friendly exchange of ideas with evangelist door knockers
November 8, 2008 7:00 PM   Subscribe

every weekend evangelist missionaries knock on our door for a chat. I'm wondering how to politely express my support for gay marriage, sex education, access to abortion services etc. while staying friendly and not getting in a forty minute conversation that goes nowhere.

It's the weekend, and the local evangelists are knocking on our door to deliver their magazines and chat about the world. I'm always really friendly, which means they come back almost every weekend, but I just don't agree with their ideas, and was thinking I'd like to prepare my own leaflets, perhaps on the importance of contraception, sex education and gay marriage. Then next time they visit we can swap leaflets.
Any suggestions on I should go about this gracefully?

Please keep in mind that while I am attempting to challenge their ideas, I don't want to be offensive.
posted by compound eye to Human Relations (40 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe just say lets agree to disagree?
posted by wheelieman at 7:08 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do you also want to get rid of them? If so, you can do what my dad did that permanently got rid of Jehovah's Witness on our side of the neighborhood. Invite them in. Invite them to sit down if you'd like, but position yourself in front of their only exit. Ask them questions about why they believe what they believe, explain your position, give them your leaflets if you'd like, and engage them in a discussion...but keep the ball in your court. And make the conversation last slightly longer than they'd like it to (i.e. pretend not to notice their subtle hints that they'd like to leave). Make it last just long enough and you 1) get your point across and 2) don't have to deal with them next weekend.
posted by phunniemee at 7:11 PM on November 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

Consider that both sets of ideas, yours and theirs, come from a common place: love of others, maybe a belief that one must come to an understanding of [whatever it is] for ones self.

Look at _why_ you believe what you believe; boil it down until you come to the tiny granular core of what makes you think one way and them another (and it's not that they're stupid, or that they're "unenlightened" -- even if they were total sheep, and they're not necessarily, the person who _taught_ them what they believe got it from somewhere; the person who taught you what you believe got it from somewhere, maybe some impulse that not 100% of the population has).

You could also approach it from a psychological angle: forcing people to do stuff leads to built up pressure, unhappiness, and eventually some kind of revolution. If people choose for themselves - not to pass laws, but to live their lives their own way - it can lead to more happiness. You could go to a local university library, or even online maybe, and find psychological studies to support this point.

Or you could approach it from a "scripture" point of view. Jesus? Made the world, and other people, nicer by just being a nice guy himself and inviting people to learn to let others be. Did he want people to pass laws regulating others' behavior? I doubt it; wasn't he put to death under the excuse of a law like that?
posted by amtho at 7:14 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

In my experience, it does take at least one good half-hour conversation to convince them of your position if you don't want to be offensive about it. It's probably best to do this when you're visited by an experienced missionary (perhaps with trainee in tow), rather than by a novice -- novices get excited about someone who is willing to engage, while the more-experienced proselytizers are probably better to know a lost cause when they see one.

I actually once had one (experienced) missionary say to the other (more eager) one "Joe, if he doesn't believe in the bible already, you shouldn't use passages from the bible to convince him that evolution is a lie".

Another tactic that i find to be useful is to forcefully disagree with them promptly in a very friendly, positive, up-beat way before they get a chance to state their opinion: "Do i think that people's morals today are in bad shape? Well, sure, there are problems like persistent racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance but gosh! I think we're really making progress -- just 20 years ago it was really tough to be 'out' and to hold down a job, but now we're almost to the point where most gay people can have their relationships sanctioned by the state. And we've got a Black president!" Do this while smiling, and then expectantly, hopefully ask them "don't you think we've made really big steps in the right direction?"
posted by dkg at 7:23 PM on November 8, 2008 [8 favorites]

Anyone who feels strongly enough to go door to door has drunk deeply and well of their own kool-aid. You know that they're not going to change your mind. You're not going to change their mind, either. Their propaganda isn't going to change your mind, and your propaganda, no matter how good it is, isn't going to change theirs.

