#680: Dealing with unhelpful and unsolicited attempts at conversion.

Hi Captain Awkward and Army,

I am currently teaching English at a public school in South Korea. I also identify as culturally Jewish, religiously agnostic/humanist/spiritual/existentialist/questioning/whothehellknows and believe that people can and should believe in whatever they want or have to believe in, whatever makes them comfortable and happy, as long as that belief doesn’t negatively impact others, so live and let live, to each their own, etc etc etc. Now, for many Koreans, I have been told, I am their “first Jew.” So there are a lot of questions. And, for personal reasons, I keep “kosher style” – no pig products, no milk/meat mixes in the same meal, no shellfish. This is because it makes me feel connected to my family, history, and ancestors, not because I am afraid of being smited or smoten. I have always eaten this way, and am not looking to change. So, I have asked the staff to please let me know if the school lunch for each day contains any pig (just to keep it simple – I can sort out the rest of this stuff on my own), and when they ask why, I simplified by saying it was for religious reasons. Despite the language barrier, this worked just fine at my old school (…just had a flashback to The Magic School Bus there, sorry), and led to some nice conversations about Judaism, and sharing of religious customs and ideas.

It’s gone a bit differently at my new school. Most teachers are Christian, and (at least) one of them is deeply religious. I have also discovered that the English teacher before me was a religious Christian too, so I think there was some bonding between them on that subject. Last week, this teacher gave me a beautiful calligraphy painting he had made from a quote from the bible. At first, I thought he was just being friendly and welcoming (I have had an amazing time here because of how open and generous colleagues and students have been), but during the last few days, he has also taken to quoting scriptures at me in between classes, and giving me his bible to read, and asking questions about how Christianity and Judaism compare.

So I have a few questions.
1. Is he just being friendly, or is this a divine mission to convert me?
2. If it’s the latter, how can I politely put a stop to it without being rude, especially given the cultural and language barriers? (There are also a lot of random people in my city who approach me on the street to try to get me to convert to Christianity or Mormonism, so a handy script for this surprisingly common situation would be amazing…)
3. What can I do when he asks about how the religions compare? I am not particularly knowledgeable about the ins and outs of orthodox Judaism, and am certainly ignorant about many details of Christianity, so I have no clue what to say. Which he doesn’t understand, because to his mind, if I’m religious enough to adjust my diet accordingly, how on earth do I not have the Torah memorized?

I tend to be completely disorganized in my thoughts, so I hope this is clear enough. Thank you for your time, patience, and amazing work you do. This is one of my favourite places to hang out on the web, and I can’t imagine how busy you are, so I understand if you can’t answer, but I do want to nip this in the bud, in case it starts getting out of hand, so any help would be hugely appreciated.

Emphasis on the -ish.

P.S. (An email immediately following)

Update: I can get rid of the “think”! Work ended about an hour and a half ago, and on my way out of the office, I was given a lovely watercolour with this written on it:

“25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

…and then endured a 15-20 minute conversation about how he became Christian, how he was saved, and how he has watched many youtube videos of Jews who have realised that Christ is the saviour and Easter is coming and oh my god, how am I going to deal with this for another 6 months?

I do not want to insult or belittle this man’s religion, but I have to work with him for the next 6 months, and I have come to my religious affiliation after years of questioning and thinking and raging and being depressed and more than I want to go into here. I am not going to change. So how how how can I put a stop to these conversion conversations without making every future interaction awkward? Please help!

Dear Emphasis On the -Ish,

People evangelize about all sorts of things, whether the subject is kink or essential oils or Dawkins/Hitchens/Maher-Straight-Angry-White-Dude-Atheism or the food-free diet or the Sweet Lord Above (or how *everyone* should read Captain Awkward Dot Com and watch The Wire). Enthusiasm is cool, recommendations are cool, but blowing past all “huh how about that” signals to single-mindedly sell someone on something that changed your life is irritating. The hardest layer to punch through is that a person in evangelist mode is sharing the most important and wonderful decision of their life (whether it’s the decision to embrace a Lord & Savior or dispatch gluten from their diet) and aren’t they doing you the most WONDERFUL KINDNESS in service of your Immortal Soul/more pleasant poops? “I JUST WANT TO HELP YOU, HEY WHERE ARE YOU GOING?” The diet evangelists are honestly easier to take, because at some point you can say “I literally don’t care about anything you have to say,” where religion is supposed to be respected, at least nominally.

Evangelists will also pepper you with questions about your practices and beliefs, which wears the mask of being a kind and polite thing to do, but it’s often just an attempt to draw you into a discussion where they can represent their views; i.e. “I asked you about your stuff, now politeness demands that you listen to all of mine.” Their enthusiasm and conviction that this is helping forces you into the role of feeling like an asshole when you just want to be left alone, or having to acknowledge their kind intent even when there really isn’t one. When people are being aggressively nice and enthusiastic and friendly and curious, it’s really hard to swat them down for the same reason it’s hard to swat away any sales pitch: They are designed to be sticky.

One thing you could try, when peppered with questions about Judaism, is to embrace the role of Faulty & Reluctant Ambassador For Your Faith. Script: “I can’t answer that. Jews are as diverse in their beliefs and practices as different Christian denominations and religion is very much a private matter for me. If you are interested in learning more, here are some websites that give a nice overview.” These were recommended by Jewish readers and friends:

There are more in response to this Tweet, and I’m sure other recommendations will show up in the comments, though the point is not to find this dude all of the Chosen People’s Chosen Information, the point is to get him to fuck off about this topic with the least amount of friction possible. It’s so tempting, especially with the YouTube conversion propaganda videos, to try to go with facts and logic and dispassion, like,”Those are happy stories for you, but for me a happy version of that story is: A Jew is born! And then he/she happily stayed Jewish until he/she died! We just don’t have that same ‘born again’ concept or drive to convert others.” But the more you engage the more you will make it seem like something is debate-able or negotiable here. To that end, when he brings it up again (and he will bring it up again), I suggest the following script, though I’d love someone who has spent substantial time in Korea to double-check it for me:

Friend-name, I am so touched by your gift. It’s clear that religion is very close to your heart, and I am glad that you have something that makes you so happy. My religious practices are a more private affair, and except for when necessary (like dietary concerns), I don’t like talking about religion. Can we discuss other subjects? I’d love to know about how you learned to watercolor/do calligraphy/what was that wonderful food you were eating at lunch/where the best cinema is nearby/(other topic you know he is interested in).

I realize that’s a mouthful, so put it in your own words/stages/whatever works for you. Try to find three or four safe topics that you can change the subject to. Asking questions about secular Korean customs or the local culture and geography and history can be an especially good/safe thing to do when his Explainer Mode is already engaged – try redirecting that energy into less fraught channels.

If/when it comes up again, “Thank you, but we talked about this. Religion is a private topic for me.” + change the subject.

If/when it comes up AGAIN, be emphatic: “Please, this is very uncomfortable for me. I want to be respectful of your beliefs, but I need you to also respect mine, which are private and not up for discussion at work.

Try two subject changes and then end the conversation as gracefully as you can and try again another day (excusing yourself to the restroom counts – physically absent yourself whenever possible). It is going to be awkward, but it is already awkward, because he has decided that you are his conversion project. You don’t have to hear him out or submit to that role just to be nice. Reward him with attention when he talks about non-religious things, remove your attention and presence if he won’t get off it.


330 thoughts on “#680: Dealing with unhelpful and unsolicited attempts at conversion.

  1. This topic is great, really appreciate the script. My SIL married a very religious (and conservative) man and they’ve been proselytizing to me & my kid. I’ve enjoyed discussing religion with him in the past but it’s getting out of hand, so this is very helpful. OP, I hope this works for you and you’re able to establish some good boundaries.

    1. Owning it – “I don’t like talking about religion/that’s private for me” doesn’t give people a lot to latch onto, whereas “Witnessing is annoying” or “I don’t agree with x tenet of your faith” is like inviting the Witnessing Tasmanian Devil to an all-you-can-debate-buffet.

      1. This has been one of the best things I’ve learned from my long time lurking here! I have had great success with saying “please don’t talk about other people’s bodies around me” if someone starts snarking on the way someone else looks/dresses/eats/whatever. Such a useful tactic because there’s no argument, as opposed to “talking about X is bad” which sounds like it’s open for discussion.

  2. “it’s often just an attempt to draw you into a discussion where they can represent their views.”

    This is a really important point. I have found, over about 30 years of being an atheist, that you can’t have a real exchange of ideas with people like this. All they’re doing when you’re talking is waiting for you to shut up so that they can quote the Bible at you again. They aren’t interested in what you have to say at all. It’s just a waste of your time to have these conversations, so it’s best to just shut them down. The other day, a guy approached me in Wal-Mart, of all fucking places, with some story about being on a scavenger hunt that turned into him talking about his years “walking with God,” then denying he was trying to convert me, then asking me if I “have any pain in your body right now.” These people will deceive you (it’s justified because they’re doing God’s work!), disrespect you, and violate your boundaries; the only way to deal with them is shut down the conversation. (My response was, “I’m not having this conversation, and my body is none of your business.”)

    1. This has been my experience as well, first as a Catholic (for a lot of evangelicals, Catholics don’t “count” as Christians) and then as an atheist. The only very religious person I remember having a genuine conversation with was someone who accepted from the outset that this was not going to be a conversion experience.

