Elmer Thiessen—The Offensiveness of Evangelism

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The topic of evangelism made national headlines in Canada recently. It all started with a twelfth grade student in Nova Scotia wearing a T-shirt boldly emblazoned with the words, “Life is wasted without Jesus.” William Swinimer continued to wear his yellow T-shirt even after the vice-principal at his school asked him not to do so, after some students had complained that they found the message offensive. Swinimer’s refusal to obey led to a series of in-school suspensions, and finally a five-day at-home suspension. The normally shy 19-year-old refused to comply even though it might have meant permanent suspension and the loss of his chance of graduating. “I believe this is worth standing up for,” he said, “it’s not just standing up for religious rights, it’s standing up for my rights as a Canadian citizen; for freedom of speech, freedom of religion.”

The regional school board initially supported the actions of the school administration, with Superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake maintaining that repeated defiance of school authorities was justified grounds for suspending Swinimer. The school board issued a statement clarifying that “students may choose to wear clothing that embraces their beliefs.” However, “it is expected that students will not wear clothing with messages that may offend others’ beliefs, race, religion, culture or lifestyle.”

The nationwide debate ignited by this incident was most revealing....

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryEvangelism and Church Growth* Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryCanada* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

10 Comments
Posted June 8, 2012 at 12:22 pm

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The URL for this article is http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/43314/



1. David Keller wrote:

I’m not sure I would classify the statement on the shirt as “evangelism”.  I seriuosly doubt, based on this article, that it brought anyone to Jesus, and it probably permanently turned some people off to him. I don’t give a winkydink about the shirt one way or the other, my personal experience is that evangelism is more about relationships—make a freind, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ. Yes, live your life in a way that makes people want to know what you have, but don’t expect mass conversions by slogan.

June 8, 2:01 pm | [comment link]
2. Ian+ wrote:

The tee shirt is not an evangelistic tool, but a declaration of self-righteousness. #1 above is right: evangelism is about relationships. A small crucifix would do a far more effective job than a tee shirt, but not nearly so much as cultivating friendships.

June 8, 2:51 pm | [comment link]
3. Sarah wrote:

I agree that the t-shirt will not “evangelize;” there are tons of things that fellow Christians do that I don’t think will do a thing to “evangelize” though certainly *they* think it quite evangelistic. I do think it is simply an assertion of belief, and I think he should have the right to wear an assertion of belief on his person.

If somebody else wants to wear a t-shirt stating “Life is wasted without lots of sex” or “Life is wasted without Nietsche” or “Life is wasted without Lord Voldemort” or “Life is wasted without Allah” would any of us “be offended”? I think not.

In fact, people wear such “assertions of belief” on their persons all the time and none of us run around offended. Why can’t this guy?

The only thing I can think of that somebody probably isn’t allowed to do under freedom of speech here in the US is to advocate criminal behavior, so even though pedophilia, for instance, *is* an expression and action that delineates a particular foundational worldview [as all of our sinful behavior does], since it’s a crime, it should probably be illegal to wear a t-shirt advocating for same, or a t-shirt advocating for driving through other people’s yards right after it’s rained [a popular activity when I was growing up until people started planting stakes in the yards].

June 8, 3:30 pm | [comment link]
4. QohelethDC wrote:

The school board issued a statement clarifying that “students may choose to wear clothing that embraces their beliefs.” However, “it is expected that students will not wear clothing with messages that may offend others’ beliefs, race, religion, culture or lifestyle.”

The school board’s policy seems to be at odds with itself. It’s hard to find a belief that won’t offend somebody. Determining what’s offensive also seems highly subjective.

Miss Manners once suggested that school clothes contain no writing but the name of the school. That would work for me.

June 8, 4:17 pm | [comment link]
5. Laura R. wrote:

Freedom of speech is a foundational right in the United States; is the same thing true, in the same way, in Canada?

June 8, 4:34 pm | [comment link]
6. TomRightmyer wrote:

Canadian law is different from US law, but dumb school administrators are found everywhere.  A dress code that requires all shirts to be free of writing would deal with the perceived problem.  Better still let’s go back to the dress shirt, tie, and blazer I used to have to wear.

June 8, 8:30 pm | [comment link]
7. Katherine wrote:

I rejoice to agree with QohelethDC.  No writing or insignia on shirts at school would be the best policy.  My daughters attended such a school.  Not only were there no offensive slogans, but nobody could flaunt wealth by wearing a shirt with an expensive name or logo.  If the school allows slogans, it’s honor bound to allow all slogans that don’t actively encourage violence against others.

June 9, 7:45 am | [comment link]
8. Pb wrote:

Sadly, the main point may be that Jesus is still offensive to folks.

June 9, 10:44 am | [comment link]
9. jkc1945 wrote:

Pb (#8) has it right.  People first started catching flak about following Jesus about 20 centuries ago, sometime right after Jesus Himself said, “If the world hates you, know that it hated Me (first). . .”  Nothing to be surprised at here.  Indeed, we ought to be surprised if it doesnt happen!!

June 9, 3:06 pm | [comment link]
10. QohelethDC wrote:

In this instance, though, I wonder if folks’ objection was really to Jesus himself or to a classmate’s saying that their lives were wasted if they didn’t share his belief.

June 10, 3:09 pm | [comment link]


© 2014 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.

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