What Mary Kay and The Evangelical Church Have in Common

A large percentage of my Facebook friends have apparently been lured into one Multi-Level Marketing scheme or another. I’m constantly getting invitations to virtual “parties” where I can have the exciting opportunity to buy leggings, lipstick, or smelly candles. And while I love leggings, lipstick, and smelly candles, I will not be buying any from my friends or acquaintances. To my mind, there is an inverse relationship between the quality of a product and the effort required to sell it. Which is certainly true of Evangelical Christianity.

The word “Evangelism” means something akin to “good news,” or so I was often told. But any time this word was brought up in church, it felt like very bad news to me. “Evangelism” meant knocking on strangers’ doors to ask them intrusive questions, shoving tracts into people’s hands on street corners, or making awkward pitches to my classmates. It meant asserting MY church had the answer to a question that no one was asking. Being an Evangelist was tantamount to being a salesman for Jesus.

Although “evangelism” is designated as a spiritual gift that perhaps not all Christians possess (Ephesians 4:11-12), if you believe in the concept of Hell, then evangelizing is not optional. If you truly believe that people in your acquaintance are bound for an eternity of conscious torment, it is a moral imperative that you do your best to save them. A good Evangelical, like a good salesman, must ABC: Always Be Closing. Unsurprisingly, a plethora of Christian industries popped up to aid this Jesus-selling. You can put on a “witness wear” t-shirt so that everyone in Target will know you are a Christian. And, while Jesus spoke in parables, Christian media hits the “Gospel message” so hard that you’d have to be comatose to miss it.

Another striking parallel between Evangelical Christians and salesmen are their fixation on numbers. To be a successful Evangelical church is to be one that is fast-growing and attracts more people than the church down the street. Many Evangelical ministries seem to count the number of souls saved as the primary indicator of success.

Perhaps the most detrimental effect of this Jesus-salesman mentality is that, as a good salesman, you may never criticize the product. When eternal damnation is on the line, your theological questions or quibbles with your pastor become a threat to someone’s salvation. It’s as if, rather than good intentions, the road to Hell is paved with thoughtful questions.

For years I swallowed my questions and tried to “save” as many people as I could. I pretended that doctrines like Biblical Inerrancy, Hell, and Penal Substitutionary Atonement made sense because admitting the alternative was too scary. I handed over my intellect to a theology of Sunday School answers and empty platitudes. But eventually the cognitive dissonance required to maintain loyalty to the Evangelical brand became too much to bear.  I had to resign my position as saleswoman for Jesus.

To the Evangelical Church I say this: your product is terrible and I refuse to buy it any longer. You have replaced Jesus’ radical, world-turned-upside-down, meek-shall-inherit-the-Earth message with a love of power and money. You ally yourself with corrupt political parties, you uphold the rich, you defend the abusers rather than the abused.

If you want this customer back, improve your product. Build a church not based on the principles of salesmanship, but one of humble service. Learn to listen and to sit with difficult questions. Recognize that there are many people you have hurt, including women, people of color, and the LGBT community. Examine your biases and work to correct them. That would be a church I’d want to go to. That would be a religion which doesn’t need salesmen.