When Evangelism Fails April 21, 2009

When Evangelism Fails

This American Life aired a story this past weekend you’ll enjoy hearing.

The theme of the show was “This I Used to Believe” and one of the stories revolved around a Christian high school football coach and a woman who was in email correspondence with him:

This past Christmas a story swept the internet about a football coach at a Christian high school in Texas who inspired his team’s fans to root for the opposition: a team from the local juvenile correctional facility. Among the thousands of emails that the coach received in response to his actions, one stood out to him. Trisha Sebastian mentioned her loss of faith, and coach Hogan got a message from God that he was meant to bring her back. We eavesdrop on their phone calls.

What begins as a story about a Christian man evangelizing to a woman who has lost a close friend soon becomes a story about a woman getting frustrated when the Christian’s attempts at “saving” her just make her madder and madder.

It’s a lesson in how not to evangelize. The Christian just keeps digging himself into a deeper hole.

Hint to Christians: Don’t mention that Hitler got his worldview from Charles Darwin. Or mention Nazis in an argument. Ever. (I thought Trisha’s reaction to the Hitler remark was *hilarious*.)

You can download the episode for free. The story begins at the 20:07 mark and lasts about twenty minutes.

(via Doubting Even Thomas)

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  • Ethanol

    I heard this yesterday: I’m always a fan of this American life, and I’ve always liked the fair manner in which they present a number of different perspectives. From the beginning of that story, I really wanted to hear that the pastor was actually a nice and open-minded guy, so I was really quite disappointed when he turned out to be such an emotionally tone-deaf douche

  • I heard this one. I had to :facepalm: when he brought up Hitler and the Nazis. Haven’t they updated the fundie handbook?

  • Sarah TX.

    I’m actually internet-friends with Trisha, and I’ve been following both her struggles in life as well as her conversations with the coach for awhile now. I’m glad her TAL story is getting attention!

    Someone pointed out that the problem with the coach is that he doesn’t see Trisha (or any other atheist) as a real person with individual motivations and needs, but solely as a target for evangelical salvation. If he had been successful, Trisha would have just been another big green check-mark next to his tally in The Big Book.

  • Siamang

    Ooohh… does Trisha have a blog?

    I was particularly moved by her sorrow in not believing.

  • lamb

    I really liked the story and can sympathize with Trisha, but I couldn’t help but laugh when she said that God was supposed to answer prayers and he said “You know, that’s not true.”

    I wasn’t laughing at her, but at the audacity of how he could say that after just telling her how his own aunt was “cured of cervical cancer” through faith. I felt like he was saying some prayers are more worthy than others, so his aunt deserved to be cured but Kelly deserved to die. I’m not sure if he was tactless or just clueless.

  • Robin

    I’m still listening, but I was kind of amazed when she said that it was harder to ignore this stranger than her friends. All I could think was: I would never give this guy my number; he sounds like a stalker!

  • alinvain

    I was listening to that program and when the coach brought up Hitler it just took the wind out of the dialog. I have little debates with Christians from time to time and nobody ever brings up Hitler, it’s like a rope-a-dope, or a razzle-dazzle. it adds nothing and distracts from the real discussion. But sometimes, it’s all they have to fall back on.

  • River

    I got bored of TAL after a while and stopped listening, but shows like these make me want to start listening again.

    Or I can just wait and see if somebody raves about a show and I can just download that one. 😛

    I wonder why no one has thought to comment yet on the idea differences between the mother and daughter on abortioin.

  • @Siamang, I was wondering the same. I would love to read more about her.

    @River, yeah, that story was interesting. The mom’s in-your-face method was definitely not the way I would go, but then I don’t have a daughter.

  • Siamang


    That one was freaky. I do recall my mom freaked out on me once when I had seen some afternoon talk show and I declared that abortion was murder.

    But she didn’t have me manning clinic lines!

    She just talked at me very angrily until I changed my mind.

    I think the mother in that TAL story was really strange, and very impatiently wanting her daughter to *politically* agree with her. Rather than explain it biologically. Not the tack I would use! It seemed her overreaction was based on the fact that for some reason the topic of sex education, (let alone abortion) had never come up in her family and the girl was already, what, 13? And she calls herself a feminist!

    I think her zealous fervor was due to her realizing she was laying down on the job of educating her daughter, and now she was seeing the media and people she didn’t agree with educating her daughter for her!

  • First off, thanks to Sarah for mentioning that the story was linked here. I have to admit that I really like finding out where people are talking about this.

    Second, there’s over 2 hours of tape that got condensed into the 19 minutes that ended up on the air but I will say that for the most part, everything went as they edited it: I really wanted to believe he had the answers, he tried to use reason and facts to bring me back to God when I was really looking for comfort from a God-seeing perspective, and I came away with a deeper vow to try and understand what and who God is on my own terms.

    Oddly, the one thing that Coach Hogan said that made the strongest impression on me was that the way I was raised to believe how God “works” was wrong. Once he said that, I started to feel some of the guilt and sadness I was carrying around melt away. In that way, and how he said that not even he has all the answers… that was the comfort I was looking for, and it affirmed some of my original thoughts: It wasn’t “in God’s plan” that Kelly died; it was a thing that happened that was very sad and tragic, and life goes on.

    Anyway, if you want to keep reading more, you can lick in my name to follow me back to my blog.

  • As an evangelical Christian, I was very moved by this segment, and also, like many here, was disappointed by the coach’s answers and his inability to listen and relate to Trish as a person.

    We have a radio show that deals with answering questions people like Trish have about God, and in two weeks (13 Jun 2009) we are going to play the clip from TAL in its entirety and see if we can help the coach out by trying to answer Trish’s questions.

    I sympathize with people who just can’t believe and also with “believers” who can’t convince others, and hopefully, we are able to add something that will help both sides out.

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