“What are you canvassing for?”
That was the question a lady out for her daily walk loudly asked as she headed toward us. A group from the church I pastor in Harriman, TN were in Middletown, OH helping Calvary Baptist Church there reach out into areas of the city where they had not yet been, helping them with revival services, and preparing to work in their annual “Calvary Carnival” block party.
While canvassing was the appropriate word for what we were doing as we walked around the neighborhood, I was surprised to hear someone use that term. I was also surprised that someone would approach us about what we were doing; most people we encountered waited for us to make first contact.
Don and I walked toward her with our flyers, eager to invite her to the church and hopefully engage her in a meaningful conversation.
“I’m Matt and this is Don. We’re with Calvary Baptist Church and are in the neighborhood inviting people to our revival services this week and to a block party on Saturday.”
“Oh,” she chuckled. “I’m a committed atheist, so I won’t be there.”
“Atheists are welcome, too.” I smiled.
“I know. One of the things I like about churches is their sense of community. We atheists don’t have many meetings.”
I told her a little bit more about the church, especially how they have coffee and donuts at 9am on Sunday mornings. If she didn’t want to go to the church service, she could at least stop by there and enjoy the fellowship. After doing this I was eager to learn more about her.
“When you yelled at us you asked us what we were canvassing for. Most people wouldn’t have used that word. Why did you?”
“Well, while I’m an atheist, I’m also a socialist. And a political activist. Before elections I help gather other like-minded people together and canvass neighborhoods to inform people about the issues and try to get them to the polls. So, when I see people out doing it like you guys are, it excites me even if I disagree with you.”
“Interesting,” I said-and it really was. I wanted to find out more. “You mentioned that you like the sense of community found in church. What do you think churches could do better.”
“Gay rights for sure! I mean, this is the year 2013. I think churches should catch up to the times, change their views on this, and accept people like me.”
“Oh, and abortion rights,” she continued. “I really think it’s no one else’s business what a woman decides to do with her body.”
As we kept talking about various topics, somewhere in the back of my mind a thought hit me….
I was talking to my exact opposite — an atheist, socialist, lesbian, pro-choice political activist.
Yet, we were smiling and laughing. We were finding common ground. We were discussing points of disagreement without anger.
She couldn’t talk long. Her walk was going to take a little longer and then she would need to get cleaned up in order to get to work. I thanked her for her time and invited her again to the revival services, block party, and to come out on Sunday morning for coffee and donuts. She expressed thanks to us for speaking with her and wished us well on our journey.
As I thought of my conversation with her later that evening, I pondered how different we were from each other. It really was quite remarkable.
Then, as my mind retraced our interaction from earlier in the day, I thought of something even more remarkable. In spite of our differences we really aren’t all that different in one major way.
We both need Jesus.
As an atheist, she needs to experience His love, mercy, and grace in salvation. As a follower of Jesus, I need to experience His love, mercy, and grace in sanctification.
My exact opposite and I are at different places in our lives. Our views on the major social issues in our culture couldn’t be more different. Yet we both need the same thing.
We both need Jesus.
In this most important way, we aren’t exact opposites at all.
We are the same.
We both need Jesus.
We all need Jesus.
You need Jesus.
May we all realize this and cry out to Him, for He is near.
The lady we met that day shared her opinions; it’s time to share yours. What do you think the churches do well? What do you think churches could do better? Share away!