Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“Fellowship” comes with a cost....

I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality


When I was in college, I noticed how many "Christian" organizations would attempt to recruit students into the fold. The Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Evangelicals, even to a lesser extent, the Catholics would all choose the students who were furthest from home, those who missed their families the most, and those who were having trouble adjusting to college life. Then, they would kill them with kindness. Invite them to parties. Hold ice cream socials. Offer to buy them lunch. And, what would seem like an innocuous meeting would turn into a day of prosthelytizing, culminating in attempts to "convert" the non-believing student. And, on many occasions, it worked, although usually only temporarily.
My friend Zheng was from China. She had never been to the United States before. She missed her family so badly that she would cry herself to sleep many nights. She was a perfect target for the "Campus Crusade for Christ". First, she was approached by a few Mormon students, who tried to "show her the light". I remember her telling me about her "friends" who would take her out to lunch every week, and who made her feel less lonely. And all she had to do in return was listen to their speeches about the Book of Mormon, and how wonderful their religion was.
The Jehovah's Witnesses also tried their darndest to get at Zheng. They would give her reading material aimed at "proving" that the Mormons did not have her best interests at heart, that they were a "cult" that was trying to "brainwash" her. Of course, the Jehovah's Witnesses then went on to tell her that the TRUE path to happiness was through THEIR religion.

The "Campus Crusade for Christ" was concerned about the aggressive recruiting efforts of the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses, who liked to focus on the students who hailed from outside of the United States. The "Crusaders" were more subtle. They presented themselves as a multi-denominational Christian fellowship organization. They wanted to "undo the damage" caused by "fringe" religious groups who were actively recruiting students who the "Crusaders" thought rightfully belong in THEIR organization.
I remember attending "Campus Crusade for Christ" meetings with Zheng. Of course, they were trying to "deprogram" her, since they were convinced that the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses had brainwashed the poor girl. The thing is, they wanted her to believe that THEY were the ones who had the REAL pipeline to Christ. They started inviting us to an evangelical church as an "alternative".
Zheng decided that she would rather stick with her Mormon "friends". But, I had been suckered in by the Crusaders. They invited me to dinner. They held parties and always extended an invitation to me. They even took me on a trip to the beach. I started to believe that they knew the path to Enlightenment, and if I followed their edicts, I would be a happy person.
Until I started seeing the chinks in their armor. My first doubts about their true intentions came when I noticed them focusing their efforts on recruiting a young couple. The girl was about seventeen, and VERY pregnant. She was developmentally disabled, and really did not understand that her accepting baby gifts from the evangelical Christians came with a price. She attended their Bible study groups, not really understanding what was being discussed. She just knew that these were her "friends" and that they were going to help her with her baby. I guess attending endless church meetings, services and study groups was, in her mind, a small price to pay for the "support" she received. But, I had to wonder where all of their efforts to "help" her would go if she did not accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.
Then, I went to a church service with some friends. The preacher gathered all of the little children around him. He said "I know sometimes you want to see the same movies your friends are watching, but your parents tell you no. You need to listen to your parents, because those movies are evil, and the people who watch them are evil. They are going to go to Hell. You don't want to go to Hell, do you?" Now, these were young children, ranging in age from about 5 to 10. And the movies he was referring to were NOT rated R or even PG-13 movies. They were kid's movies. Imagine telling a child that their FRIENDS are going to go to Hell, simply because of a movie they watched?! Who does that??
The final straw came when I agreed to meet two woman from the church for lunch. I was sitting at the same table I sat at every day. As the table began to fill up, the women from the church began to look very uncomfortable. They asked me "Do you know THESE PEOPLE??" I looked around and told them that yes, this table was full of my friends. They looked terrified and horrified. You see, the students I was sitting with were all Black. These two "Christian" women could not get away fast enough. After that, I never attempted to hook up with the church goers on campus.
I was lonely, as was my friend Zheng. I was far from home. I was suffering from a very deep depression. The "Christians" offered me their hands in friendship, and I grasped on as tight as I could. I was seeking something. I thought they were offering me love and fellowship, but truly, they just wanted to increase their numbers.
I have to question why "Christians" feel the need to pick out the weakest individuals, the ones who are most in need of a helping hand. Do they minister to drug addicts, pregnant teens, and mentally ill individuals out of a sincere desire to help, or do they simply do it because they want to convince others that their way of life is superior? All too often, I see that the church groups that are supposedly helping individuals turn their back on them the second the person shows a backbone and questions their faith.
If the Christian organizations I came across were truly about helping others, and not just about propagating their faith, then why would they turn their backs on those who decide that Christianity is NOT for them?? Isn't love and caring supposed to be unconditional??