      1. I’ve had some great conversations with people of faith about their religion and beliefs, but in every case, they were approaching the subject as “interesting conversation and sharing of ideas with friend”-time, and NOT as “bringing another hapless soul into the fold”-time.

    2. Your response reminded me of the time a free massage turned into evangelizing. Here’s a little tip to any missionaries out there: the best time to bring up religion is definitely NOT when you are hunched above them with your hands on their body.

      1. I got braided extensions in my hair a few years back, it took about 5 hours and an hour in the lady had me reading to her from the bible. I love reading out aloud but I had a hell of a head ache when I left and it wasnt from the hair pulling involved in braiding! I was caught off guard and as I always feel a bit guilty explaining to religious types that I am an atheist. I think that’s because I fell like I am telling them I think they are a fool for believing in god because I don’t. I don’t feel that way at all, but I am worried that it may be perceived that way.

        1. I think I might have chosen the Song of Solomon or some of the juicier passages from Kings and Judges. “No, wait, this is the part where David delivers hundreds of fresh foreskins to King Saul!”

          1. I like the story of the prophet Micaiah: “God says you’re going to win this battle.” “Really?” “No, you’re totally going to lose and die. God just said to tell you that you would win.”

            It’s actually kind of cruel to evangelicals to point to a passage in the Bible where God told a prophet to lie, and ask what that precedent means in terms of this Bible that tells people all sorts of things…

      2. That sounds like the worst massage ever. I love some massages, but it seems counterproductive to relaxation time to have someone try to convert you.

        1. The other day I was getting my teeth cleaned and the hygienist asked if it was ok if she had the radio on to listen to her music and I said sure and it turned out to be a Christian station. Not only that, she then went on to reference God and Jesus and God’s plan in her life and so on at least half a dozen times (I counted) while she was digging around in my teeth and gums.

          1. Talk about a captive audience! It’s the worst when someone has a topic they want to evangelize about (doesn’t have to be a religious topic) while you feel like you can only pretend to agree because they’re doing something on/for you that would go very badly if they happen to be the sort of person who would become vindictive if they find you don’t agree with them. Doctors/medical staff really should not put their patients in this kind of a position. “If I don’t agree, will they sabotage my treatment?”

          2. @ZeldasCrown Oh my god yes! I had a really unpleasant experience where I was getting an exam from a specially-certified doctor to be medically okayed to work towards specific-license-thing, and I found out while I was there that the antidepressants I was on maybe-forever disqualified me from thing-I-might-want-to-do-with-my-life, and then subsequently had to listen to him give me like a 45-minute lecture about how people on antidepressants should really just be taking lots of B-vitamins or some shit, and how none of HIS patients were on antidepressants because his alternative methods were much better and didn’t I agree with him now that he had explained it to me? I was afraid to be “rude” because I had no idea how much he could potentially sabotage my chances at petitioning regulatory-agency-for-thing, but I also couldn’t bring myself to respond positively, so I just stared at him and waited for it to be over. It took a long time, and was pretty upsetting.

          3. It’s just awful when people aren’t aware of the power imbalance in situations like this. Whose God/god/whatever would want a convert who just said the words so they could keep their teeth, or their good grade, or a peaceful work environment and/or anything else?

    3. Haha one time I was peacefully eating some lunch, sitting on a bench in town while I waited for a text message, when some lady spotted my cane leaning against the seat and came to ask if she could pray for me. It was so fucking surreal, I was just like “Is this a thing that’s actually happening right now?”

      1. A similar thing happened to me while I was having an asthma attack outside of a grocery store. My partner is a doctor and was there helping me handle it, and suddenly some lady came up and asked if she could pray for me. I kind of wheezed in her general direction and then she hunched over me and started reciting prayers and I just froze for a few minutes in shock that a total stranger was doing this weird thing to me in public while I was trying to deal with a condition I’m perfectly capable of managing when people aren’t all up in my face in the middle of it.

        1. I bet she got a huge kick out of your miraculous recovery too. Lesson learned: when choosing people to pray over, pick people with scary looking but chronic, episodic conditions that usually resolve within a few minutes.

      2. I never know how to handle that, because I always feel like saying no is rude? But also I’m pretty private so I feel like practically any unsolicited conversation from a stranger is rude and intrusive, and I’m uncomfortable with religion for various personal reasons and don’t want to be prayed for, not that I suppose it hurts anything. Just the idea of this person using me as a prop in their spiritual script weirds me out! I don’t like thinking of it. Usually I stutter out “uh, sure,” and stumble away to be scandalized in private.

        My VERY LEAST FAVORITE THING, though, is when it’s someone who knows you and knows you’re going through a rough time– the kind of thing some people might put out prayer requests for– and offers, uninvited, to pray for you, as though you will find this comforting. It may be the most thoughtful gesture of consideration they can imagine receiving, but to me it feels creepy and disrespectful of my own beliefs. I find it really telling about the capacity for empathy and true friendship when someone deliberately does something that would be the best FOR THEM without thinking whether you would like it, when they know you well enough to know better. The Golden rule isn’t supposed to be quite that literal.

        1. Especially when there are so many other options! “You’re in my thoughts” or “best wishes to you.” (On a Disney-themed forum I read, a common one is “pixie dust!”)

        2. Me, I’m all for saying “no” if a stranger offers to pray for me. I’m legally blind and use a white cane. It’s not bad in my area (it helps that there are a lot of other blind folk around, so we’re not so rare and unexpected, people get used to us). But I’ve read a lot of other blind folk having random strangers offer to pray for them a fair bit. The Bible has some things specifically about blindness and faith letting the blind see, which means that blindness even more than many other disabilities get some special weirdness from strangers (it also doesn’t help that most sighted people really can’t imagine how they’d function with significant vision loss, don’t bother to find out, but just assume it must be awful). So, I get extra-annoyed if strangers offer to pray for me.

          I also am culturally Jewish with a name that certainly sounds it. My experiences are all in the US, so I can’t say anything about Korea. But there are groups that specifically target Jews for religious propaganda. I find that very annoying too.

          But really, the only thing you can do with people you have regular contact with is consistently shut down the topic of religion. I agree with the whole, “it’s private, and I don’t like talking about it”. Don’t give them an opening. If they want to learn more about another faith, they are completely and utterly welcome to. There is a ton of info online and in books. I find it hard to believe that a teacher anywhere in the world doesn’t know how to do basic research into a topic that is very widely written about. The letter writer does not need to play Hebrew School teacher or teacher of comparative religions for somebody to study Judaism or the differences and similarities between Judaism and Christianity. If someone wants to learn that, they can. And if the person only wants to learn it as some sort of expression of friendliness, then making it clear that it isn’t wanted is a kindness. True expressions of friendliness can thus be directed toward things that would be mutually enjoyable.

          Personally, I’ve known several people with deep faiths that are different from mine who were wonderfully friendly people. I did listen to some things about their faith, because I was curious. But it was vastly obvious they weren’t trying to convert me. They brought it up as their personal beliefs. They clearly respected other people’s beliefs. They answered questions when I asked, but did not push info. The topic didn’t regularly come up. If you are asking yourself, “Is this person just trying to share or are they trying to convert me?” it’s usually the latter, because people who are truly trying to share don’t push boundaries or make you wonder that. They don’t keep bringing it up when you don’t bring it up. This is salesmanship, and it’s deeply unfortunate it’s been pushed into the workplace where the letter writer is forced to interact with the person. With salesmanship, you just have to cut off the sales pitch as early as possible and whenever it comes up. And you really, really do not owe someone detailed info about what you believe, why you eat the way you do, and so forth. You don’t need to justify your choices to anyone but yourself. It’s okay to keep personal information private and personal.

        3. As far as how to handle unsolicited offers to pray for you go, I don’t think saying no is rude, especially to a stranger. Although you shouldn’t have to explain yourself, people sometimes take things better if you offer a reason, so something like this might work:

          “Thank you, but I’m not really religious* so I’d rather you didn’t. I appreciate the kind thoughts though.”

          (*or whatever brief explanation is accurate and comfortable for you to share.)

          It doesn’t really matter if they are being kind or if they’re actually just being weird and invasive since assuming the best of them is most likely to end the conversation quickly. Of course, if you’re in the middle of an asthma attack it’s probably a bit much to get all of that out and honestly I think a simple “no, thank you” should be fine. Anyone who gets offended over this deserves to be offended tbh. Then again, I think Australia is a bit less religious in general than the US so maybe my context is different.

          1. Yeah, in the US (or at least the South, where I’m from), “I’m not really religious” has the potential to turn an interaction very negative, as though you slapped the pray-er in the face.

          2. You can always say “I welcome all positive thoughts!” if you re-he-heeeeally don’t want to say a flat-out no. That’s what I usually have to pull on my extremely religious mother (I am also religious but not her denomination, and I certainly don’t believe that Jesus cares if I find the baseball hat that I lost, no matter how much my mother prays to him about it).

        4. My mother does that. I have to restrain myself from suggesting every time how she and her friends should be praying for me, because the general choices are coercive and Not Helpful. If someone absolutely must pray for me, I’d rather they prayed that whatever it was was easy to find and easy to fix rather than that it magically disappear so I spend money trying to track it down to prevent it happening again.

