Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Toys For Tots refuses Jesus... well, a Jesus doll
A news report in my daily newspaper but that appears elsewhere in fuller detail tells that the Marines Reserve's program Toys For Tots has turned down the offer for 4000 talking Jesus dolls. The verses Jesus spouts are listed at the one2believe website. You can actually hear the recording in mp3 version there.
Toys For Tots wants to be sensitive to those who might receive the gift and are not Christian. The director of business development, Michael La Roe is quoted in the article as saying, " "I believe as a churchgoing person, anyone can benefit from hearing the words of the Bible."
But benefit to what end is what I would ask? There are some words of the Bible that would fall under Natural Law... certainly many proverbs fall under this category. But the doll only gives one of those kind of quotes, and that is rooted in the character of the community of God's people ("Love your neighbor as yourself). Instead the other verses are all about the unique position Jesus plays in the life of faith: his death, belief in Jesus, the kingdom, etc.
These verses are explicitly evangelistic in nature. But the evangelism being foisted upon the receivers of this gift is a guerilla evangelism, a surprise attack of the gospel. For many there will be no way to take this gift as anything but propaganda. This gift is not evangelism plain and simple.
The Bible gives many stories of evangelism and none would fit this. Prime in my thinking is the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunnuch. Phillip didn't just throw the Scripture at the official, but took the time to explain what the eunnuch was reading... that led to baptism, and a relationship... a grafting of someone into the body.
We let people off the hook if we continue to let them think that evangelism is solely about hearing the Bible and then making the hearer decide what to do based on that. And given that Toys For Tots is a program for the poor, we allow folks to think that ministry can be done without having to actually deal with the poor. We can just send talking Jesus dolls instead. And while I am hesitant to say it, I fear the true motivation of one2believe will be accomplished even with the rebuff of Toys For Tots. Dolls will be sold in greater number now. People will buy them just to show their support and then give them away at Christmas to some unsuspecting child, who by the way might not need the doll (i.e. the boy or girl is a Christian already). Anyway... the question here is what kind of people are we forming when we undertake such an action.
Evangelism is both simple and complicated. Simple, in that, evangelism is about speaking God's good news in Christ Jesus; complicated though, because evangelism requires relationship and risk. But it is precisely this risk for which we are freed in the waters of baptism. We are free to risk and open ourselves to those in need, so that they might experience God's grace. We are freed not only to send goods (of various quality) to the poor but actually to identify with the poor. Somehow sending 4000 Jesus dolls doesn't quite seem to do that.