Baby steps. Instead of trying to convert them, be nice, and offer them a cup of tea and get them talking about their families. If they can't get off message, give them a bottle of cold water. Show them that the other side isn't full of angry jerks. That's about all you can do with someone you don't know.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 7:32 PM on November 8, 2008 [8 favorites]

Frankly, it will probably be an exercise in frustration. Many people who do this have gone through extensive training, and they are well-prepared in the art of "overcoming objections." (This is from firsthand knowledge.) These people are not interested in a "friendly exchange of ideas." They are only interested in converting you to their ideas. This is their right. But it's also your right to put a "no soliciting" sign on the door, and/or tell them to go away and not come back.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:48 PM on November 8, 2008

Like b1tr0t's suggestion, my wife and I printed up a list of our beliefs and demands. We listed all our beliefs not just religious ones. Sort of like the scene in Bull Durham. We had such things as we believe that it is important to have cookie dough ice cream while watching Cheers, we believe that our neighbors are insane, we believe that Tivo is the greatest invention of the 21st century, etc. Since they did not read our literature until after they left, we do not know what they thought, but we do know that they never came back.

If you really do not want them to come back, be rude. Also, check your local ordanances. In my neighborhood you need a permit to go door to door. Ask them if thy have their permit. If not, call the police.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:59 PM on November 8, 2008

Provided I have the time, I welcome discussions with evangelists.

The way I see it is this: I'm unlikely to be swayed in the slightest by any of their beliefs. So the longer I keep them tied up in conversation with me, the less time they have to go and promulgate their bullshit amongst the more impressionable in my neighbourhood.

Just taking one for the team, folks.
posted by tim_in_oz at 9:00 PM on November 8, 2008 [18 favorites]

We get Mormon missionaries at our house several times a year. I have never had any trouble getting rid of them. Here's how it goes:

Scene: I open front door and clap eyes on two clean-cut young men wearing characteristic black suits with clip-on nametags.

Me (before they can even get a single word out): No thanks, I'm Catholic.

Them: Uhh . . .

Me: Okay, have a great day! (Close door.)

I'm not sure what about this makes it so effective, but it is.
posted by HotToddy at 9:02 PM on November 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

You don't have to waste a half hour of your free time convincing them.

You don't have to be rude either.

Just tell them at the door "Hey, guys? You keep coming back every weekend and I think it's fair to let you know that my beliefs just aren't compatible with yours. I am not interested in your religion and I never will be in the future. So please stop coming to my house. Thanks. I appreciate it" or words to that effect. Say goodbye and then close the door.

That's the grownup way to do it. I would recommend against getting into the specific differences between your belief systems because they'll just view it as an opening to get into a discussion/argument with you. And waste more of your time.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:06 PM on November 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

Frankly, it will probably be an exercise in frustration.

Yeah, why are you even bothering, unless you have ample free time and are just trying to alleviate your boredom (in which case there would seem to be a lot more fun/productive things you could do)?

You're not going to persuade them of the correctness of your views any more than they are going to persuade you of theirs.
posted by jayder at 9:08 PM on November 8, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you for your suggestions, you've made some really good ones.
In my case I'm not actually trying to get rid of the weekend visitors, they're quite sweet people, its just that we have arrived at our ideas about how to live by very different routes.
I like that our society is becoming more tolerant, I like a lot of the changes that the missionaries come to warn me about, and know that those changes are only happening because good people put a lot of effort into communicating to others why they need to happen. I feel I should do my bit and not let bigoted opinions slide by unchallenged. Even if I don't win any missionaries over, I suspect it would be good for me to become a little more eloquent at communicating the reasons for my beliefs.
posted by compound eye at 9:30 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: ... communicating the reasons for my beliefs .. to a hostile audience
posted by compound eye at 9:32 PM on November 8, 2008

I also don't know why you want to waste your time this way. I assure you most wholeheartedly that no matter how many times you do this, they will not feel they are wasting theirs.

One of my closest high school friends was a committed atheist. We engaged in some anti-religion-in-the-schools prankery/protest as teens. He met and became friends with Anne Gaylor.

Later on, he got into a number of arguments with a evangelical girl he met at college, and she eventually convinced him to attend her prayer group (as a learning experience) and (not long after) accept Christ into his life. They now have little evangelical babies together (well, actually, by now their babies are probably having babies).

In short, they believe that not only is God on their side, so is Time.
posted by dhartung at 9:51 PM on November 8, 2008

I'd say first find out if they are your neighbors. If yes, then you've good reason for your more friendly approach. If not, you might consider not wasting your time.

If you do speak with them, try focusing on framing the issue, like just act like the whole gay marriage issue reduces to people being able to see their loved ones in a hospital & such.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:17 PM on November 8, 2008

Can you bag a No on 8 sign from a Californian, or from Equality for All directly? Having that somewhere on the property would almost certainly deflect the LDS missionaries.