          She’s my mother, so I’m never going to stop her doing it, and she’s generally good enough about my opinions to not force hers on me. Part of my personal beliefs as a pagan involves the belief that their prayers are equivalent to spells, what with the intent and the will and the habitual preparation of mindfulness.

          But honestly? If you are praying instead of helping rather than in addition to helping, you’re a douche.

        5. What’s even more awkward is when people who don’t know I’m atheist ask me to pray for them. There’s no possible way to answer that without sounding like an arsehole. Thankfully it’s only ever on social media because people in Australia aren’t real big on public displays of religion.

      3. Ha! I post my nail art to instagram sometimes and once I posted a manicure where the design on my middle finger looked noticeably crooked. A random commenter pointed it out and I said “oh, yeah, that’s because my nail is deformed from so much handwriting when I was a kid.” Random Commenter was all “oh my god! Can I pray for you?”

        Um, sure? I explained that it was just a minor disfigurement and had no effect on my life except when I take manicure pictures, but if she wanted to pray for me, she could. But it was a very strange feeling.

      4. At least she asked. A lot of people tell me they WILL pray for me, or even that if I accept Jesus into my heart I will be healed, etc. I try to be polite but I actively dislike this kind of thing so I say “No, please dont” they act like I am being offensive. I think it is more offensive to see someone who is visibly disabled and to assume that they are “broken” and need or want to be “fixed”, regardless of whether or not their god exists.

        It is definitely a thing 😦

          1. Strongly seconded. I’ve also found this very useful when discussing “””religion”””-based homophobia.

      5. When I worked in PR, a contact at an AM radio station wrapped up a conversation with, “Now, is there anything I can pray about for you?” I was so caught off guard, I just said “No thank you, I’m fine!”

        1. I had someone come up to me in a park to tell me about Jesus. After first being completely confused by my completely cheerful, the-world-is-awesome-and-people-can-make-it-even-better approach to being an atheist, she told me to pick something for her to pray about, something important, so that when it happened I could *know* that God was real and present, etc.

          I told her that if the Great Pacific Garbage Patch disappeared in the next two weeks I’d go to any church she pointed me at.

      6. Once, when I was in a less mobile stage of my illness, a strange man came up to my partner and I at the mall and asked if he could pray for me. I’m an atheist, but my attitude at the time was “wait are you actually asking me that” with a side helping of “whatever gets you through the day, dude”, so I said “sure”, thinking he meant LATER.
        He did not mean later. He knelt down on the ground and rested his hand on me and started praying aloud. I was so taken aback and offended and just… is there a word for furious but amused?
        Anyway the end result was that I was just totally shocked (as was my partner) and partner wheeled me away in silence before we burst out laughing around the corner. It is the biggest regret of my life that I didn’t respond thusly: at the time, I wasn’t super mobile but I could stand unassisted. Had I not been so totally shocked, I could have stood up from my chair and yelled “I’m HEALED” before falling over. It would have been glorious. I am still mad about missing that chance.

        1. This is amazing. I’ve never commented here, ever, but I am coming out of lurkdom JUST FOR THIS. Oh, how I hope you get another chance to make this happen.

        2. Oh my god if my injuries ever get bad enough that I’ll need a chair (probably not likely, but who knows) and someone asks me that again, I really want to do that. Especially because it’s a huge peeve of mine that people seem to think there’s no middle ground between “able to walk” and “completely reliant on a wheelchair” like no one could possibly be able to walk but only a couple of metres or anything.

          1. Seriously, the LOOKS I got when I would get out of the chair, walk myself over to the counter at a restaurant and order, and then wander back. They had very clear “you are a FRAUDY MCFRAUDSTER” eyes. It probably should have bothered me more than it did? But honestly I was too busy being pissed off that accessibility stalls in bathrooms frequently have doors that open THE WRONG WAY to care that some people thought I was faking not having full use of my body.

      7. For situations like this I have always pictured myself coming all Malcolm Reynolds: “As long as you don’t do it out loud.”

      8. I was in the hospital pharmacy the other day when a woman came in with her granddaughter, who was using an electric wheelchair and was clearly very physically disabled, but the way her grandmother communicated with her made it very clear that she didn’t have a learning disabilty. A man stood up, walked over and began talking right over the head of this young woman, offering to her grandmother to “pray for her” in her “desperate deformity”.

        I wanted to force feed him the contents of the poison cupboard, but I’m British so I rolled my eyes and tutted.

    4. I have to agree. Another point that I’ve noticed, being in a country where Christian folks make up the vast majority of the population is that you’re not really on equal footing with them. And what I mean by this is that it is often the case that talking about one’s version of Christianity (particularly to those who aren’t Christian) is a nice, friendly, good thing to do, whereas simply stating “I have different beliefs”, or just acknowledging that non-Christians exist (not even trying to convert anyone or even have a debate-just mentioning that not everyone is Christian) is rude, aggressive, or pushy. The standards by what warrant a “stop attacking me” isn’t equal for everyone.

      Anybody here ever have someone show up on your doorstep to try to convert you, and they won’t take no for an answer or leave you alone until you say “I’m all set with my own, differing beliefs”, at which point they act all offended and ask you why you’re being so pushy? All I’m saying is that this type of conversationalist can be completely oblivious to their own social pushiness, and like to misrepresent your expression of “could you perhaps leave me alone with regards to this subject” as being the one acting poorly. I guess all you can do is state your boundary while giving as little information about your own personal beliefs as possible so as to move the conversation as far away from a “debate” (and it’s not, because you’re not really supposed to give your position in any meaningful way other than for the other person to use as a prop for “I listened to you, now you have to shut up and listen to me for every other ‘conversation’ we have about this forever more”) as possible.

      1. I’ve been pretty lucky locally that “I have other beliefs” is usually respected pretty well. (This is in New Zealand – colonised by Christians, specifically Presbytarians and Anglicans for the most part, but relatively secular in day to day life compared to some places. I mean, Parliament still opens with a prayer, but we have a really bad track record for the success of religious-based political parties for eg.)

        Online, though… yeah, I’ve definitely seen it there.

      2. Totally. But fundies don’t just reserve this for doorstep proselytizing. They do it to each other if somebody steps out of line. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard one fundie pray in public for another fundie who has apparently backslidden. It’s like gossiping to God and making sure everybody else overhears. Such a soap opera; so glad I’m out of there.

    5. Likewise. I’ve had lovely conversations about religion with religious people, but the ones who actually want to talk to me (vs. converting me) don’t open in a whirlwind of How Religion Changed My Life And If You’d Just Let It It Could Change Yours Too.

  3. I don’t know what employment laws cover or don’t cover in Korea, but my FIRST place to go would be your faculty advisor / Human Resources manager equivalent. Explain that you are being made uncomfortable by a fellow staffer and that you don’t wish to make waves, but you also do not wish to be subjected to religious harassment. Clarify that in your country, it is ILLEGAL to create a hostile work environment with regards to an employee’s religion, and explain that’s what is happening here.** Ask for clarification regarding equivalent laws in Korea. They may tell you “Ha ha you silly person, just suck it up” or they may promise to say something to this guy. I don’t know, but I don’t think you know either.

    (** Unless you are working for an openly Christian school? In which case you need clarification anyway.)

    Second, cut this guy off. The next time he starts, hold up your hand and say, “Please, this is making me uncomfortable. In America, it is very rude to talk about religion in the workplace. It is only polite to talk about religion with coworkers if you are in a church. Is it considered rude in Korea to talk about religion with coworkers? Really? Well, it’s rude where I come from.” This is a FIB, but maybe appealing to social etiquette will work.

    When he asks about how the religions compare: “I don’t really know. Here are a handy list of websites you can check!”

    When you are approached on the street: I suggest you have taken the precaution of getting business cards printed up that say the equivalent of “Thank you for your interest in Judaism! I am very happy with my faith. If you have questions about Judaism, here are some websites to check out. God bless you and your family.” Hand the card out with a smile.

    I say all this as if it’s easy, but apart from the business card thing, it’s hard to do and I wish you luck with whatever solution you feel best fits your scenario and personality.

    1. I was going to suggest the same thing: “In my culture, it is considered inappropriate to talk about religion at work. It could even be considered illegal. Let’s talk about something else; talking about religion with co-workers makes me very uncomfortable.”

      I mean…it’s not a complete fib…and since the guy is a co-worker…

      1. The problem with the “in my country” route is that you can very easily imply “your country must just be BACKWARDS then”, especially if it turns out that the HR manager you are talking to thinks there is absolutely nothing wrong with what this guy is doing. Maybe in Korea this is considered perfectly okay (or maybe not–I have no idea, but I do know that social mores can differ considerably in some very unexpected ways and generally people have very carefully thought-out and culturally significant reasons for why this differences exist. I mean, those reasons can still be “wrong” to another perspective, but it’s dangerous to assume that your culture’s logic is going to go over well in another cultural context.)

        Bringing up legality/illegality in that context could *also* be read as a threat. I would back way, way off this approach.

        1. One of the reasons I don’t want to emigrate to Israel, even though I am Jewish and appreciate the fact that there is a Jewish state out there, is that if I moved to Israel I would totally become One Of Those American Immigrants Who Goes On And On About How Israel Should Be More Like America.

      2. There’s a chance the guy is going to turn around and be like “Well that’s weird, the last American colleague I had loved discussing religion!” I really would avoid lying unless absolutely necessary.

