John W. Loftus of Debunking Christianity has an interesting post on what it's like, as an atheist and former evangelical preacher, to attend a Christian funeral. At this particular funeral, as is often the case, the preacher delivered an evangelistic message to his captive audience, using death as an occasion to use the threat of hell and the promise of heaven as a means by which to solicit conversion.
I highly recommend reading the post, and if you so desire, participating in the most interesting conversation which has grown up around it.
Here is my take on the situation, yanked from the comment I left on the post:
For once let me simply say, I could not agree with your post more. I was a pastor long enough to do only one funeral, but I saw my role there as a pastoral, not evangelical, one. I was there to honor the memory of the deceased, and to help tend to the emotional and spiritual needs of the bereaved. For me to spend that time having a "come to Jesus" would have not only been in poor taste, it would ultimately have served my own ego rather than God.
Those who engage in evangelism so often, I'm afraid, do it for the wrong reasons. They/we (I stand too often condemned as well) do it because we are trying to prove something to ourselves and to God. They/we are trying to distance ourselves from our past, or trying to prove ourselves in the present moment. Too often they/we are working out our own issues rather than seeing a need and trying to meet that need.
Ultimately, I don't think that evangelism is in all cases inappropriate. After all, there are some people looking for direction, who may well desperately need what you are selling. But those who continually engage in evangelism should recognize that they too often come off as just that: God's salesmen, treating their own salvation as a kind of commission to be earned from the salvation of others.
Theologically I think this whole mode of evangelism stemmed from a flawed understanding of grace. Socially I think that it robs those who don't share the assumptions of the evangelist of their ability to participate in the moment. If, as in your case, the evangelism comes at a funeral, then those who do not share the assumptions of the evangelist are robbed of their moment to grieve in public, joined with the community of the bereaved by their joint love for the deceased. Instead they are cut off from that community, and are thus less able to work through their own grief. If this happens at, say, a wedding, something similar happens. They are robbed of their ability to share in the joy of this new love and commitment with the community that has gathered to witness and support the bonding of two persons.
Ministers need to balance several interests at events like weddings and funerals, in which their spiritual community joins with a broader social community for a more public event. This can be a difficult task, but I think that when they engage in such shameless acts of evangelism (that is, turning a funeral into a chance to "win souls for Christ") they ultimately fail to serve any of their interests. The evangelism both fails to convert those who might be open to conversion (no one likes to be emotionally manipulated when they are vulnerable - even if you get a "conversion", it probably won't last, since it was coerced) and fails to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of both the religious community and the broader social community which has gather to share either joy or grief.
I'm sorry for your experience, and sorry for your loss. While I have a hope that you don't share, I'm sure you know from your long experience as a Christian that even that hope grows dim when grief is fresh. Death is no respecter of religion, and religion, for all its help and comfort, does not inoculate one against grief.
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