Tougaw: Religious recruiment on campus doesn’t work

Ryan Tougaw

protester, preacher exchange on CSU Plaza
Colorado State University student Heath Elliott, right, and Jed Smock, left, get into an animated argument about this year’s presidential nominees while in the Plaza on Tuesday afternoon. Elliott and Smock argued back at forth on viewpoints surrounding the election, race, sexuality, and religion. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

As a Christian, I have no problem with members trying to show students something they find to be a cornerstone in their lives. The Bible does, after all, instruct its followers to spread the gospel. However, I find that the strategies that a few churches employ on the Colorado State University campus are detrimental to their cause. 

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Just to see if I was mistaken in my initial assumption, I asked 40 students of varying religious backgrounds, from atheist to Christians like myself, about their experiences with missionaries asking them about their faith. Every single student found it to be a negative experience.

A large portion of people I talked to found that the experience had turned them off of religion entirely.

Many students, who chose to remain anonymous, said that the encounter felt pushy and made them uncomfortable. One student said that the ordeal made Christianity look bad, another said that it made religion and faith less appealing. One student was even followed from the Clark building all the way down to the oval and told, “Yoga pants will send you to hell.”

This is not to say that it’s only Christian groups engaging in these sorts of conversation; every group  across the board always tries to increase its following. Take a walk through the Plaza when the weather is nice and there are sure to be organizations attempting to make themselves more public, be it Greek life organizations, volunteer groups or non-profits. However, the problem arises when groups employ these sort of ambush-and-scare tactics.

It is the duty of Christians to spread the gospel, but nothing turns potential members off like aggressive proselytizing.

I was approached in the same manner as every student is and questioned on my faith. I was asked by a member of Grace Christian Church, “Are you alive in Jesus or dead in sin?”

It was as if these gentlemen assumed faith was a switch to be turned on and off, where one day any given person would be woken up and enlightened.

I couldn’t disagree more. Any religion isn’t merely a choice; it’s a worldview, a way of life. Religious people see the world and their actions in it through the lens of morality that their respective religion bestows upon them. People spend their lives dissecting religious texts in an effort to find out what it really means to live life as a member of a religion and even then, mystery remains.

These missionaries should not approach random students in a secular, academic environment and ask them questions based on their own subjective interpretation of the Bible. Pushy language is not magically going to flip the switch. 

The best way to approach people is to hold consensual and constructive conversations, in which people who actually have questions approach those willing to give answers. If people feel that they can explore religion that way, any given religion can be explained to an inquisitive mind, rather than one focused on other things – like the class they’re walking to, perhaps.

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Holding panels or seminars to equivocate information is by far the most sensible tactic, because instead of catching students off guard and distracted and employing sensationalized scare tactics, willing people are able to get their own questions answered in a constructive and friendly manner. 

Collegian columnist Ryan Tougaw can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @rjtougaw.