        1. But it’s not a lie – it is weird/rude/inappropriate to talk about religion with/try to convert your coworkers at work…

          1. By U.S./many Western standards, not automatically by Korean standards. And (I can’t speak for Korea, but my experience in China suggests that) when talking with Westerners, many social conventions go out the window in the name of curiosity.

    2. The next time he starts, hold up your hand and say, “Please, this is making me uncomfortable. In America, it is very rude to talk about religion in the workplace. It is only polite to talk about religion with coworkers if you are in a church. Is it considered rude in Korea to talk about religion with coworkers? Really? Well, it’s rude where I come from.” This is a FIB, but maybe appealing to social etiquette will work.

      I think this combined with the good Captain’s suggestion of “This is an uncomfortable conversation for me” could work really well. Like arbertrory says below, I’m a lifelong atheist who has often lived in places with lots of evangelizing religions (and lots of their determined evangelizers.) If I’ve already gotten into a series of conversations that were, to me, Fun Convos About Our Interesting Worldviews and to the evangelizer Awesome Openers To Me Converting This Girl, I’ll often say that conversion conversations are inappropriate or unappealing to me. It often helps to call out the person on the fact that they have (in your eyes) shifted the premise of your interactions, like so:

      “Wow, I am shocked that our conversations have taken this turn. I really enjoyed sharing with you about my religious beliefs and hearing about yours, but I’m disappointed that you are trying to evangelize me, because to tell you the truth I thought you were really interested in learning about my beliefs and how I honor them in my daily life. I thought that’s the type of conversation we were having, I didn’t expect you to try and convert me, and I would never try to convert you to my point of view, because I respect that your beliefs are different than mine.”

      The gift makes things a little more complicated. I’m not sure if this would make things even weirder, but in LW’s place I might try to find an appropriate Jewish- or American-themed gift to give him in return for his watercolors, to try to shift the conversation more toward Fun Interesting Sharing Time and away from Workplace Annoyances 4 Jesus Time.

      1. I’ll put in a strong vote for not giving a Judaism-themed gift of any sort, because a) I think he should be kept away from this stuff and b) it will only encourage him. In my experience, there is a strong tendency to fetishize Judaism among certain Christian communities. People who are out to convert Jews have this more often. Personally, I’m pretty uncomfortable with the idea that something that I hold to be important to my people and my religion be somebody else’s fetish object. It’s all about what the recipient sees in it*–I know that if I hand a Tanakh to my geeky colleague who wants to read some random passage, he will go, “yay, book!” and treat it well, but if I hand that same Tanakh to someone with missionary tendencies, they are likely to see it as a Jew legitimizing their drive to convert Jews. This is actually part of Jews (*cringe*) for Jesus’ philosophy–all of the people who stand on street corners for them must be either from a Jewish family or married to someone who is, so that it’s somehow more okay for them to proselytize. Which, just, no. LW wants to shut down this conversation, not encourage it.

        But go ahead and give him all the American flag stuff you can find if you think it will work. Or even try to give him something specific from your hometown and let him feel like he has the inside track to whatever subcultures are there. I could see an endless set of conversations about the nuances of cheddar if you’re from Wisconsin…

        *There are some things, like tallitot and tefillin, which I believe are not appropriate for non-Jews to own or use, so obviously I’m talking about things that anyone could legitimately have, like books or some nice etz chayim-themed poster or whathaveyou.

      2. I second Izzy. Avoid talking about Judaism. There is a specific obnoxious brand of conversion attempts by Christians toward Jews. And the letter writer is dealing with somebody who has clearly researched it, since there is the mention of Jewish to Christian conversion stories. They attempt to learn about Judaism and then show how Christianity is compatible with it, but the logical extension of it. Since Christianity was formed initially through Jews converting to it and Christianity does claim to follow the Torah, you can see how this sort of works. Then they’ll try to demonstrate how Christianity fulfilled Torah prophecies and how you can keep the Torah while still believing in Jesus. And I can see no way that this is a conversation the letter writer wants to have. This is a conversation that is probably less fun than stabbing oneself with a fork for most people on the receiving end of it. Avoid, avoid, avoid. Do not discuss religion with such people unless this is actually your idea of a good time.

      3. I love your comeback! I think a lot of proselytizers really don’t realize how incredibly disrespectful their assumptions are, and this puts it right out in front of them. I spent years studying before converting out of one major world religion and into another. It was shocking to me how many people from the “old” religion jumped up to tell me what a mistake I had made, as if them appearing at my door would have any bearing on a decision that took years to make. Or that those years could be undone with a simple pamphlet. Jeez.

    3. Going to your supervisor to ask how to handle it is not a bad move, but I wouldn’t bring in the “in MY country this is illegal!” thing, especially if (as seems likely) LW is American. I don’t know a lot about living Korea, but in the parts of East Asia I have lived and worked in, there’s a stereotype that Americans barge around insisting that every country should work just like theirs does, and any attempt to discuss how these things are handled in the US is likely to be seen that way and reacted to with offense/hostility. Bringing up legality also seems to invoke stereotypes of hyper-litigious Americans. If the LW does bring it up with their supervisor, I’d opt for a more personal focus–“I’m uncomfortable with this, what do you recommend I do?” Again, I can’t speak to Korea at all, but my experience outside the US is that people are really wary (understandably!) of Ugly-Americanism, and it pays to be careful about that lest you end up making things harder for yourself.

      1. Thank you ejtranslations for saying what I was going to say – but in a much better way.

        LW – Please don’t say anything about “In my country….” please do as the Captain suggests and make it about “I’m uncomfortable”

    4. I’m going to strongly disagree with this idea. I’ve lived in three different countries over the last four years and yeah… I have seen “well, in MY country!” go down like a lead balloon many many times. I think this goes double if you’re from the United States, since some US folk have a tendency to assume that their culture is widely accepted as good and right all over the world. (In fact, LW doesn’t mention their own nationality so good chance they are not even from the US). I think it would be a good idea for LW investigate Korean workplace laws in general and HR policies at the school, but making direct comparisons to their home country is going to come across as arrogant and condescending. The workplace laws of any other country are officially irrelevant in this situation.

      And I definitely wouldn’t recommend fibbing in an attempt to impose foreign social etiquette on a co-worker. Part of the challenge (and reward) of living in a foreign place is learning how to navigate the culture on it’s own terms. I think it’s fine to say “I’m not comfortable with this thing because we don’t do it where I’m from” (see: me and cheek kissing) but telling a native that they’re being rude for not conforming to your own (foreign) cultural expectations is… well, rude. Finally, I don’t think this is a culture thing at all, I think this is just an awkward person thing that could happen anywhere in the world: explicitly throwing a bucket of Cultural Difference into the mix is not going to help matters. I’d stick the Captain’s script for a smooth ride through.

      1. I totally get what you’re saying and why you’re saying it. However, my experience teaching in Korea (admittedly in a part that didn’t have the influx of foreigners like Seoul or Busan), is that they actively welcome those Korea/America comparisons. A casual “we don’t talk about religion in American workplaces” could change the course of the conversation into one that is enthusiastically interested in what other differences the LW notices.

        1. Plus, like, I hate to say it, but “We don’t talk about religion in American workplaces” might not even seem plausible to a Korean who’s been exposed to American missionaries or Americans who do talk about religion in their workplaces. It’s not entirely a true statement, unfortunately, not any more than, “America is a secular country, where religion never gets mixed up in politics.”

          1. I do think you might have luck invoking regional differences — like, “The U.S. is a big place, and in my particular state/city/neighborhood it’s frowned upon to [discuss religion at work.]” Or even, “My family is very private about religion.” I have used both of these entities as a defense with some success, and I think it sounds a bit less arrogant. (Though usually in the opposite direction — “I’m from the Midwest, where people often do [this very racist/sexist thing], so I’m extremely sensitive to that. Could you . . . not?”)

          2. That is true. One of the reasons this coworker could be pursuing it so hard is because his experience with foreigners is that they always want to talk about Jesus, so it seemed like a safe common-ground topic. I think there are a lot of variables that could inform how the LW handles this question.

          3. Actually, yes, I think Jane’s is a good suggestion – family might be a good way to go. “This is how my family does it.” “My family doesn’t x.” “Perhaps you could look it up online.”

            And I’m not saying that blanket statements about the US are wrong or necessarily unhelpful in this context. Just that an assertion that might not seem true might not help you establish boundaries.

          4. THIIIS

            I’ve often been approached, while leaving abroad, with enthusiastic Christians who’d been lead to believe by various missionaries that all westerners are Christians and that talking about Jesus with a total stranger is appropriate.
            One person (me) saying that it’s rude is not going to outweight all their co-religionists.

          5. Oddly enough when my oldest sister lived in Korea and then travelled through much of East Asia, she found that a lot of men would assume that or ask if she was Russian, with “Russian” apparently tending to mean “sex worker”. I think it became more common further inland, so not so much in Korea itself, but she got it a lot in Mongolia.

      2. Thanks to all those who pointed out that the “in MY country, we….” could go down as dismissive or as a negative cultural comparison. That was not my intent (obviously, I hope!) I envisioned saying this from a place of “Because things are done this way // in my country,// I am having reaction X. Please clarify for me how things are done // in your country, // so that I may best determine if my reaction is coming from a place of cultural differences or if my coworker is doing something he knows to be against YOUR country’s laws.” I didn’t want to assume that someone in Korea would actually know what is or isn’t kosher (sic) in American workplaces.

