Businessman Roy Brown flipped through the papers his secretary had prepared for him and then handed them across the desk to his client. The deal was about to be closed.
The client accepted the papers, but ignored the pen Brown offered him. "There is one other thing," the man said, "Are you a born-christian?"
This occured in Charlotte, N.C., last spring. The business deal went through, but Roy Brown (a pseudonym) wishes now he never seen that particular client. By refusing to kneel in the office for a word of prayer, by declining to discuss his religion because he believes it is a personal matter (he is a practicing Christian), Brown opened himself to systematic missionary effort by representatives of various evangelic organizations.
At first it was merely annoying, but as Brown's resistance stiffened, the calls and visits became threatening. After three months, the campaign against him had turned into downright harassment, Now Roy Brown is worried. His business is prosperous, but it is small enough to be susceptible to the economic pressure implied during recent visits.
"I'll tell you the truth,' he said a few weeks ago, "It has gotten to the point where I've actually thought of knuckling under, just telling them a lie and joining them to get'em off my back."
What is happening to Roy Brown in Charlotte is happening - with variations - to businessmen, salemen, trademen, laborers, professionals, students and others. Brown is but one victim of the militancy and overzealousness - "the mean streak," a noted theologian has called it - that at time has accompanied the Jesus movement.
The movement has become a national phenomenon Tens of millions of Americans are displaying their version of The Word on the sidewalks and in denominations, one-congregation churches and quasi-churches, radio and television ministries, cults, sects, fellowship, house to house-visits and religion-oriented business ventures. Churches Split
WHAT FEW PEOPLE know is the extent of the pressure, harssment and intimidation involved in some of these activities. The country seems to be increasingly well supplied with zealots who take the conversion of their fellow man as the supreme act of faith. They are splitting established churches, severly testing the concept of religious freedom and embrassing believers whose theology cannot be stunned up on a bumper sticker on a T-shirt.
As the story of Roy Brown demonstrated, the Jesus movement can be tolerant, persumptuous and pushy. The pushers are not only born-Christians, they are also Messianic Kews (including "Jews for Jesus") and "Moonies" (followers of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon). Further, their ranks comprise not just people proclaiming their own salvation but also people making great amounts of money. Like many such movements, this one has become big business.
Examples of irrationally and intimidation are surfacing in increasing numbers. Some are quite familiar: the Moonies' families, with parents resorting to kidnaping their children, who they believe have been brainwashed by a false messiah; the swelling rhetoric of street preachers, in some places so disruptive that local officials threaten to arrest them for disturbing the peace. Prayer in the Classroom
OTHER EXAMPLES of the Jesus movement's actions run directly against the American precepts of respect for one's fellow man and tolerance, even encouragement, of a multinational, multifaith society.
In the Boston area last fall, the president of a small electronics manufacturing firm dissolved his distribution network of 14 dealers and distributors because he felt compelled by God to make the company all-Christian. The firm now contracts with and hires only people who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
In Baltimore, the Born Again Realty Co., an affiliate of the National Network of Christian Realtors, used to advertise "Christians preferred." Under criticism, the company deleted the reference.
In Okaloosa County, Fla., the public school board tried to fire a young teacher who objected to the board's policy of opening every school day with a required classroom prayer and Bible reading. The teacher, also a Methodist Sunday School teacher, pointed out that the practice was coercive and in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on prayer in public schools. The legal battle for her job continues, and so does the campaign of harassment and vilification conducted against her by staunch fundamentalists.
In the Denver area, parents found that musicians brought into the public schools for concerts were lacing their entertainment with a not-so-subtle pitch for religious conversion.
In Atlanta, a Jewish woman discovered that the orthodontist who was treating her 15-year-old son was trying to straighten out more than the boy's teeth. The doctor, a born-again Christian, had spent the first two-hour session with the boy attempting to convert him from Judaism to Christianity.
The impact of the Jesus movement can be measured by much more than vocative, even belligerent behaviour. It can be measured by a power shift within the vague confines of American organized religion. Some "main line" churches which have traditionally set the pace of religious thought and action - churches that fostered a religion of reason as well as the faith and that preached the social gospel as well as the Bible - are now eclipsed or transformed. They are struggling, sometimes desperately; to hold on to their liturgy and traditions while at the same time holding on to their members.
