Youth organization finds way to share faith without alienating others

Monday, August 21, 2000

At a time when proselytizing often triggers conflict and confusion, a
new policy by an evangelical Christian youth organization offers a model of how
to share one’s faith with sensitivity and respect.

The group is Young Life. And its mission “affirms that salvation
comes solely through the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Of course, there’s no question that members of Young Life or any
other evangelical group have the right to promote their faith in the public
square of America.

The First Amendment guarantee of “free exercise of
religion” would mean little if it didn’t include the freedom to
evangelize. After all, the obligation to bring others to salvation is a core
conviction of many faith communities.

What usually sparks a fight isn’t the proselytizing itself, but
how and where it’s done. From the schoolyard to the workplace, what one
person calls “sharing the faith” may be perceived by another as
“pushing religion.”

That’s why Young Life’s new position statement is a
helpful and important model. Entitled “Relating to Kids from Other Faith
Traditions,” it outlines how to evangelize while simultaneously
respecting the rights and sensibilities of others.

The policy is based on an agreement first worked out between the
Jewish community and local Young Life leaders in suburban Philadelphia. The
dialogue began more than two years ago when a number of Jewish parents became
concerned about the involvement of their kids in Young Life events at the high

Representatives from the Jewish Community Relations Council and a
local synagogue sat down with Young Life leaders to seek some common ground on
what is a very delicate and emotional issue.

Tackling this conflict is never easy. Many non-Christian parents are
upset by what they perceive as undue pressure on their children to attend
Christian clubs or activities. And many evangelical students feel that they are
unfairly attacked for simply inviting others to share their faith.

But when people come together and get to know one another, it’s
possible to build trust and understanding across deep differences. It may take
a while — two years in this case — but the process works.

The core of the agreement reached in Philadelphia, and the basis for
the position statement from Young Life nationally, is that “whether or
not a student should attend Young Life events rests ultimately with that
student’s parents.”

In practice, this means that Young Life will make sure that parents
are notified and informed when their children are interested in attending Young
Life events.

This approach won’t satisfy everyone.

Some will continue to object to any and all evangelization. These are
the folks who mistakenly define freedom of religion to mean “freedom from
hearing anything about religion” in the public square.

They should remember that the First Amendment is only intended to keep
government from interfering with religion. Every citizen has the right to
promote his or her faith in the marketplace of ideas.

Others will persist in using very aggressive or even deceptive tactics
to make converts, arguing that the end justifies the means. They should
remember that such strategies undermine liberty of conscience and do a
disservice to authentic religious faith.

The Young Life policy is on the mark. It strikes a needed balance
between the First Amendment right to proselytize and the civic responsibility
to respect the rights of others.