USA (MNN) — Last weekend, four Christians were arrested at the Arab International Festival in Dearborn, Michigan for sharing their faith. Many have been outraged at the injustice, but the lingering question remains: is evangelism in jeopardy in the USA?
Some have said that the persecution level against Christians will only increase from here. Even if that is true, it does not necessarily mean that less people will come to Christ.
The arrests that took place in Dearborn do not appear to be in line with U.S. religious laws, but this could be due, in part, to a few different factors. Most obviously, it could be based on mistakes of local law enforcements. York Moore with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship says he's lived in the Dearborn area for decades and has observed that the police there have "historically shown a severe lack of cultural intelligence and often times bigotry."
However, the heart of the problem may be a bit closer to home than that for many believers.
"The disappearance of witness from the public arena is the real problem here," says Moore, who is a National Evangelist for InterVarsity. "The persecution of Christians is a normal part of following Christ. It's always been this way. I believe there'd be much more of this kind of thing happening that we've seen in Dearborn if Western Christians would be bold public witnesses of the Gospel."
Moore makes it clear that he thinks the four arrested were victims of injustice, but with years of experience as an evangelist, he has also watched public evangelism eke out of American contemporary society so much that when it does take place, bystanders seem unsure how to react.
"We've moved evangelism to safe places–private programs that rarely see any kind of public demonstration of preaching Christ and engaging people. So it's hard for the public when they see that, because they have no context, and it's difficult for those people who are refereeing public discourse." Moore says these "referees" could be local law enforcements or, in InterVarsity's case, professors or administrators. Either way, "They don't really see, often times, healthy public discourse around faith."
In light of a general lack of faith expression in the culture, Moore says it's not surprising that these arrests took place. He expects more of this to happen but says the actual end point to evangelism–winning souls for the Kingdom–is not at stake. Based on his own encounters with Muslim students with InterVarsity, Moore says that any who were hostile to the message of the believers in question actually represent a small minority.
"In reality, many people are open to religious dialogue in the United States. Many people are interested. They're hungering to engage more. In InterVarsity Christian Fellowship the last six years, year after year we've seen the highest numbers of conversions in our organization's history–and we've been around since 1937," says Moore.
With all of this in mind, these recent arrests should not in any way scare believers from witnessing, and they should certainly not be used as an excuse not to do so.
"Be bold for Christ. Preach Christ relevantly, relentlessly and relationally….People are hungering for spiritual reality."
For resources regarding evangelism, visit Moore's Web site, tellthestory.net.