The Witnesses, I dunno. My late grandmother used to convert them to Episcopalianism as an apparent hobby, but she was a rare woman. Possibly she needed to get out more, too.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:33 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't know about telling them about your beliefs politely but I swear I thought Jehovah's Witnesses were a gang until I was fully an adult because every time they knocked on our door, my dad would tell all of us kids to hide and act like we weren't home ... though our car was always in the driveway. Eventually, they just stopped coming.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:53 PM on November 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

They don't care about your opinion, or they wouldn't be going around bugging people. Don't waste your time.
posted by pompomtom at 1:43 AM on November 9, 2008

I feel I should do my bit and not let bigoted opinions slide by unchallenged. Even if I don't win any missionaries over, I suspect it would be good for me to become a little more eloquent at communicating the reasons for my beliefs.

I think that's a really self-centered attitude. These are evangelical Christians! You can put forth all sorts of personal beliefs - but please remember that they came to YOUR HOUSE TO TELL YOU WHAT THEY BELIEVE! It's not really open to debate. The best thing to say is "thanks but no thanks, and yes, I know I'm going to Hell" when they come by- because, quite frankly, that's the only input you're likely to get. These are true believers , so you should prepare to agree to disagree.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:14 AM on November 9, 2008

The fact you are talking to them at all puts you on the "do call again" list. They do not want to have a debate about the belief spectrum; they want to convert you. It's nice that you think they are nice people, but in your efforts to be nice back, you're forgetting the bit where they are nice people with an agenda.

Please think through your plan and try to imagine any likely outcome. You're not going to convert them to gay marriage supporters, and they're not going to convert you to a Watchtower subscriber, so what outcome are you actually seeking?
posted by DarlingBri at 4:05 AM on November 9, 2008

Fortunately we get very few missionaries going door to door in the UK and none at all where I live. Whenever I hear about these visits though the thing that comes to mind is cold calling.

There is no difference between these people and the person calling you to sell you a loan, a conservatory or double glazing. They are selling religion and the only reason why you are willing to give them half an hour of your precious spare time is because 'they believe in what they tell you'. Well they do what they believe they have to do to please their god/religious leaders to get the benefits associated with that. The call centre operatives do what they do to get the benefit of wages. No difference in so far as they are both trying to sell you something for a benefit be it in the next life or in this.

And you would not give anybody trying to sell you windows half an hour of your time if you didn't actually need new firmly but politely tell them that you have firm believes of your own (by all means have a leaflet to hand detailing what these are if you like to share), but proceed to tell them that you appreciate and respect what they are trying to do but that you would equally appreciate it if they respected your believes and stopped calling, wish them a good day and close the door.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:12 AM on November 9, 2008

As far as getting rid of the visits by sitting them down and talking to them, in my experience you don't even have to be oppositional. I was visited by a couple of JW "elders" and simply explained that I was an atheist, then demonstrated during the conversation that I was actually pretty familiar with Mormonism and the Book of Mormon.

I was respectful and quite interested in learning more and was really kind of hoping they'd come back. We ended up genuinely showing interest in each other's beliefs, so it was a fairly pleasant conversation. But as dkg mentioned I probably got identified as a lost cause, so they didn't return.
posted by XMLicious at 4:21 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

(Oh whoops, I swapped in JW's there by accident, obviously it was actually Mormon elders.)
posted by XMLicious at 4:22 AM on November 9, 2008

What's wrong with a "no soliciting" sign on your front door?

Me, I find it impossible not to offend such people. Because by merely coming near my personal space they offend me.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:35 AM on November 9, 2008

I actually follow jasons_ghost's example of just saying something along the lines of "No thanks, I'm an atheist."

But what I wish I had the stones to do is how my brother once got rid of some persistent JWs after he'd repeatedly told them "Thanks but no thanks": When he saw them coming down the walk, he stripped off all his clothes. When he opened the door in his birthday suit, he had a giant shit-eating grin on his face and said "Please, DO come inside." They declined. And they never came back.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:41 AM on November 9, 2008

You know how they give you a tract about accepting Jesus into your life? You should make a tract that has bible verses that support tolerance, love, free will, forgiveness. Tit for tat, Tract for Tract.
posted by cachondeo45 at 6:13 AM on November 9, 2008

I think you have a couple of contradictory goals, and you need to either balance them or choose between them. On the one hand, you want to engage with these evangelists and explain your position, countering theirs and letting them know that you feel differently. On the other hand, you have a goal of "not getting in a forty minute conversation that goes nowhere."