        (PS, it is not illegal to talk about religion at work in America and I didn’t mean to imply that. IT IS, however, absolutely illegal to create a hostile work environment based on religious discrimination. Years ago I had to go to Human Resources to ask them to deal with a coworker who was a Jehovah’s Witness and tirelessly evangelized to me, placed religious brochures on my desk, invited me ad nauseum to attend her church, and cornered me in the lunchroom to ask about my recent prayer life, and would not take polite “That’s interesting but maybe another time that is not work, oops is that my phone” for an answer. Because she was in a higher position as me, I didn’t feel I could be more aggressive with her, and I also felt that was the job of the Human Resources department. They are trained to know what should or shouldn’t go down in the workplace.)

        I hope the LW has come up with a solution or at least feels better about her reactions to this turkey’s nonsense.

    5. Constantly referring to America and your country/culture and how things are done there sounds very rude to me. I’m from Sweden and talking that way would fit very nicely with some negative stereotypes of Americans as pretty full of themselves and looking down on other cultures as if the American way is the right way.

      It’s probably better to keep it about you, and that it’s not something you are comfortable talking about.

      1. Mmmm. I’m from the UK – where a certain amount of common ground with the US is often assumed to exist – and I’m cringing at the idea of someone raising their hand and saying ‘stop doing that, it is rude in America’. That action, in Britain, would be excruciatingly rude in itself. I have zero problem with the idea of being direct, but invoking ‘rudeness’ is complicated even within the same culture, and a positive minefield when done between cultures. This is particularly the case given that the LW is the foreign visitor in this scenario – I can see how in some situations it might be beneficial to (sensitively) explain to someone that the behaviours they are accustomed to in their own culture as normal and polite are perceived differently in the culture they are visiting, but it’s the other way round here. So, by all means be clear, but I’d agree with the idea of owning it personally, rather than invoking the idea of rudeness.

    6. I don’t think this is culturally-sensitive advice at all.

      (And before I go ahead, I want to point something out: just like the United States, Korea doesn’t lump all foreign visitors into a single category. This applies to mostly-white Westerners in a relatively privileged position. And, like, LW is a public-school teacher, which changes the advice completely. Also, for whoever is reading: none of this advice about being polite and careful applies to sexual harassment, any sort of physical threat, bad faith, or wage theft.)

      I appreciate that LW wants to be direct with this person, and I appreciate how incredibly uncomfortable this is making her, but – based on my admittedly still limited experience – my gut is saying nope.

      First of all, if you have any sort of professional relationship with someone, you have to be diplomatic and polite. You do not cut them off with a gesture. You do not tell them to their face that they are being rude. You do not tell them that they are ignorant in any way that would reflect badly on them.

      That approach is likely to create all sorts of interpersonal conflict and ill will. It might get this guy to shut up (which, unqualified win!) but can also make your workplace extremely uncomfortable in many other ways.

      It might also make your boss angry, especially if she is a Christian herself.

      Remember, too, that foreigners are…foreigners. They are stereotyped as rude and coarse, as people who have no idea how to behave, who are weird and off-putting. It’s a barrier to social interactions and can lead to extremely condescending treatment from one’s coworkers and boss. That condescension can be much more irritating and demoralizing than any number of unwanted Jesus scrolls. LW does not want to do anything that would add to or support that impression.

      Another thing about foreigners is that they must be taken in and offered many gifts and invitations. It is very difficult for many Korean people to understand why most Americans have a huge amount of trouble with the sixth straight weekend of, “Let’s take you to church and then on a hike and then to a really nice restaurant where I will treat you to a large meal! Here, have some decorative seaweed! I brought you an aloe drink!” I suspect that’s happening here. LW is absolutely right that this is an attempt to convert her! But it is happening within this other, equally confounding tradition.

      Also HR typically doesn’t work the same way. Foreigners (and workers) do have legal protections, but HR probably isn’t going to sit this guy down and tell him to knock it off. The employee tasked with helping foreigners may not have any power over him or anyone else; chains of command in Korea tend to work a bit differently, and sometimes the foreigner-helper is just, like, the teacher too junior to get out of it – or the teacher most fluent in English, which is often the same thing. That doesn’t mean LW should put up with outright harassment or discrimination – in that case, public-school officials can and do step in and bosses can and do intervene. But it’s not like going to your HR lady to get her to tell Todd to stop leaving tracts on your chair. And, well, harassment and discrimination happen all the time in the US, and often go unpunished.

      Also…your boss is a last resort. And this can be useful and welcome information to her, but I don’t think you want to go hard on this for now. “In my culture, this is Not Done, in fact it is Illegal, and I am Very Upset and may Complain,” stands a big chance of making you, and by extension all members of your culture working at her school, the problem.

      I mean, look at what happens when evangelicals in this country are challenged on their tract-leaving. Is the typical response, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize that you considered this dehumanizing and offensive. Say no more!” Ha ha. Ha. Yeah. #roymoore

      This is my advice to the LW:

      I’m sorry you’re going through this. Acculturation and unfamiliarity are no excuse for insulting someone’s faith, and that is what is happening to you here, good intentions and godliness notwithstanding.

      I do think you can be direct with this guy, but I would suggest (a) being polite and (b) putting it on you. “I am committed to my own faith as a Jewish believer, and I am not interested in converting to Christianity. I know that you are also sincere, but I do not want to give a false impression. I do not think that we should talk more about Christianity. I would rather keep my own faith private. It is very important to me. I hope that you understand. Thank you.” and “I don’t know if I can answer these questions about Judaism – like Christianity, it’s a big topic! There are Jewish people living all over the world. Here are some resources. I hope that they can help you.” and then the Captain’s tried-and-true change the subject to work strategy. And then, “I don’t really know. Maybe you can look it up online.” And then just keep saying, “Thank you,” until he goes away.

      Also, and I hope this doesn’t sound culturally insensitive, passive-aggression is your best friend. (And here is where I would very much disagree with the Captain’s suggestion that you should engage him on other topics. That won’t work at all. Especially don’t ever ask him for advice or help again.) Avoid this man. Always be in a hurry. Do you have a phone? Call someone! Do you like books? Get one! Do you need help with anything? No! Do you have questions about Korea? Not a one! Do you have to go to the bathroom? All the time! Is it one minute after the end of your work day? What are you still doing there? You have a bus to sprint to! Is there another teacher present? You need to talk to her! And then to return to your office for some reason! Are you just standing there doing nothing? No! You are actually very busy! Do this as obviously (but cheerfully!) as possible.

      If anything will shame him into stopping, it’s this. Based on my experience, this is the clearest way to convey to this man that he has made you uncomfortable (who cares if he understands why?) and that you want to be left alone. And hopefully you won’t have to do it for too long.

      And as far as strangers and people you do not have to work with: You owe them nothing. You do not have to talk to them or answer questions at all. Shrug and smile and walk away. “I don’t know.” “I’m really not sure. Perhaps you can look it up online.” Don’t bother – and I really, really wouldn’t go to the trouble of printing out cards or anything similar. If you want to talk with people, that’s great, but you shouldn’t feel obligated.

      I know several people who’ve taught English in Korea, so I’m crowdsourcing this to see if I can get them to come here and comment. They’ll have more insight than I do.

      Good luck. And again, I’m really sorry that you’re going through this. I hope the rest of your gig is going well.

      Also, iherb dot com ships to Korea more or less for free. Coffee! Chocolate! Steel-cut oatmeal!

      1. Oh, this is so incredibly helpful, and thank you for explaining why the cultural thing makes it such a sticky situation. If you have the time, I posted a longer comment down-thread about the gift situation specifically, and why I can’t figure out what to do about that. Otherwise, the being busy and “I know that you are also sincere, but I do not want to give a false impression. I do not think that we should talk more about Christianity. I would rather keep my own faith private. It is very important to me. I hope that you understand. Thank you.” seem most likely to work.

        1. I’m glad I could be helpful! I experienced some of this too, from some very well-intentioned and friendly people, but I had policy to fall back on. Like I said, I know people who are far more experienced and sophisticated than I am. Hopefully they can chime in. Scrolling down….

          1. Hi Eot-i, and piny 1

            I am an American Buddhist monk living in Korea ( Busan ) and I have lived here in Korea for 14 years.

            Thank you to piny 1 for putting it clearly. Be busy and get out. It’s spring, finally, and there are better places to be than the office. Prepare stuff on your computer at a coffee shop or any place other than the office.

            From my experience, culturally, if you are the only native speaker there, you are unfortunately on your own. Unless you know the office culture there at the school, or are friends with any of the teachers, they just won’t understand why you have a problem, because they ignore him, and it will be your problem. Any other co-workers have to work with the person, or avoid him. They won’t want to get involved. You are temporary, they have to keep working with him.

            From my friend, here is a good mantra that you can start repeating to him if he doesn’t respect your boundaries.

            In English- We should respect each other’s religion

            sun-seng-nim, seo-ro jong-gyo-neun jon-jung-hey-yo

            선생님, 서로 종교는 존중해요. jon-jung ha-da means to respect

            In English- stop talking to me about religion ( the verb form is polite declarative, non-honorific )

            sun-seng-nim,, jong-gyo-jeok-in ee-ya-gi-neun ha-ji- mal- ah-sey-yo

            선생님, 종교적인 이야기는 하지 말 아세요.

