Tag Archives: conversion

‘I Grew up in The Westboro Baptist Church. Here’s Why I Left’

Megan Phelps-Roper grew up in the Phelps family of Westboro Baptist Church, which is notorious for its obnoxious, degrading, and genuinely hateful protests. In this video, Phelps-Roper talks about the people who changed her mind — and the surprising way they changed it.

Phelps-Roper said her change of heart came, in part, through people on Twitter who showed her “the power of engaging the other.” It’s a fascinating story about developing relationships and asking questions rather than fighting.


Evangelism and apologetics fail in our time — here’s the social science explaining why

What I see of evangelism and apologetics are essentially debate tactics and marketing strategies. In other words, they tend to speak to less than the full scope of human experience, so by themselves they cannot convert humans.

Granted, I’m looking at evangelism and apologetics through a skeptical lens right now, and I’m looking at persuasion as an ongoing subject for learning and research.

I want to learn good persuasion strategies to attract my university students to topics I think they need to know, and I want to learn bad persuasion strategies to filter the political, advertising, and religious messages. (I’m spending more time on that general project at TwistedSpeech.com.)

What’s missing from evangelism and apologetics? Probably a long-game perspective (instead of a quick-sell agenda), but most certainly attunement. And my guess is, attunement is missing from attempts at evangelism and apologetics because attunement probably takes time.

We Americans, we Westerners, myself absolutely included, love technologies of any sort — mechanical technologies, political technologies, psychological technologies. We like to set up assembly lines, literally and metaphorically, and then to sit back and watch the work get done. Technology is not unlike magic.

Thinking of persuasion, how can I forget: The Apostle Paul once wrote to the early Christians in ancient Galatia, referring to them as, “…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”

I doubt anyone can “form” anything inside another person without cultivating real empathy and attunement.

Daniel Pink explains attunement in part of the below short video from The RSA.

Are Pink’s “attunement, buoyancy, and clarity,” as described in the below video, their own technologies? Maybe so. But I think attunement requires some genuine humanity, corresponding to the best of reality, whereas some psychological technologies are attempts to “subdue reality to the wishes of men.”

(Also see this Jacques Ellul passage on Christianity as propaganda.)

Actually, it kind of IS about you

In a basement auditorium on a small historic campus, one of my grad-school professors — an editor of a venerable literary journal — was giving a public reading of an essay he had written.

While this professor made no proclamation of faith, he taught me something about Christian testimonies, as well as how and why to talk about myself.

My professor’s essay moved into a critique of a popular New York Times columnist who has a habit of using the word we when talking about the things that happen as a result of U.S. foreign policy.

The columnist would say things like, “We already fund this country,” and “We already have strained diplomatic relations with that country.”

The professor eventually paused and asked, “Who is this we?”

I took his point; I took it severely.

For me, there would be no more writing with “we” and no more abstractions about what we all think and do.

I realized that a personal, first-person account is all I have to offer. I can’t speak for others.

The world is too diverse for me to suppose I’m on the same page with everyone else — even those with whom I might agree about foreign policy.

I then worked hard to change my habit. My writing — and my points made in conversation — would be made in terms of stories about what I had experienced and I had observed.

No generalizations. Instead, stories: personal and concrete.

Of course, this presented me with a problem.

When attempting the write, I could make great strides forward by focusing on what I knew best: myself and my experiences.

Then again, I constantly ran the risk of making conversations sound like they were about me. Often, I have perceived that I was being heard as someone who is talking about himself.

Not a comfortable feeling. Not a winning plan for extended conversations, either.

I’m plenty human and full of myself, but after the “we” epiphany in grad school, my intention in talking about myself wasn’t always to communicate something about me — the point often was to illustrate something I thought was bigger than my own story.

I was referring to something that I suspected to be broadly relevant if not universal, while I could not claim a broad or universal grasp.

When I suspect my experiences are legitimate points of reference for another person or an organization with which I am affiliated, I want to tell my story.

I suspect my experiences could very easily be experienced by other people. Communities and groups and individuals could make the conceptual and practical decisions that could lead to my previous experiences, bad and good.

But, having taken my professor’s point rather severely, I usually try to avoid making my observations outside of a personal story.

The advantage is that true stories have a kind of absoluteness to them — this really happened, and it happened to me. No one is thought to be a pompous, self-absorbed bore when he says, “Every time I eat at that restaurant, I get sick!” And that’s not open for debate, either.

I might even be able to learn from someone else’s true story, if I think about how it might relate to me.

Which brings us — hard to avoid, isn’t it? — to personal testimonies of the Christian variety.

Christian conversion stories are the perfect examples of the universal within the particular.

In the Christian faith, the self-sacrificing Creator reaches out for a restored relationship with the human race — a universal call of redemption.

How each person responds to that call, to that extended hand, differs from believer to believer — each one has a particular, individual story.

A month or two ago, I listened to the testimonies of a dozen or so people who had recently completed confirmation classes at Trinity. It was an enriching experience to hear so many different stories — different responses to God’s call, different life circumstances.

So, in a way, sharing the Christian story kind of is about you — you have the story only you can tell, and that might just be the story someone else needs to hear.

There’s a good way to talk about yourself. Your subjective, personal story is more compelling than grand generalizations. Try to sidestep that “we” and speak for yourself.

By the way, a few days after the professor asked about “this we,” I was in a seminar with him.

When I had an opportunity to speak, I complimented him on his reading, and said something like, “We learned a lot that could help us with our writing.”

He laughed.

De-converted and still studying the Bible

I enjoyed reading this post regarding personal study of the Bible over at De-conversion.com. Although the site’s writers are describing their reasons for leaving faith behind, they are thoughtful and interesting writers with good grasps on cultural, social, and existential matters of belief. I raise a glass of Belgian Trappist ale to them; here’s hoping for constructive, peaceful, and civil dialogues on matters of faith and philosophy.
-Colin Foote Burch

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Convert burned, family forgives

DHAKA, Bangladesh – A 70-year-old woman convert from Islam died on Friday (Feb. 1) from burns she suffered when unknown assailants in a Muslim-majority area (about 150 miles northwest of the capital) set her home on fire last month. Rahima Beoa of Cinatuly village suffered burns over 70 to 80 percent of her body after the home she shared with her daughter and son-in-law, also converts, was set ablaze the night of Jan. 7, said Khaled Mintu, Rangpur regional supervisor of the Isha-e-Jamat (Jesus’ Church) Bangladesh denomination. Villagers were upset over her conversion to Christianity and that of her daughter and son-in-law, he said. “Before her burial, the family members forgave those who set fire in the house and prayed to God that this kind of incident not occur anymore in this country,” Mintu told Compass. “They also prayed for a situation where Muslims and Christians can practice their own religion side by side peacefully.”

-Compass Direct News

Egyptian Christian in hiding due to death threats

CAIRO, November 15 — Sick of hiding in a secret apartment in Cairo, Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy risked his life to shop for groceries late one night last week, a cap pulled low over his face. The Egyptian convert from Islam to Christianity does not normally chance being recognized in public by running errands for himself. Death threats forced Hegazy into hiding in August after he made an unprecedented legal bid to have his national ID card changed to note his conversion. The Christian acknowledged that he was finding his life in hiding extremely difficult. He said it was impossible to hold a job because he couldn’t leave his apartment regularly for fear of being attacked by Islamists or state security police. On a rare occasion that Hegazy took the chance of shopping in public, he said, a Christian recognized his face from a newspaper photograph. “If you are who I think you are, then God help you,” the Christian told Hegazy.

-Compass Direct News