You will not convince them. They will not convince you. The best you can do is to agree to disagree. You can spend forty minutes doing that, and you can keep doing that every weekend. If you enjoy the conversation and they wish to engage you, more power to you, and to them. Or, you can politely cut it short and move on.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:30 AM on November 9, 2008

compound eye: I agree with your approach and I thank you, sincerely, for not giving up on talking with these people. You're right, even if you don't actually change anything in their minds -- and even if you do, it's likely to be a small thing that won't really affect them until some time has passed -- even if you don't change them, you'll get some valuable practice at bridging the gap between their beliefs and your beliefs.

If I ever start a club, I want you to be in it! Send me e-mail any time.
posted by amtho at 7:40 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you (and other readers who are welcoming to those who would convert to beliefs you may or may not believe in) have the time to debate / talk with someone whose only goal in meeting with you is to convert you to their religion, then by all means go for it. I picture two immovable rocks side by side personally.

For the rest of us who already have religious faiths, persuasions, or have chosen to have no religious beliefs, the step by step process for getting rid of unwanted guests (Kirby salesmen, Jehovah's Witnesses, old fogies, some select relatives) goes like this:

Step 1: "I'm sorry, I'm really busy and won't have the time to talk to you for the next 27 1/2 years. Come back in, say, 2036?" Close door.

Step 2: If aforementioned unwanted guests are still on your property a minute later, open door with cell phone in hand. "Gentlemen (or ladies) this is private property. Please don't make me call the cops."

Tolerance and understanding of other religions is one thing - choosing to conform to those religious beliefs / standards is another thing altogether. If tolerance and understanding is more interesting, it shouldn't be too hard to seek them out, set an appointment, and chat / debate the finer points of whatever for as long as you have breath... Best of luck to you.
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:16 AM on November 9, 2008

The thing about talking to people with seemingly petrified beliefs is that you won't change those beliefs immediately, in that moment. People's beliefs can change, but it takes patience and generosity. It's easy to look at one conversation and say, well, obviously they haven't changed their minds, so they'll never change, and I give up because I have better things to do.

But that's giving them and yourself too little credit. Haven't you ever changed your opinion of something? Didn't you have a different perspective some years ago? And how quickly do your own opinions change?

And did they change in one conversation, by someone telling you how dumb you were for believing something else? Or did they change when you were by yourself, thinking things through? Did the person or persons who had the most effect on you always even know that they'd had that effect?
posted by amtho at 8:23 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I LOVE this question, and happily hit favorite all the way down.

I agree with many above that if you do this in the right spirit, you can plant a seed.

I've changed my mind by having the argument presented kindly and with facts to back it up. You have, too, I'm sure.

The very fact that you aren't slamming the door in their faces makes you a bit more credible to the possible secret doubter. Google ex-mormon or ex JW and you'll read plenty of stories of people who believed wholeheartedly in the tenets of their religion until one person or incident happened to make them see it in a different light. In the interest of full disclosure, I am biased because I have a close relative who is in a religious cult.

Yes, do this.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 9:21 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Listen! And understand! Those people are out there. They can't be bargained with! They can't be reasoned with! They don't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are saved!

So, don't waste your time. These people are imbeciles. Just slam the door and move on with your life... I'm serious - you're not going to change their minds, you're only going to reinforce their mission.

I grew up near Bob Jones University in South Carolina - I dealt with these glassy eyed soul-zombies for years, you're better off saving your breath and donating to the ACLU or Americans United.

Also, put one of these on your door.
posted by wfrgms at 10:50 AM on November 9, 2008

compound eye... I read this thread earlier this morning wonder why you would want to waste your time. I've engaged at various times on a very small scale before closing a door, walking away or otherwise becoming frustrated. But I chalked your desire up to someone with more time and patience than I wanting to change a mind.

Then my partner sent me this link about a guy who wants to make his voice heard to some LDS missionaries.

While I'm not sure that I'll open the door the next time that knock comes at the door I'll be sure to speak softly and without anger when I do. After the events of this past week and the rise of Obama I'm certain that his habit of speaking calmly and with great thought is one of the largest reasons behind his large margin of victory.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:24 AM on November 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

Why is everyone giving advice about how to get rid of the evangelists when that is in no way part of the OP's question?