            Regarding the previous gifts, as was mentioned, find a nice home for them. For future gifts:

            In English– I don’t need any gifts, thank you.

            sun-mul pil-yo-oeps-sey-yo. kam sam ni da.

            선물 필요 없어요. 감사합니다.

            These messages said to him, firmly, politely, as indirectly ( somewhat privately, so he does not lose face ) but as directly as possible will bring the point home to him.

            In any other situation in Korea with religious stuff in your face, it’s spring. Sun glasses, head phones, and set yourself to __ ignore.__
            It takes a while to do this. What would you do in a large city in Canada or US? Someone harmless is in your personal space on the street. I think we get culture blinded in a foreign country, worried about– is this the right thing to do here? Should I react this way? How will other people respond if I act this way? Some times, it’s the first time to have this kind of experience. We don’t have a back up plan.

        2. This is excellent advice. I’ve also found that in response to direct conversion attempts, it sometimes helps to add, “and I couldn’t do that to my grandparents” to my polite brush-off. In Taiwan people usually accept being a good daughter/granddaughter as an acceptable excuse. Don’t know about Korea.

          1. I don’t generally comment here and just had to jump in because I’m SO incredulous at how that works for you! I’m a Christian and from Taiwan, and LW’s situation really ticks me off. It’s annoying even when you are a believer to have this kind of behavior come up, or the “you’re not living in a lifestyle holy enough” or whatever because I don’t go to Bible study 5 times a week or.

            “I couldn’t do that to my parents” would inspire such scary, fervent full-family conversion attempts because in Chinese Christianity, that has always been one of the biggest deterrents to people converting. Your mileage may vary, LW, but in my circle of Taiwanese family and friends, I would NOT try that if I were an atheist. It may work like it does for Kitts, or if you’re talking to my family, they might go nuts on you over it.

        3. Hey, LW – I heard back from a friend with more experience, and she said that it was okay to tell your coworker that he’s being rude/insensitive. I still do think it’s a good idea not to be rude about pointing this out, but she’s a lot more knowledgeable than me, so I’d trust her imprimatur. She also suggested complaining to other sympathetic Korean coworkers, so that they can get him to knock it off because he’s making the foreigner uncomfortable.

          I think I’d also suggest that you take this opportunity to find other places to socialize without much pressure – knitting groups, coffee dates, awful expat bars, whatever. Culture shock will creep up on you, and IME it’s due for a flareup pretty soon. It sounds like you want to be very immersive and conscientious, which is great, but do give yourself opportunities to take breaks. Living in a foreign culture is stressful in some very subtle ways.

          I hope you take care, and that you enjoy the rest of your time in Korea.

      2. I agree that the cultural issues make this extra thorny, in addition to possible language barrier stuff. My best response when living abroad and being evangelized to is to keep things respectful and short and in language that I felt complete mastery over, in terms of cultural connotations. They usually took the form of: “I deeply respect and honor . I know that it is a religion of peace, but I am also deeply committed to , which is also a religion of peace.” The more detailed or convoluted things get, the further I felt led down the evangelical garden path, so I found myself going back to those kinds of simple, respectful statements often.

        1. Oops, my brackets around “local religion” and “my religion” caused the text to disappear. That should read: “I deeply respect and honor “local religion” and know that it is a religion of peace, but I am deeply committed to “my religion,” which is also a religion of peace”. The religion of peace thing is locally significant, and may not be helpful to add in LW’s situation, but LW might have a sense of what locally valuable statement could be added in for extra deference and politeness.

      3. I second all of this! Also add me to all the people saying that going with “In America we don’t do XX” is likely not the best path*.

        *I think that it is POSSIBLE that that some comment like this could do the trick, for some people, but as has been said, there’s also a real risk of coming off as rude or alienating yourself from your Korean colleagues, so imho best to stay on the safe side. Also, if you do end up going down this path, definitely make it more like “Americans aren’t used to doing this” and not “In America it’s ILLEGAL to do this”.

        (Source: I’ve spent a bit of time in Korea, and more time in another Asian country where religion is not really an issue, but there are similar dynamics with expectations about friendliness and politeness and gift-giving and so on. This obviously makes me in NO WAY an expert on the subject, and I hope that more people with experience in Korea weigh in, but everything that piny1 said rings true in my experience!!)

        1. I agree that “in America this wouldn’t fly” isn’t the way to go, but don’t be afraid to pull the “I’m a foreigner, I feel I may not be expressing myself accurately or that I’m missing something in our conversations because of the language/culture gap,” kind of thing, if you feel like a conversation is getting awkward.

      4. I think this is great advice.

        I also live and work in Korea, and I will agree that the absolute best way to avoid ths situation is to be busy doing work as often as possible. The Korean people have a very strong work ethic and are likely to respect that you are busy doing work. Try not to embarrass him by shutting him down in front of other people, but the “I have to work” excuse can’t really be embarrassing, right? Also, if you are “busy” enough times, he will (very probably) eventually give up. I’ve had to do that with a couple of evangelizers in and around the office, although mine did not seem so persistent as yours.

        I have also received several small gifts and have attempted to return them in kind with food/drinks/American candy I think they would enjoy, but I don’t feel obligated to return every one.

        Enjoy your time in Korea, and explore as much as possible. It really is a wonderful experience.

      5. Add me to the column voting for be busy ALL the time.

        I spent a year as an athiest living in Korea and working for public school among some very devout Christians. While they were, for the most part, very nice people, no amount of changing the subject stopped them from making at least weekly invites for me to go to church with them. Everytime, I graciously told them it was a very nice offer, but not my thing, and if asked why, I would say that I didn’t believe in God. The offers did not stop.

        However, my would-be saviors were less persistent than yours sounds. If he’s older than you, you know that his advanced place in society (along with his advanced position in school–everyone is above the waygooks) may be playing a role in his feeling that he knows what’s best for you and is just trying to help you/show you the best way. It was a persistent feeling among myself and my foreigner friends that we were being parented by our coworkers who had home court advantage so to speak. They know the language and how to shop and use the bank machines and you don’t, so there is often a dynamic in which you are treated as though you don’t know anything about the world.

        The best advice I got for dealing with this came from a co-teacher who had above average fluency and interest in western culture and how it compared with her own. She told me that all the older people give advice to the younger people all the time, but the younger people don’t always take it, and rarely is anyone offended when they don’t. The giving of advice (or actual physical gifts for that matter) is more about maintaining relationships through being “helpful” than expecting to actually fix their problems. The impression I got from this teacher was that a smile, nod, and “uh huh” were sufficient. A noncommittal “uh huh” or even flat out lie “that’s interesting, I’ll think about that” with no intention of following through may be the easiest course of action here, especially if you’re ONLY there for six months.

        And to save your own sanity and avoid going over and over and over the topic. Be busy. Do you have headphones at your desk? Get some. Wear them even when there is no sound coming out of them. You’re obviously busy choosing videos for class or going over the dialogues in the text book. (There is nothing more compelling than “Hi, I’m Minsu,” ” Hi, I’m Kate,” when someone you don’t want to talk to comes around. )

        1. I had a chance to chat to the wife of the curate at my church this evening – they’re both South Korean – and she said much the same thing; in Korea, the older people give advice all the time but the younger people don’t necessarily always follow it – giving advice is just what (perceived) senior people *do*. She said not to take it too much to heart but be quite casual about it, but reciprocal gifts of American candy would be a great idea as it subtlely hints back on just what level you place their attempts at conversion in a way that won’t cause offense and allows both parties to save face. She also said though that if they persist after gifts of candy then the co-worker is actually being rude, in which case it’s fine to be a little more blunt to said co-worker (though LW going to a superior would be hugely embarrassing for Co-worker – but yes, don’t make any mention about it being “rude or illegal in my country” as, after all, LW is not in their own country and when living and working in another country you’re expected to abide by the laws and social mores of that country and saying that would actually come across as quite rude of the LW).

          1. jclarkwriter and arkadyrose, thank you for your insights. That’s really good to know, and I’m glad to read what you said about reciprocating with candy-type gifts. I was worried I was being rude by not giving my own presents, but I was also really nervous about accidentally encouraging more religion talk. I’m so glad I wrote in; the captain and the comments have been amazingly helpful!

    7. Another person here to say “well this is rude or illegal in my country” not only has a high likelihood of coming off as rude and insensitive, but also is probably not going to be as effective as LW needs. “We don’t talk about religion in the workplace in the U.S.” invites responses like “well, you’re in Korea now, so let’s chat!” or “it’s okay, you won’t get in trouble, tell me what you think of all these things I’m saying!” or “wow, did you come here open to learning about our culture or do you just want to change us?” or a million other things. I’m guessing that none of these are conversational paths the LW wants to follow any more than the conversion path.

      The point of sticking with “this is very private for me, and I don’t like to discuss it, *subject change*” is that you are setting a boundary around the conversational paths you will and will not follow, based on your personal agency, which you will expect decent human beings to respect just because you’re worthy of respect. There are times when you need to call on other factors to back you up, but “please don’t talk about this because I don’t want to” is the best starting point.

    8. That is a TERRIBLE idea for one huge reason:
      When you are a guest worker/foreign person/otherwise non-citizen whose legal residence is dependent on having your job, then you really have no cards to play in the event that, rightly or wrongly, your workplace doesn’t back you up. That is, if you escalate and leave that job over this, you also lose your visa/residence permit in the process.

