about love and Jesus love.
"It seems to me that most everyone is looking for love right?" I said as he was nodded and smiled in response. "So the sell would surely be better if it worded a little more like what people are actually looking for, right?"
"Oh well you see sir, I'm not selling anything here today," he responded.
"I appreciate that," I said "but if you ask me a lot of people walking by here might feel that church and religion are not far removed from things like condemnation and intolerance, which in turn are FAR removed from love and forgiveness right? It seems to me like there's already enough intolerance and condemnation in our every day lives, so I can't see people actively being excited by the prospect of finding some more."
The conversation didn't really go much further. He changed direction in a predictable manner by asking me if I was saved. Then after a couple of minutes, he gave me a badly photocopied track that was originally printed in 1978! It had a picture of a cross bridging a valley along with a bunch of bible verses and stuff about the 'wages of sin.'
He then said he was happy we had chatted, which I took as my cue to take leave of him and allow him to get back to the job of 'speaking to people's hearts,' which he did before I even took two steps away.
He seemed like a well-meaning guy, but as I walked away from him and his amplified message of doomsday sorrow, I couldn't help but wonder whether he might not actually be doing more harm than good in the battle to 'win souls.' His message sounded old fashioned and easy to ignore. Despite people ignoring him, he was right, they did hear him to a point. Maybe not consciously, but his words could be easily understood as they crackled over the little speaker he had turned up to full volume.
They heard him enough for him to make another small impression upon them in relation to the church, and therefore God. Even though he rebuffed my point about 'the sell' I don't think he realized that in our capitalist 'buy now pay later' society, 'the sell' is VERY important. Car companies don't sell you their cars based upon the damage that might happen to you if you drive without wearing a seat belt do they? Fast food companies don't sell you their food by telling you about heart disease and the risks of overeating.
Church attendance in the western world is falling and maybe a lot of that has to do with what people hear from the church. The message of sin and damnation has reached farther than the message of love, tolerance, and forgiveness. If God has the power to change anything maybe he should consider changing the people in charge of his marketing.