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Evangelism as Anti-Propaganda

09/14/2012

“The function of propaganda is to make evil look good, the demonic divine, violence like peacemaking, tyranny and oppression like liberation. It makes blind, unquestioning allegiance appear to be freely chosen, religiously appropriate devotion. The grand lie does not appear to start as deception, but only as rhetorical exaggeration. The exaggeration deepens, lengthens, and broadens in an almost organic act of self-distortion. Eventually the rhetoric becomes a blatant falsehood, but now people have not only come to believe the lie, they also live the lie; over time they have been narrated into it. At that point, the exaggeration-turned falsehood becomes uncontested and uncontestable truth, and its effects highly dangerous. Evil in the name of good and of God is now nearly inevitable, as the lie functions as an apocalypse, a religious revelation that only a true Apocalypse can unveil.”

-Michael Gorman in Reading Revelation Responsibly.

 

The powers and principalities of this world are very clever. They are able to propagate seemingly innocuous ideas and use them for their own benefit and to the detriment of those who swallow the bait. This happens in multiple arenas (i.e., corporations, nation-states, etc.) and in a variety of ways (i.e., marketing, patriotic creeds, etc.). Obvious examples would be the propaganda of the Roman Empire (which is the context of the quote above), Nazi Germany or present-day North Korea. We look at those situations and tell ourselves that we would never allow ourselves to be deceived like that. This is probably true. However, it is the less obvious types of propaganda that often penetrate our minds and seduce us into thinking and behaving in unhealthy ways. How else would we end up thinking that we are bonded to one person more than another based purely on the color of our passports? Or, how else could we get to the point of spending millions trying to emulate Justin Bieber and Jennifer Lopez when imitating heroes like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. is rather inexpensive? (I actually googled “top celebrities” in order to find out who is cool these days—such a missionary move.) Or, how else did we get to a point where a 3-bedroom house can be referred to as a “starter home” and the most materialistic day of the year immediately follows the day we are to be thankful for what we have already received?

The powers and principalities are clever, indeed.

But, this is where evangelism comes in. I believe that evangelism is critical to the life of the church. The sad thing is that the “e-word” is used less and less in our churches today when it is needed more than ever. This is due, in large part, to a deficient understanding of evangelism. The term has often been reduced to the idea of telling a person that belief in Jesus will save them. Or, put another way, it has referred to tactics that will get someone to convert to Christianity. I think evangelism is much richer and more robust than that.

Evangelism, simply put, is proclaiming the good news that Jesus is Lord and inviting people to live as such. While simple, the implications of this good news are far-reaching. Because, when Jesus is Lord, people will no longer treat people differently because of their nationality (or race, or gender, or socio-economic level). When Jesus is Lord, people will no longer seek power and fame but will choose the way of humility and service for the sake of others. When Jesus is Lord, people will live more simply and give more generously. Ultimately, when Jesus is Lord, people will love others to the point of laying down their lives for them.

And this is, in fact, what we see Jesus doing in his own life. For example, a large percentage of the people around him were seeking violent revolution against Roman occupation. The propaganda from the zealots was strong (though they were a minority group), and some people were drawn into their narrative. On the other hand, some, particularly local tax collectors, were tapping into the propaganda and power of Rome and abusing their own neighbors. Jesus arrived and undercut the narratives of both parties. He brought a Zealot and a tax collector together in his community of disciples. So, while propaganda creates dividing walls of hostility between people, Jesus breaks it down in order to bring peace. (Eph. 2)

This means the church is called to speak and embody a message, a narrative, which stands in stark opposition to the propaganda bombarding us from every side. Thus, an essential component of evangelism is seeing and exposing propaganda and the destructive behaviors it produces. We are called to be like John, the author of Revelation, by helping others see (be apocalyptic) that the “beast of the sea” (the propaganda machine) is pointing them to the way of destruction. We then can call them to follow the slain lamb. This is hard work, though, because the propaganda has become normative to us.

So, how are we to discern what is not healthy? The first step might be to see the fruit of the dominant ideas and myths that we often take for granted. If we are not becoming a more loving and peaceful person, then we might want to reexamine the formative narratives in our lives. For propaganda leads the world towards selfishness, discontentment, division and violence. Evangelism leads people to rest in the peace and love of God. So, though exposing the lies of the propaganda might be difficult and unpopular, it is one of the most loving things we can do. And when we evangelize like this, the church will become a place where loving others is not determined by your citizenship, where the poor and marginalized are treated as heroes, and where people more highly anticipate giving away their possessions than getting more of their own. I know I need to be evangelized like this. I need to hear good news like this.

*Our team has been studying Revelation together, so a lot of my reflection lately has dealt with related themes. This post grew out of my struggle to connect the gospel, particularly as it is presented in Revelation, to my current context. While my examples come more from the American context, in order for it to connect to the three of you reading this, I am actually more focused on my immediate context.

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3 comments

  1. Privileged to be one of the three. Love it. Your thought about how a 3-bedroom home is a starter house really hit hard. The lies that are so prevelant in our church culture are the hardest to identify. Weird to think that my “starter” home is bigger than my parent’s house that they have been in for 30 years. JD


  2. I bet there are more than three.


  3. I too am grateful to be among the “chosen” who read your words.
    Thank you. Now the question for me becomes how to expose the propaganda in a loving and peaceful way.



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