      Even if there is a law or policy in Korea like the one you describe, if the workplace doesn’t decide to enforce it, then the LW has absolutely no recourse.
      If they quit the job over this issue, they have to move out of the country, which is going to be expensive and difficult in any case, and especially so at the last minute (without even getting into the details of whatever employment contract they have with the school).

      When working outside your country of citizenship, you *really* don’t have that kind of latitude.

  4. Evangelising – and ignoring all attempts to graciously bow out – is one of the most profoundly rude things that people can do; it’s almost like saying “I know you – who you really are, and what’s good for you – better than you do, and I will ride roughshod over your protestations until I have completely remade you in my own image” (with the exception of ” *everyone* should read Captain Awkward Dot Com”, of course, because this is actually true 😉 (dunno about The Wire)).
    When the thing being evangelised about is religion, it’s even worse because most of us probably live in societies where – as the Captain notes – religion is supposed to get an Extra Special free pass for some reason that other beliefs and opinions aren’t entitled to.
    So I think the Captain’s advice and scripts are really useful; it’s a fine line between being absolutely courteous and yet absolutely firm, which I find difficult to tread. I shall be trying to remember these (or an approximation of them) for my own use!
    Wishing you the best of luck with it, OP!

    1. Well, there are a lot of much ruder things people can do, but I agree with you that evangelizing has a particular rudeness. I think it’s because basically nice people aren’t deliberately rude, but if they have a zeal (for religion, alternative medicine, animal rights, anti-vaccine beliefs, whatever) then they think it grants them permission to be rude. So you’re caught off guard by a person’s general niceness, and then you hit a wall when you expect them to immediately back off when you gently explain that you’d rather not discuss a topic to which they would like to convert you.

    2. Religion gets an Extra Special Free Pass because it’s even more divisive than politics and fights bring everyone down. Plus, if you have to see someone every weekday, having an ongoing argument with them is going to get in the way. This is why workplaces often have an unofficial “no religion no politics news only about dogs” policy. I’d love it if “don’t poke the vegetarians” and “no talking about high-profile rape cases” were part and parcel of that. Work is a place to do work things as well as you can and natter about inconsequential things, not be constantly bothered by someone trying to save your soul/release you from the evil clutches of religion. The current INTENSE FEUDS in my office are “dogs vs cats” and “mangos: great or terrible?” and this is the way it should be.

      Out here on the interweb is actually quite a nice place to discuss these fraught topics, as you can go away and have a cup of tea at any time.

    3. “Well, I am following the example set by all 12 Apostles, and Jesus himself… By being Jewish.”

      1. While fun, it is unlikely to work. That’s actually the perfect lead-in for a Jews-for-Jesus sort of approach of you can still be Jewish and also Christian and follow Jesus and let me tell you all about how that would work even though you do not want to discuss religion with me and do not have any desire to be converted… I’ve seen this approach first-hand before. I have a particular loathing for people who try to pull it on me. Fortunately the letter writer doesn’t seem as angry about the whole thing yet, and as it’s a co-worker, it’s definitely best to avoid getting to that point.

  5. Echoing the Captain’s sentiment that it’s probably best to Be Teflon in this. Because I wear religious dress, people are often Shocked And Amazed if I don’t want to discuss religion with them. I’m still working on getting my “nope” game down when it comes to strangers trying to bond with me over how great Jesus is, but “Religion is a very private topic for me” is some of the best Teflon I’ve found.

  6. I go to synagogue regularly, and I still fall into the agnostic-and-would-rather-not-talk-about-it camp. Whereas Christians I meet tend to assume that my synagogue attendance means that I’m open to discussions about God and “your faith” (a term I hate).

    If I’m feeling combative, I’ll sometimes try doorstep evangelists with, “You want to talk about the Bible, but you’ve only ever read it in translation. Would you consider yourself an expert on Shakespeare, if you’d only read his plays in, say, French? Well, given how much more significant the Bible is for you than Shakespeare, and given that translation is an ambiguous and often inaccurate art, perhaps we both need to acquire the necessary skills to read and analyse the Bible in its original languages before we have this conversation.”

    That said, it can descend into “the word of God transcends the limits of language”, so possibly better used with street evangelists than with colleagues.

    1. A Jewish friend here has successfully diverted street preachers with “Jesus was a Jew, and so am I!” and walking on by. It opens an M.C. Escher drawing-like spiral of confusion, with the advantage of being true.

      1. Years back, when I was travelling in Zimbabwe, I shared a hostel bedroom with South African missionaries. One of them asked if I wanted to come and watch them proselytise in a township. I told him I was Jewish, and intended to stay that way. “Our lord Jesus Christ was Jewish,” he said. “So I respect that.”

        I went with them. They played rock music and cast out demons. It was one of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve ever had.

        1. PS, because I realise that this may sound a bit like “I was safe from the missionaries, so I could sit back and watch while they tried it on with poor people in the developing world” – I think the township residents were as amused by it all as I was. End derail.

          1. That’s one of the few parts of that show that misses the mark, IMO. The rest of it is pretty good.

      2. This is sorta OT, but along those lines…. One day I was walking and there was a young man ahead of me who was approaching people as they walked by. He made a short pitch and the people he spoke to suddenly looked stiff and uncomfortable and they ignored him. I assumed that he was asking for money (either personally or for a donation to some cause) and so got my usual answer ready. He approached me, said his thing REALLY FAST, I said my thing and it wasn’t until three steps later that my brain caught up with my ears. He hadn’t been asking for money.

        Dude: “I just want you to know that Jesus loves you, ma’am!”
        Me: “Not today, thanks.”

      3. When I first moved to New York, there was a very very persistent Jehovah’s Witness in my building, who came by with literature at least once a week. I tried many many ways of dealing with the unwanted visits, including hiding, but when it became clear she wouldn’t take my “thank you, but no thank you,” no matter how many times I said it, I finally opened the door one day, looked at her and said, “I’m gay, Catholic, and a hematologist. Thank you, but no thank you.” She never came back after that.

        1. Whenever a Jehovah’s Witness turns up on my doorstep (they’re very frequent in my parts) I’m always tempted to use House’s (from House, M.D.) line, “Oh, you’re selling religion! I’m sorry, I bought some Islam yesterday.” Mind you, I’d probably substitute Paganism for Islam, since it’s my actual faith. Sadly I’m too nice and they’re usually decent folks that I’d rather not be jerkish to anyway, although they’ve recently started showing up asking about my sheep (I have a flock, and am always happy to talk to potential buyers/people interested in sheep) and then after a few minutes switching the conversation to ‘we are all God’s Sheep’, which is incredibly annoying.

          In Jehovah’s-Witness-leaving success stories, my female cousin once answered the door to an extremely persistent pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses while nude and entwined with her equally nude and female roomie. They never came back. And my awesome grandmother once converted a visiting Jehovah’s Witness into coming to HER church through a series of nice chats + tea and biscuits.

          1. I’d be tempted to respond to “God’s Sheep” with “Will He be stopping by to shear me soon, or am I being raised for meat?”

          2. I can’t believe your ownership of a flock of sheep was just an aside in that story.

        2. The Jehovah’s Witnesses set up camp in my university’s campus center about once a week. For some reason, they always seemed to want to talk to me in particular (frustrating, since I was an evolutionary anthro major).
          They eventually stopped bugging me, after they invited me to a Creationism debate, and I responded with “I’m sorry. I have to go to the Pagan Society’s Yule Ball that night.” The best part was, it was actually true, too. Listening to filk music and eating pizza was a much better use of my time.

        3. My maternal grandparents were Christadelphian (fundamentalist Christian long before being fundamentalist was “cool”, one of the core practices consisted of reading a chapter of the bible every day). Their method of getting rid of the JWs was very simple – they invited them in, gave them tea and cake, and then began to talk matters biblical. The JWs would stick around for an hour or so, being out-argued all the way about what certain passages meant, and never come back again.

          (They also lived in a country town. I think their place was a regular place of testing for any high-flying boastful types sent down from the Big City to the local JW or Mormon congregations to show the yokels how to do things.)

          1. I used to teach Bible study in a Christadelphian youth group years ago. Christadelphians definitely win hands-down against JWs in a exegesis duel. 🙂

          2. I periodically get Mormons showing up on my little farm. For some reason it’s always during chores and I tell them I’m happy to talk about God but they’re going to have tohelp feed goats.

            The JWs no longer come by. The last team showed up in the middle of butcher day for roosters and I had one bled out and needed to get it processed. Apparently they find it hard to talk about their faith while watching someone disembowel a chicken.

      4. Ah, but the Jews for Jesus people will tell you they’re doing Jew-ish better than you, that you should really try some Jesus along with your Jewing.

        I HATE IT SO MUCH. Why can’t they do their thing (Jesus plus halakhah, fine! I have no problem with that!) without calling it Judaism?! Why do they have to claim Judaism as a space, and proselytize us? GET YOUR OWN NAME, GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT, RAWRRRR

        1. There’s a Jews for Jesus bookstore where I live in Australia and having very little Jesus and even fewer Jews, I found the whole concept very confusing.

      5. I once stopped a Mormon missionary in his tracks on a Friday night with “I’d love to take a copy of the book of Mormon but I don’t carry on the Sabbath.”

