Spread the Word…Acting with Dignity
By Fr. Liam Muller | Trinity Episcopal Church, Rutland, VT
My mom used to have a saying (in fact she had LOTS of sayings now that I think of it): “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” (Two things: 1: No, it wasn’t an original and 2: why exactly would we WANT to catch flies with honey; why not use fly paper or a fly swatter if you are more violently inclined?)
Of course I’m being facetious and the point of this adage still rings true: If you want to accomplish something, be nice. We live in a time when, sadly, people aren’t inclined to go out of their way to be nice to others anymore and that really is a shame. In fact, we’ve developed a term, “politically correct,” which is used to disparage others deemed too nice, as though being too nice is somehow a problem.
We’ve developed a term, “politically correct,” which is used to disparage others deemed too nice, as though being too nice is somehow a problem.
Beyond the term politically correct, we’ve even elected a leader of the free world who ran, partially, on the idea that he was not going to be politically correct and against what he called political correctness. With my ears and my personal filters, I hear that as saying “I’m not going to be nice; I think there’s too much niceness out there.” How terribly sad that is.
But as we in the Vermont branch of the Jesus Movement make our way in the world evangelizing and spreading the Good News, it goes without saying that being nice is a minimal standard. As is treating those we encounter with dignity as our minimal standard.
Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict by Donna Hicks, PhD, is a fantastic book dealing with the importance of dignity in all facets of our lives. This book will also serve as the theme for our upcoming Diocesan Convention, with Dr. Hicks being our keynote speaker. For this month’s column, I would like to take a look at her “10 Essential Elements of Dignity” and see just how much they pertain to evangelism. They are:
Acceptance of Identity. Always, always, always remember that those you encounter on your journey as evangelists are your equals; no one is below you and no one is above you. We are all created by the same loving creator and we must always treat each other as such. When reaching out and sharing the Good News, how much better will it be received if you are not “lording” it over or pandering to another?
Inclusion. More than likely, if you are reaching out to someone they are not going to immediately feel as though they belong; they might feel like outsiders and their level of discomfort will be quite genuine. As evangelists, we must do all that we can to make people feel welcome and allow them to grow into the comfort which is sure to come.
We must do all that we can to make people feel welcome and allow them to grow into the comfort which is sure to come.
Safety. Physically and emotionally the person you are encountering must at all times feel safe and not at all threatened by what they believe. They must know (NOT feel, but know) that what they think and what they believe is safe and disagreement will not be met with any retribution whatsoever. I think it’s safe to assume that if a person doesn’t feel safe, we’re not being good evangelists.
Acknowledgment. Engaging with a person you are speaking with and sharing with will let them know, non-verbally, that you are listening to them and, as importantly, that you care. Actively engaging with a person will go a long way toward letting them know that you are genuinely interested in what they think and how they feel.
Recognition. Validating other’s perspectives and other’s points of view and opinions will let them know that you honor them as a person—irrespective of whether you agree or not. Be generous in your praise for them and never be disparaging. Honor them by validating what they believe and they just might do the same to you.
Fairness. Ah the “Golden Rule;” funny how it always seems to crop up in conversations about both evangelism and dignity. Simply put, if you DON’T treat others as you would be treated you have ZERO chance of sharing the Good News of God in Christ with them. Further, if you don’t see another as equal in all manner of things, you’re probably not spreading the Gospel and you may want to go back and familiarize yourself with the Good News.
Benefit of the Doubt. If you are prone to making assumptions, make the assumption that the person you are engaging with is acting with integrity; that their beliefs are real, honest and come from their heart. To do otherwise is not just rude, it is demonstrative of a lack of caring on your part and without caring their really can be no evangelism.
Assume that the person you are engaging with is acting with integrity; that their beliefs are real, honest and come from their heart.
Understanding. In both your words and your actions, be sure to truthfully convey that what someone else says both matters and is important. Use active listening as a vehicle to understand not only what a person is saying, but why they are saying it as well. In doing so you will avoid the fatal evangelism trap of being judgmental.
Independence. Allow the person you are engaging to act on their own behalf, at their own speed and in the manner of their choosing. Oftentimes, when one is able to separate themselves from the group, or even group thinking, they will come to an increased sense of value of themselves. In allowing for another’s independent thought, you will be enabling a reasonable and more thoughtful—and as a result potentially more devoted—follower of Christ.
Accountability. Take responsibility for your actions. If you mess up, admit it without shame and own it without hesitation. Too often (far too often for my liking) I’ve heard people say of Christians that we think we’re perfect, or holier than thou—whoever thou is. This is because some have an awfully difficult time with simply admitting they were wrong. If you want to convey genuineness and the reality of what you’re speaking of, you must be accountable for what you do.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Self: Wouldn’t all of the above be really good to practice all the time, not just when evangelizing?” And you would be correct: that’s actually the point, not just of Dr. Hicks’ book but of evangelizing as well. Treating others with dignity is so incredibly necessary and such an integral part of a Christian life. And living a Christian life, far more than mere words, is how we go about sharing the Good News.
Until next month, when I look forward to hearing the author speak far more eloquently than ever I could on this important topic, Spread the Word…