A word to any Baptist readers: I do not intend to disparage the Baptist Church. I am only angry with this Baptist preacher in particular. Please do not take the following story as a criticism of your faith.

My fiancée and I were at the Oklahoma State Fair last year, scouring the buildings for weirdos and funnel cake. Now, I usually love the State Fair. Where else can you find the Baha'i and George W. Bush supporters in booths within 50 feet of each other? But I will think twice about going next year...

We had plastic sacks full of interesting souvenirs: Perot '96 buttons, "jade" Chinese pendants, polital propaganda. We were ready to leave when, out of nowhere, we were accosted by a Baptist preacher. I don't have any problems with the Baptists in particular, but as a Catholic, I don't agree with them on everything. It pretty much went this way:

Baptist preacher: "Would you two like to sit down and talk about the Bible?"

Me: "Sure." (What was I supposed to say? "No, I don't read the Bible"?)

Baptist preacher: "Let's look at a few verses." We look at some Bible verses -- nothing new to me.

Baptist preacher: "Would you accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior?"

Me and fiance': "Um.." We look at each other. Is this a trick question? Like, "Are you still beating your wife?" If we answer "no", how would we look? If we answer "yes", could we face ourselves in the morning?

You'd think that the preacher would be clued in by now. Whatever happened to not pushing your personal beliefs in other people's faces? But nooooo, he looked at us impatiently and said, "Well? You do want to go to heaven, right?"

Us: "Well, yes."

Baptist preacher: "Wonderful! You've been saved!" He gave us little certificates with the date, time, and his name. He gave us a pamphlet describing how we should proceed in our "newly found" Christian lives. We were offered some more pamphlet propaganda, including one that called the Pope the "devil incarnate." We walked away, both feeling sick to our stomachs.

In retrospect, I don't feel bad about it. After all, I only answered "yes" to whether I wanted to go to heaven. I didn't pretend to agree with any of the Baptist doctrine. I am only angry with the Baptist preacher. After all, he never gave us a chance to expound on our personal beliefs. I would have felt uncomfortable criticizing his beliefs; I didn't want to hurt his faith. But we were manipulated, asked leading questions, and when we did speak up, he took our answers to mean something totally different than what we meant originally. This is what I call "religion by rape". At least we Catholics learned from our mistakes.

Not all Baptists are like this preacher. I have plenty of Baptist friends, and the great majority of them are kind, understanding, and genuinely pious. But there is a general feeling of hostility toward Catholics here in Oklahoma, and I feel that, once again, I'm a victim of religious prejudice. All I can do is try not to compound the problem by using the tactics that this particular preacher found so successful.

Faith is defined in many ways. It can be belief and trust in and loyalty to God, belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion, firm belief in something for which there is no proof, or simple trust.

There are many ways in which faith develops. Conversion can be-- instantaneous, a slow thoughtful process, or something that has always seem to be a part of one's self. Sometimes even combinations of these events. Expounding and exploring one's personal beliefs is all a part of each individuals faith journey and it is good to see people having the courage and enthusiasm to explore, debate and discuss personal understandings.

You're right to say you were manipulated by this man's jerky behavior.

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