Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Change! We Don't Change, We're Anglicans

One of my favourite radios programs is This American Life on National Public Radio in the U.S.  I was listening to an episode from their archives last week about how people change their minds. 
The program reported on the rather surprizing results of an experiment in which had canvassers who went door-to-door and spent some time talking to people about controversial issues such as same-sex-marriage and abortion.  The results were quite amazing as they showed that after a relatively short period of time the people interviewed changed their minds on the issue.  More surprizing is that the change remained over a significant time period i.e. it was not just momentary.  If you are interested in listening to the program here is the link:

One of the key factors in this result that they identified was that the interviewers had to be identified with the issue e.g. a woman who had an abortion of someone who was self-identified as LGBT.  Another significant factor that was identified is that people do not change their beliefs based on facts and data.  Where people change their minds is on the level of the gut; of visceral reactions; of emotions; of feelings (which by the way are not the same as emotions). 

They found that the most important thing that the interviewer could do in this process was to stop telling people things and to listen.  The interviewer needed to let them talk about their own lives and tell their own stories.  I would qualify that this doesn’t quite match the first finding i.e. that the interviewer needed to be identified with the issue personally.  Their experience was important. However, that information needed to be revealed in the course of the interview in context of the discussion.   The focus needed to be on the experience of the person being interviewed.
These findings were quite unexpected and surprizing because they completely overturn the expectation and common wisdom held by experts in the field.  I am wondering how these finding can be applied to that thing which Anglicans are particularly struggling with these days as we increasingly find ourselves out of step with our culture which is increasingly secular and disconnected with anything religious; That thing is evangelism.  

Today Anglicans particularly do not have experience in evangelism; in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Many other denominations have had greater experience and success in this. It was not something which, I must admit, I am very comfortable with and did not receive any training specifically on how to evangelize in school.  However, as they number of people in the pews dwindle; as our parishioners get older; and as more and more churches close it is something we need to turn our attention to.  It is not just a case of survival as the Anglican Church in Canada and perhaps all the Western world.  It is also an imperative as Christians.  We are called to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.

I must qualify the above by saying that I am not comfortable about evangelization when I think of it in traditional way of thinking about evangelization.  The picture I have is of the T.V. evangelist who would play on the audience’s fears and desires and prejudices, or the people at the door who ask if I have been saved or born again.  That is key to the issue and where it intersects with the findings discussed in that radio program.  We need to redefine what evangelism means.  We need to share the Good News by approaching people where they are and listening to their experience.  We also need to be able to share our stories and how being an Anglican is part (hopefully an important part) of our stories as Christians. 

Actually that is pretty much what I do as a Spiritual Director.  I listen to the experience and stories of my directees and share how my experience has helped me to have a closer relationship with God.  This week I invite you to reflect on your experience of being an Anglican or Roman Catholic or United Church member or as a spiritual person unconnected to organized religion and how that has affected your life.  What would you say to share that with someone you just met?

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