Accept Jesus and Get a Free Meal!

I have a lot of siblings (11, to be precise, if you count halves and steps and in-laws). My youngest brother is 18, and currently serving as a missionary in New Orleans on what I refer to as a “Accept Jesus and Get a Free Meal” program.

My brother and I have a lot of theological differences. We used to be incredibly close but we never talk anymore. I can see him going into ministry – he has mentioned it in passing and I think he’d do well in it. And, not going to lie, that might be kind of cool. My brother and I both being ministers.

He really tests the limits of what I am willing to accept from religion sometimes. He’s still with the church that kicked me out when I was 12. He claims that he “used to” be gay but that he’s not anymore. He realized that that wasn’t what God wanted from him. So he’s straight. And he is doing this missionary program in New Orleans, winning people over for Jesus in exchange for a couple slices of pizza and some bad Christian rock music. During the day he helps put together supply packs and ship them off to the poor heathens in “third world” countries. He is a soldier in God’s army. He’d really appreciate it, he has said, if I’d accept Jesus back into my heart.

I have politely declined, more than once.

So we don’t talk much anymore.

But he is my brother and he is a person and he has inherent worth and dignity. He isn’t doing anything bad. He’s just not doing things that I consider positive ways to change the world.

When I was still with the Assembly of God church I went on a few “afternoon mission trips” into “the field.” Mostly I just babysat while the adults dealt with the adults, giving them food, clothing, supplies, bibles, and prayer. And I felt good about what I was doing because I had been told that this was how to help people.

That’s what I grew up thinking that church work had to be. Winning people over to Jesus by essentially any means necessary. I was told that “witnessing” meant “telling people they are going to hell if they don’t think like you do.” It always made me really uncomfortable once I realized what was going on.

It was something that nagged at me when I was preparing to go to Phoenix this summer. I hadn’t done much with UUs outside my congregation – what if they were just as bad in a different way? And we were witnessing when we were in Arizona, no question about that. We wore our very visible Standing on the Side of Love shirts, we had ministers, wearing collars, with us, getting arrested, speaking of love and faith. We were a faith group. But we weren’t trying to tell anybody else that they should be a UU. We were there to stand on the side of love with immigrant families. That is what we did.

But that’s not to say that I don’t think that there’s a place to talk about our religion outside of church. When I was in DC for SEAT (Sexuality Education Advocacy Training – Put on by the UUA, UCC and the religious action center for reform Judaism) a bunch of us were out at dinner talking and at one point somebody pulled out one of the Principles and Sources cards and started telling somebody else at the table about UUism. No pressure, not proselytizing, but simply saying, “hey, here’s what we believe.” I think that that is one of the things I like most about UUism. It encourages discussion instead of “our way or no way” ideology.

I just cannot get behind providing help, be it with money, supplies, childcare, healthcare, or anything else in exchange for religion. There is operation Chrismtas Child or whatever where people fill up shoeboxes with pencils and paper and maybe a few toys, but also with religious materials. The children that receive these are force-fed Christianity in exchange for some school supplies. I just really have a hard time getting behind it.

If you want to help out folks? That’s fantastic. If you want to help people out because you feel that your faith calls you to do that? Great, live out your faith. If you want to tell people about your faith when you help them? Eh, go ahead. I know I certainly told people that I was there with a group of people from my faith tradition when I was in Phoenix. Hell, I managed to explain that in Spanish – pretty awesome considering I hardly knew how to articulate it in English (full disclosure: I totally cheated and texted my grandmother – “como se dice “inherent worth and dignity” in espanol??”). My point is that our faith called us to be there and fight injustice. Not to fight injustice AND spread the good word of UUism.

I guess that’s the problem I have with what my brother is doing. He’s helping people out, yes, but he’s making his help contingent. It’s clear that these events are primarily about winning hearts for Christ, not about helping out people who need a meal. That’s where I find issue. That’s where I become happy that UUs don’t do that.

But he is still my brother. And I do still love him. I don’t necessarily love his actions, but I love him. As my brother and as a person.

So my brother is an evangelical missionary, I’m a possibly future UU minister, my little sister (who lives with me) thinks we are both absolutely ridiculous, and our parents are all just confused about what on earth we are doing and the holidays are coming up. Is there an app for that?

(Kidding, I don’t see my family for the holidays. It’s better that way. I just wanted to make my stupid app joke)

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3 Comments to “Accept Jesus and Get a Free Meal!”

  1. As a fellow UU, I wonder if maybe it all comes down to what we each perceive the need to be, though. You and I believe that helping people out involves giving them a meal (or whatever) — that they need the meal, the school supplies, etc. But your brother believes that people need to be saved — that accepting Jesus is as important as a meal or an education. My guess is that this difference is what is at the heart of the differing actions of you (standing on the side of love) and your brother (help, with a side of religion).

    Just a thought. And thanks for sharing your thoughts with us – I always enjoy your posts.

  2. Logically I know that. Logically I realize that he doesn’t see what he is doing as having strings attached. And this is obviously a gross oversimplification of the good work that Christian missionaries do around the world. It’s still really hard for me to accept though. To sit back and say “yep, ok, you are on your journey and I’m on mine and I love you lots though never the twain shall meet.”

  3. I have similar thoughts to Liz (ones that seem to have also occurred to you). Now, I don’t know your brother obviously and the attitude he takes to missionary work and I am sure there are those who genuinely are aware of their ‘help with strings attached’ take on their work.

    But I also try to remind myself that many Christians of the ‘born-again’ variety are trying to bring the love of Christ to others. That they are trying to save them. My mom, who was a born-again Christian in her youth, put it into these terms – she couldn’t be a good Christian if she sat aside and didn’t make any efforts to save her loved ones.

    There are those, undoubtedly, who approach missionary work with a ‘catch as many as you can’ attitude.

    I also believe that, for me, bringiny my Unitarian Universalism into my justice work, in clear and visible ways is important. I do the things I do because I was raised Unitarian Univeralist. I don’t need the people I help to be UU or even express an interest, but I’ll let people know where I’m coming from.

    LALA, nice blog post, Andrew!

    Also, you mentioned me, hahah! You may or may not remember that I was the one with the UU wallet card. Unless it happened twice… which isn’t actually that unlikely.

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