I personally think it is a great idea. I especially like the goal of learning to express yourself in ways that get heard. Challenging, yes, but worth it.

I would take the opportunity to try different things, but stay in the mind of we are all humans together, even with different beliefs. Always come from 'agreement' in some form, such as love of humanity, importance of communication, some place you can agree on, and take it from there.
posted by Vaike at 1:52 PM on November 9, 2008

... communicating the reasons for my beliefs .. to a hostile audience...

This is a great goal, more power to you. Let me see if I can find some links to help get you started.
- Here are quotes from all religions, including Christianity, about equality in general [that website is actually put up by the Unification Church, aka the Moonies, so their agenda is in there, but the Bible passages it quotes might be helpful]
- An article about Soulforce - a Christian gay rights organization and other possible articles about gay rights from a Christian perspective at Sojourners
- A Mormon argument against Prop 8, and more on Prop 8 from Street Prophets
- How Jesus supported gender equality (in contrast to before and after)
posted by salvia at 2:23 PM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: found this site too:
posted by compound eye at 3:47 PM on November 9, 2008

I gave up on even being polite in my efforts to escape after they started chasing me down in the park, waving their literature at me. It wasn't enough to disturb me at my home any more.

Then Wednesday, the day after they had been successful in ramming their religion down the throats of my entire state with their bigoted support of Prop. 8, they had the nerve to bang on my door -- I mean that literally, this wasn't "knocking" by any reasonable definition -- at 10am. This was after I had spent the night helping to compile election returns and got to bed around 3am. Rest assured that any discourse I had with them was done in my best "git off my property" voice.

All of you who think you're doing the world a favor by being polite to these fucks are only encouraging them.
posted by sageleaf at 3:48 PM on November 9, 2008

This doesn't address your question, OP, but since some others have brought it up...

I was raised as a JW. If you do decide that you do not want JW's to come to your door ever again, ask them to write your address down on the territory card as such.
So, each congregation is assigned to a geographical area, and that area is divided into territories; each territory is assigned an index card with a map and any notable encounters (both positive and negative). When a JW 'checks out' a territory, then, to go door to door, they have a list of those households that are already having Bible studies or those that wish to be left alone. I have asked to be left alone at two addresses now, and have not received any visits.
posted by queseyo at 10:15 PM on November 9, 2008

They don't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are saved!

This is categorically wrong. I can't tell you exactly how to respond to your door-knockers, but I can definitively say that some evangelists DO open their minds and become tolerant of others and others' beliefs. I know because I am married to a pro-choice ex-evangelist who supports gay rights.

These are people with whom you deeply disagree, but they are still people, and to treat them as a fixed object that absolutely cannot change does a disservice to both of you. I cannot say whether it is ethical to attempt to change someone's beliefs. I'm Buddhist, and that's not part of my religious experience. I do know that treating others with respect, even when you vehemently disagree, necessarily has a ripple effect.
posted by desjardins at 11:21 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Consider what you've got in common and take that as your foundation for any argument you make. They're all about Jesus' love? Explain how in your view love is better expressed by embracing the diversity God (or nature, or the world's life force, or however you interpret) has brought forth, and how everyone's journey's a spiritual one in a sense and how do you know, when it boils down to interpretation, that yours is the correct journey and that you're not stifling a possibly better one by pushing your views on someone else rather than listening to them?

There's a fab book I came across a few years ago that was full of very Eastern-tinged interpretations of the gospels -- tiny book, cost $10, called 'The Way To Love', that wasn't about moral issues (or I can't recall any if it was), but emphasised the wisdom you can actually *see* in Jesus' words by analysing them as philosophy rather than swallowing them wholesale that's encouraged by those pushing the Christ-the-son-of-God factor; as a "recovering christian", it opened my eyes to how much more a challenging, philosophical approach Jesus's teachings (as passed down to me, I mean) could've been if organised religions actually looked at and thought about the words he spoke; for a fundie christian, I'd think stuff in it could challenge the imperative to just accept everything you're taught by evidencing better ways still of interpreting a figure they're already inclined to listen to and want to understand well. You're going to need some common ground. There could be starting places for your arguments in that or something similar.

You're also going to need to be absolutely convincing, or at least thought-provoking (in an impressive way, not in a way that makes them want to debate with you), if you don't want to get into those 40-minute conversations the following weekend, you realise.... ;)
posted by springbound at 4:42 PM on November 10, 2008

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