Jews figure prominently - as both disciples and targets - in the Jesus movement. An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Jews now describe themselves as Messianic Jews, claiming to be both Jews and Christians. Almost all of them are young, and many are products of the social activism of the 1960s.
"We've always seen ourselves as guerrillas," says Moishe Rosen, head of Jews for Jesus. "We are hardnosed. Our training is almost military."
The Messianic Jews are enthusiastically supported, financially and otherwise, by evangelical Christians. Delegates to the biennial convention of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, meeting in Dallas in July, overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for a two-year intensive effort to convert Jews. (The same delegates failed to approve a merger with fellow Lutherans in another body of the church, settling instead for a "fellowship in protest.")
Jews have been living with this sort of proselytizing for thousands of years. Of much greater concern to them is a nationwide "buy Christian" campaign reminiscent of those the Jews have been subjected to periodically, throughout their history, notably in Nazi Germany.
The campaign has two sources, both California-based but operating nationwide in perhaps two dozen of the country's larger cities. One is the Christain Business Directory, headquartered in San Diego. The other is the Christian Yellow Pages, with headquarters in Modesto.
Both publish directories restricted to businesses run by professing Christians and distributed free through churches and religious book stores. To be included in either of the directories, an advertiser must sign a statement saying that he is "born-again Christain believer" and that he "accepts Jesus Christ as . . . personal Lord and Savior and acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God." For that and a fee ranging up to $900, the advertiser gets space in the listings and the publisher's stamp of approval as a fellow to be trusted by all good Christian.
The Christian Business Directory carries the endorsement of evangelical associations in Tucson and Phoenix, and it is linked to the California Christian Campaign Committee "to elect Christians to public office." Whatever the intent of their publishers, the directories say one thing to Jews: economic boycott for religious reasons. The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the Jewish service agency, as filed suit in California to enjoin publication.
What does the Jesus movement signify? Some religious historians speculate that the United States is caught up in one of those massive, periodic upheavals that Christians call a "great awakening." Dr. Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago Divinity School terms the movement "a fundamentaal shifting of religious power in America . . . In the '70s, the conservative, fundamentalist churches are more styled for what people are looking for in religion."
To a considerable extent, the movement represents a turning inward: away from the social gospel and toward a personal, experiential religion that simply makes one feel good; away from the theology of salvation by good works and toward a theology of salvation by faith alone.
More disturbing is the persistent element of anti-intellectual, the retreat from reason back to mysticism and emotionalism. The average middle-class American church used to encourage discussion of theology and the problems of faith. Nowadays it is not unusual to enter such a church and hear parishioners talking about Jesus' love and His "presence here among us." Internal Divisions
THE ENTIRE MOVEMENT, it seems, has one common denominator, an unyielding determination to exalt Jesus Christ and make everyone his follower. Excesses, inevitably accompany the journey toward any such goal. So do internal divisions, and therein lies an inherent weakness in the movement. Christians do not agree among themselves on a definition of Christianity or on what it means to follow the teaching of Christ.
Given the trends in American life, it is reasonable to conjecture that "church religion" might ultimately be replaced by disembodied voices and faces on radio and TV sets. The Jesus movement, with its demonstrated affinity for pop culture, would be right at home in such a setting.
Meanwhile, evangelical Christianity has one of its own in the White House. The election of a born-again Christian to the presidency is neither a clear-cut cause nor an effect of the religious zeal now rampant. But it is obvious that the presence in the White House of an evangelical, born-again Christian has given the movement an impetus it would not otherwise have had. It has given something of an imprimatur to religious fundamentalism. It has enabled zealots to leave their closets and mount their platforms.
The turmoil in religion today is reminiscent of the so-called modernist-fundamentalist fight of the 1920s. That war of the scriptures was though to have reaffirmed Christianity as a religion of reason as well as of faith. Events unfolding today indicate clearly that it did neither.