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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Door to Door Evangelists

When I opened the heavy front door this morning, there was a woman standing on the other side of the screen door.

"I'm in the neighborhood today inviting people to a Memorial Service on the day of Jesus' death," she said, holding out a piece of paper.

"Thank you, "I smiled, opening the screen door to take it. "We'll actually be going to services at our own church, though."

She smiled back and nodded.

Then she turned as I closed the door.


This is roughly the same scenario that plays out at my front door twice a year for Jehovah's Witnesses (sometimes one woman, sometimes two), once a year for Mormons (two young, earnest fellows in place of the women), and about three more times during the year for various, locally-based churches*.

The people at the door vary. The pieces of paper they hand me vary. But what doesn't vary is that they are, without exception, polite, and they, without exception, don't badger, harass, or linger overly. I take the papers inside, flip them over to see which church it was, then recycle them.

And so I am always stunned when people share "horror stories" of door-to-door church visitors, tales of church visitors who sneered or wouldn't leave, even when asked to do so, even when threatened with guns and/or dogs. Having never experienced any church visitor even close to this, I wonder about the truthfulness of such tales. In a word, I think they are, at best, exaggerated, at least in frequency if not in detail.

And I think this is done to bolster what comes next in the telling, which is inevitably the "So I showed THEM" part of the stories, gleeful regalings of inviting church visitors inside, or merely engaging them on the porch, for the sheer amusement of insulting them, arguing against them, and hopefully (!) offending and upsetting them. Somehow, this is supposed to be funny to listen to, funny to do.

In my mind, church visitors are people doing what they believe their faith requires them to do, nothing more, nothing less. I would no more ridicule them than I would point and sneer at persons with gray smudges on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday. I would no more try as hard as I could to offend them by opening the door in a state of undress (Ha-ha-ha! Take THAT!) than I would wag a BLT under an Orthodox rabbi's nose.

"But they come to my DOOR!" is the first justification always offered up. So? You can choose not to answer it. You can elect to politely say, "No, thank you." Or you can decide that (adding it up now) roughly twenty minutes a year of being pleasant to strangers at the front door isn't really worth getting one's hackles up.

"That church? The one they come from? Is highly intolerant of _______!" is another popular justification for rudeness, which always seems to me the equivalent of a parent beating the tar out of a child while screaming, in between blows, "I! Said! Stop! Hitting! Your! Sister!" If one's issue is tolerance, one could stand to show that quality oneself.

And so I started this morning with two or three minutes of church visitor politeness, the first of the year. The pamphlet today was from the Jehovah's Witnesses. The woman who handed it to me believed doing so was incumbent upon her. And because my personal belief system adores the Golden Rule, being polite to her, being tolerant and respectful of her, was incumbent upon me.

*One of which sends out Church Ladies every spring in pastel skirted suits or floral dresses, with flamboyant hats. Hats! I look forward to this visit, to be honest, just to see the hats.
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