In the light of eternity, the light in which everything should always be viewed, what matters is the heart and the choices that flow from it. We are placed on this earth to educate our loves. As St. Paul famously says, “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2). People are drawn to Christ by the beauty of holiness, which awakens the heart’s longing for the only One who can satisfy it; if their hearts are closed, the most airtight of arguments will not be heard. Our task as Christians, then, is to make it easier for people to fall in love with Jesus—to help them trust in the outrageous generosity and tender mercy of our Creator, who poured out his entire self to set us free from sin and death and who yearns to be united with us forever in the all-fulfilling happiness of heaven.
Sadly, one of the biggest stumbling blocks (skandala) to people accepting this unbelievably good news is the unChristian behavior of Christians. In their revelatory 2007 study of perceptions of Christianity by non-Christians (which they call “outsiders”), evangelical sociologists David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons made this depressing discovery: “One crucial insight kept popping up in our exploration. In studying thousands of outsiders’ impressions, it is clear that Christians are primarily perceived for what they stand against. We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.”1
Here is one of their many anecdotes illustrating how not to evangelize:
One young Christian, Doug, explained how his efforts to connect his neighbors to the message of Jesus had been undermined because of an unfortunate unChristian interaction. “My neighbor came to me the day after the election [of 2004]. He said, ‘Do you know what your Christian friends said to my ten-year-old daughter? They told her she should tell me not to support John Kerry because he supports abortion. Kerry is a baby killer.’ I don’t even want my daughter thinking about abortion, let alone having them talk to her about who to vote for. What kind of Christian is that?”
Doug described his frustration: “I had been carefully nurturing a relationship of trust with my neighbor, and much of it was undone because of careless and offensive words to his young daughter about an election.”
The sobering conclusion is that political attitudes and perspectives, when expressed in an unChristian manner, create unintended spiritual barriers between people and Christ.2
So how can we counter this trend? Christianity, rightly understood, is about modeling to a depressed and cynical world the delight of being in relationship with the living God. We do this through the dozens of concrete microdecisions we make every day, what St. Thérèse—one of the 37 Doctors of the Church, and called by Pope Pius X “the greatest saint of modern times”—famously named the Little Way.
Here is one little and concrete example.
Leaving Bigger Tips
Many of Jesus’s parables, and his interactions with real people that function as parables, have to do with money. We all know the story about the king’s servant who is forgiven an astronomical debt, then turns around and is merciless to the guy who owes him a hundred bucks (Mt 18:23–35). Jesus uses this as a lesson about forgiveness: when God has forgiven us everything, with a generosity we could never even begin to repay, it is the height of ingratitude to be stingy with our forgiveness of other people. But there’s also a lesson here about money itself.
My title comes from an incident related by Justin Lee in his convicting discussion of how Christians are the unwitting assassins of Christianity. Lee describes an experience he had when waiting tables as an impoverished college student:
“Sundays are the worst,” one of the servers explained to me. “That’s when the church crowd goes out to eat.”
“What’s wrong with the church crowd?” I asked.
“Oh, honey,” she said. “They’re usually the most demanding, and they’re always the worst tippers. I guarantee you, if you see your table praying before the meal, you can mentally subtract a third from your tip.”
Standing nearby, the manager cracked a smile. “They already gave at church,” he said. “They don’t have any money left.”3
Isn’t this pathetic? If we are to be effective ambassadors for the unstinting generosity of God, our tips should be lifting people’s spirits. Yet it can be surprisingly difficult actually to hand over that money, even for people like me who are frankly quite rich compared to any waiter or Uber driver I’m likely to encounter. It’s helpful, and liberating, to remember what God said to St. Catherine of Siena, another Doctor of the Church: “Do you know, daughter, who you are and who I am? . . . You are she who is not, and I AM HE WHO IS.”4 If my very existence is a gift of sheer unmerited grace, I have no right to my money or anything else. Leaving bigger tips is both an important evangelistic move and a metaphor for all of our interactions, which ideally would always reflect our gratitude that we and our fellow divine image-bearers are here at all.
This posture of positivity is especially important in evangelizing for the Culture of Life. There are many beautiful pro-life ministries that can be a venue for generosity: handing out blessing bags, with stuffed animals, toiletries, and other treats; addressing the need for diapers and other baby supplies, through pregnancy resource centers or diaper banks; honoring birth mothers in their brave and loving choice to place their children for adoption. O. Carter Snead, concluding his discussion of the impoverished anthropology of “expressive individualism” that underlies most of our public bioethics, emphasizes the need for more systemic positive interventions as well:
Reframing abortion as a conflict involving a mother and her child, thus summoning the support and care of the network in which both are embedded, including the father, extended family, community, and polity (including the government itself) opens channels of care, concern, support, and summons the uncalculated giving that everyone owes to the mother and her child, before, during, and after her birth.5
By modeling “uncalculated giving” in small ways, pro-life Christians can gain credibility, opening the door to conversations about larger measures that could move the needle on abortion demand.
Generosity of spirit also means the development of empathy, especially for people with whom we disagree. My pro-choice feminist friend Michelle Oberman recently sent me a Washington Post article co-written by a pro-life and a pro-choice columnist, who identified a number of pro-family initiatives both of them could support. When we take pains to understand the good our opponents are seeking and the evil against which they are reacting, we usually find that there is far more potential for cooperation than we thought—and that they are far more willing to listen to us if we are truly willing to listen to them.
My brothers and sisters, let us refute the narrative that Christians are a People of Anti and reclaim our identity as a People of For. Union with God is what we are for; Jesus Christ, God the Son, took on the entire burden of sin and death for us; and it is worth sacrificing literally everything for the ineffable joy of intimacy with him. Let us focus on blessing bags, not bullhorns. And let’s try to be sure waiters rejoice when they see the church crowd come in.
Author’s note: This post is based on a speech delivered in September 2023 to Ratio Christi, an apologetics group at Baylor University, who invited me to give a presentation connecting apologetics to the pro-life movement.
- David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…And Why It Matters (Ada, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 26.
- Kinnaman and Lyons, UnChristian, 167.
- Justin Lee, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate (New York: Jericho Books, 2012), 137.
- Quoted in Paul Murray, Saint Catherine of Siena: Mystic of Fire, Preacher of Freedom (Park Ridge, IL: Word on Fire Institute, 2020), 50.
- O. Carter Snead, What It Means To Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020), 273.