I was recently challenged with the claim that Christians are only kind to people because they want to convert them. There are really two questions in that challenge. First, is it the case that Christians are motivated to be kind solely because they want to convert people? Second, is it appropriate to be kind for the sole reason of evangelism?
I certainly can’t know what is motivating any given Christian to be kind. After all, I don’t have access to their thoughts. I can, however, know what I’m thinking and also address whether it’s appropriate to be kind solely for the reason of evangelism.
Personally, I know why I’m kind to people. I like people. I like all kinds of people, even those who don’t share my convictions. I’m not trying to brag, but I honestly enjoy talking to people no matter their convictions. People approach me on the street or come to my door and try to persuade me to adopt Mormonism, the Watchtower Society, Black Hebrew Israelites, and all kinds of other ideologies. I’m always intrigued by them, their ideas, and their thinking. Even when I don’t end up sharing my convictions about the gospel, I find pleasure in the company of people. For me, then, I can say I’m not kind to people only because I want to convert them. I simply like people.
There’s another reason why I’m not motivated to be kind to people just so I can convert them: That’s not my role. Scripture identifies me as an ambassador for Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). My “job,” therefore, is not to convert people. It’s to be a faithful representative of who I represent—Christ. I’m commanded to communicate God’s message of reconciliation to the world. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to work on the hearts and minds of people.
I like the way Mother Teresa puts it in her book Love: A Fruit Always in Season. She says, “God has not called me to be successful. He called me to be faithful.” It’s not my responsibility to convert people or make them Christian. That’s God’s job. He may use me in that process, and if so, I’m grateful to be in his service. My responsibility is to be faithful to present the truth in a clear and gracious way and then leave the results up to God. If someone asks me for the reason for the hope that is within me (1 Pet. 3:15), I’m prepared to give a reason (an apologia—a defense) for my convictions. That’s why I don’t feel the need to be nice for the sake of conversion. That, of course, does not mean I avoid being kind.
That’s me, though. I recognize that’s only one data point and may not represent most Christians. What about others? As I said, I can’t know others’ thoughts, but it wouldn’t be fair to judge an entire group of people’s motives based on the mere claim that they’re misusing kindness as a tool.
As for the second question, I would argue there are three reasons why it’s wrong for Christians to be kind to people only so they can convert them. First, we’re commanded to be kind. In the passage I just cited about giving people a defense for our faith, we’re also told to provide those reasons with gentleness and respect. But we’re commanded to do more—love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44). If we’re commanded to love our enemies, we’re certainly expected to be kind to those who aren’t our enemies, the people we interact with every day.
Second, people are made in the image of God. That includes every person on earth. Therefore, anyone a Christian interacts with is intrinsically valuable, deserving to be treated with dignity, respect, and kindness. In fact, it’s Christians who have a strong justification to treat Muslims, Mormons, atheists, skeptics, those who identify as LGBT, and any other non-believer as kindly and graciously as possible. Why? It’s part of Christian anthropology. We hold the view that every human being is valuable no matter their income, ethnicity, religious belief, or sexual identity. People are valuable in and of themselves by virtue of being image bearers of God. There’s nothing anyone can say or do that can diminish that value.
Third, people are not gospel fodder. They aren’t valuable if and only if they are someone we can share the gospel with. That’s the basic Christian anthropology I mentioned above. Even if a person vigorously rejects the gospel, we should continue to treat them with kindness.
Having said that, does it help to be kind to people when you share the gospel? Of course. All other things being equal, people will be more receptive to your message when it’s accompanied by kindness rather than crassness. If you’re rude, condescending, and a bully, that will undermine your efforts as an ambassador. I think most Christians know that, and that’s partly why they’re kind. That, however, shouldn’t be confused with the claim that they’re kind only because they want to convert people.