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Spread the Word… (Taking the shock out of the E********m)

Spread the Word…

Taking the shock out of the E********m

By the Rev. Liam Muller

SHHHH! Do not say it; don’t even think it; some words are just not used in polite company.

By now your mind may be racing: What word is he talking about? Surely it’s not one of those words, is it? He should know better than to even suggest using that word in the diocesan newsletter.

Well, first of all, get your minds out of the gutter. Secondly, yes I am and here I go: E********m. (Editor’s note: In an effort to minimize the shock we have somewhat altered the word.)

Okay, okay, to lessen the shock value let’s just call it “the ‘e’ word.” Is that better? I thought as much.

We Episcopalians definitely have a problem with the ‘e’ word and not without cause.

We Episcopalians definitely have a problem with the ‘e’ word and not without cause.

Following the rise of the “moral majority” in the 1980’s, “evangelical,” “evangelicals” and “evangelism” became bad words to anyone who wasn’t deemed part of the so-called moral majority. Leaders of the evangelical movement began to stand in opposition to many of the firmly held beliefs progressive Americans held, such as marriage equality, reproductive rights and the separation of church and state; on an ecclesial level, they also voiced their opposition to the ordination of women and openly-partnered LGBTQ persons, and vociferously opposed blessing same-sex couples’ marriage. In short, since their rise politically and ecclesiastically they have been a powerful political voice loudly proclaiming their opposition to all things deemed progressive by most.

Because of this, and so much more, the very word has developed a horribly negative connotation—and, I suppose, rightfully so. And it still does even now, or maybe especially now.

Evangelism has developed a horribly negative connotation—and, I suppose, rightfully so.

While actions are always better than words (I almost said actions trump words—see what I mean), words can be and often are powerful in what they symbolize as well as what they mean; and this, then, is why we sometimes have difficulty hearing certain words in the positive manner with which they are intended.

At this time clarity, or further clarification, is called for: Briefly, the evangelism I am writing about and espousing is not what we have all come to understand evangelism as. Rather, it is most usefully exemplified by our calling, through our baptismal covenant and with God’s help, to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” Being evangelical is simply putting this into practice.

While the phrase “by word and example” is easy enough to understand, it’s a pity that more stress is placed on the “word” aspect than is rightfully placed on the “example” aspect. For one thing, just because it is easier to speak than it is to act does not mean that this is necessarily the manner in which we should live our lives. There is nothing inherently easy about our willingness to proclaim the Good News and neither should there be. And yet our actions and examples will always carry more weight than our words, especially if our words ring hollow to our hearers.

Put another way—and as I am fond of telling my congregation—if you have to tell someone you’re a Christian, you’re probably doing something wrong. This is the heart of what I would call true evangelism; the kind of evangelism I will be writing about in the months to come.

As I am fond of telling my congregation—if you have to tell someone you’re a Christian, you’re probably doing something wrong.

I will endeavor to do this by speaking with members of the Episcopal Church in Vermont about their experiences, positive and negative, with evangelism in their lives. I will also try and put forth the reasons I believe this is an important aspect of our lives together and why it is so important that we put this effort into action.

In conclusion, I am reminded of one of my favorite hymns: “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” which was written by Peter Scholtes. It was often sung during so-called folk masses and it has a catchy tune and easy to remember lyrics. Importantly, for me it typifies what evangelism is and how we can go about recapturing our evangelical roots: Not by bludgeoning people with hypocritical and often unchristian “values,” but by and through our love for the totality of God’s creation.

Until next time, Peace…and spread the word.


About the author: The Rev. Liam Muller is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Rutland, Vermont.

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