    2. I am an amateur scholar of Biblical Languages, and have a bookshelf right next to the front door (I have bookshelves against most walls, tbh). I do enjoy it when doorstep evangelists give me an opening to reach over, grab a Hebrew or Greek scripture, and flip it open. About 90% get this wonderful, “I was not trained for this” look. The other 10% get a, “You don’t seem to want to discuss the Bible, so I’d like you to please leave now.” and a firm door shut in their faces. (I did once try the “I’m queer and tattooed, if I joined you’d have to excommunicate me” and the next week they were back to pray over me and exorcise my demons so I don’t recommend that method).

      In the workplace I have it a little backwards than some of the responses I see here. I will sometimes get questions like, “Wait, YOU go to CHURCH?!?” because I live in one of the least organized religious states in the US, and see above re queer and tattooed. I shrug and say, “The Lord works in mysterious ways” and change the subject quickly. If people go beyond that and it’s not “what do you mean you set things on fire in church?”*, I say, “That’s really not something I discuss, let’s talk about something else.”

      *I sometimes serve in church services as thurifer, which is the person swinging hot coals and incense at the end of a chain in certain old school churches.

      1. There’s the story of a Brandeis professor who responded to a cheerful “I’d like to talk to you about the Bible!” with an exhausted sigh and “All right, what do you want to know?”

        1. A minister I know had a story of some very confused mormons who managed to hit his place when going door to door, after an hour of intense debate they decided to leave him alone, but a week later they were back with their mentor to try again. The minister was living at the well-marked manse (in this case the house beside and on the same property as the church), with his office hours posted (in small font but still!) on the door.

          Even when he pointed out that he had a PhD in divinity studies in his denomination and had dedicated his adult life to being a minister in his faith, they still tried to convert him. O.o

        2. I was praying in a minyan at a friend’s house one morning, when there was a knock on the door. We were all wearing tallits (prayer shawls) and tefillin (leather strappy things that go on your hands and forehead) and holding prayer books, ie being Really Visibly Religiously Jewish. When my friend opened the door, there was a (we assume) Jehovah’s Witness who asked her, “Have you read the Bible?” I can’t remember what my friend said but it was basically “errr, what do you think?

      2. The campus chaplaincy I was involved with in college had a cabinet position called Master of Fire. This person lit the candles, served as thurifer on those rare occasions we used incense, kindled the new fire for the Great Vigil of Easter, and was in charge of the grill at cookouts. (It also had a cabinet position for Pastry Chef, which was created and to which I was elected at a meeting I missed. I’d already been making all the desserts for group suppers, so it didn’t exactly make a difference.)

        Also, I had a great-uncle who was a priest, and he tended to deal with the door-to-door proselytizers the same way after he retired.

        1. Erm, the first part of that was mostly meant to be a “thurifers rule and getting to set stuff on fire in church is awesome” kind of thing in response to Mary Sue. I realize now it wandered a bit.

    3. My favorite experience with dealing with a proselytizer was on a ten-hour flight back from Israel, where I was initially delighted to be sitting next to a super-cute boy. Who, eventually, decided that he wanted to convert me to Christianity. We debated back and forth for about an hour, until he pulled out his trump card: he used some verse in Isaiah or Jeremiah to prove that the prophets had exactly predicted the number of days and years before Jesus was supposed to be born. He started doing lots of math to prove this. I watched him for a few moments, then went, “oh, you’re using the Gregorian calendar, aren’t you? But that wasn’t even in existence until the 18th century. The prophets at that time would have used the Hebrew calendar, which is a luni-solar calendar that is only 354 days long, and has a nineteen-year cycle of leap months to make it roughly equivalent to a solar calendar, but it’s still not the same…”

      He did not speak to me for the rest of the flight.

      I generally do not engage with street proselytizers or people who show up at my doorstep, on the theory that there’s no room for either of us to move so there’s no point in having the discussion, and I take the Captain’s approach for dissuading people who try to convert me with a, “I’m very happy to answer your questions about Judaism, I know plenty about Christianity, and I’m very happy in my current faith,” but I will go out of my way to confront the Jews for Jesus people, because they are *lying* about what *my* faith says, so it goes far beyond “live and let live”.

      1. Awesome, awesome, awesome move pulling out the Hebrew calender. I love showing condescending know-it-alls that they actually know very little.

      2. I’m a Christian and this is my EXACT type of response to most proselytizers. Most people simply do not know their faith well before they start forcing it on everyone else, and I am a practicing but hopefully open-minded Christian. It may be a jerk move, but pointing out the gaps in their knowledge really forces them to back the eff off.

    4. As a lackadaisical Catholic, I feel a tiny bit weird about the “You should not talk about religion unless you have an enormous amount of formal education relating to it” argument. Once upon a time, a main point of (very valid) criticism aimed at the church was the fact that people couldn’t read their own scripture in their own native language. Same argument much later drove some of the changes at Vatican II.

      As a method of deflecting proselytizers, it is clearly effective, however!

      1. I don’t think they’re trying to say that you shouldn’t talk about religion unless you have a formal education in it, just that proselytization is rather rude, period, (and that continually trying to convince someone who seems very satisfied in their own religion to convert to a different one is supremely arrogant).

        1. I politely disagree — the original suggestions indicated the view that unless you speak/read the original language your religious book was written in (which for most people would require a fair bit of formal education or, at least, a lot of time on your hands to educate yourself), you are not properly equipped to discuss said religion. I agree 100%, btw, that proselyzing is rude and arrogant. I just am not sure how I feel about combating it with something that in a certain light looks like elitism.

        2. PS: But I am flipping this in my mind and thinking, you know, it’s good for the proselytizing types to get a kick in the pants and realize that somebody other than a fellow devout person actually knows a lot about their scripture/history of the religion etc.

          I think overall, accessibility in religious faith is good. Anyway! Just debating myself in my own head, this is a great topic.

          1. For me, the distinction is whether someone is aggressively *proselytizing* vs just *discussing* their religion. Certainly you don’t need an academic background to talk about your personal religious experiences and beliefs, and it would be quite obnoxious to walk up to random believers and start an academic debate. But when someone starts going out into the world convinced that They Are Right and everyone else who isn’t of their faith is Wrong and Ignorant, and harassing strangers to that end, they deserve a reality check that the greater ignorance may be theirs.

          2. Yeah, my opinions on this are basically in line with hummingbear’s. Accessibility is good and knowledge is good. Being a proselytizing jerk who won’t leave people alone is not good.

    5. I’ve done that. In part because I studied Hebrew for about nine years, starting at age six, getting my parents to move temples so I could study, because I had true faith. I had been told there was a book written by a divine being that held the answers in life. And if that was true, then obviously the most important thing in life was to be able to read it. I think if you study a language for many years, truly trying to learn it, and are unable to do so (as I have been unable to learn any second language despite hard work), then it can make sense to conclude that your personal path does not include reading this book in the original.That, for you, it is enough to read the translation. But to not try is not something I can personally reconcile with true faith in following a book. I also know people of faith whose faith is for a religion with a deeply religious text, but they feel that the text aids them and inspires them, but is not the core of their faith is not from a book so much as it is personal. There are a lot of beliefs where I could see not needing to learn the language. But if you’re going door-to-door to tell me how important reading a particular book is, and you haven’t tried to read it yourself… I’ve then had the person come back with the “but the translations are divine… because we wouldn’t be set up to read poor translations” come back. It wasn’t until later I realized the blatant flaw in that argument given the belief system of the person I was talking to: indulgences. I really should have asked them if they thought buying indulgences to get out of Purgatory faster was truly divinely-inspired. I don’t think anyone believes in that currently, but it’s a matter of historical record that that belief was created entirely out of a translation error in the Latin. Protestantism was created because somebody studied an original language of the Bible and then realized there were translation issues and wanted them fixed. And while Catholicism obviously kept to following the Pope, I am fairly sure even modern Catholicism no longer believes in indulgences. So, if you get into that situation and actually want to make that argument, then you can bring up indulgences. The letter writer, of course, is still best off avoiding the whole subject.

  7. I don’t have much advice to add, but as a lifelong (non-straight-angry-white-dude) atheist raised in the South, boy do I ever feel this. Add the fact that I’m not a joiner, and I even get this from the “Come join our atheist club!” people. I have yet to handle one of these conversations without feeling like a deer in the headlights, but the only strategy that is even vaguely effective for me is Do Not Engage. The trick is accepting that victory in this situation is not convincing your Evangelical that your faith (or lack thereof, in my case) is Right For You, because that is an argument that you cannot win, but that You Are Not Discussing This. For me, this can be tough to swallow, but in the end I’d rather be left alone than waste my righteous indignation on people like this.

    1. I feel you on the “not being a joiner” thing. I’m Christian and I get the “Come join our club!” “why don’t you go to Bible study twice a week?” type thing from fellow Christians all the time. What’s really helped me has been realizing that “No thank you” or even “No” is a complete sentence, and I’m free to walk away after saying it. It is so hard, but I would rather do that than to be preached to about my own religion when I’m not in church.

  8. My mum’s family is fairly catholic and one of the one’s I’ve said a few times is “I don’t consider myself religious, but I remember attending mass in Italy and feeling like part of something global, which was a really nice way to feel when I was travelling alone and far from family and friends.”

    In this context that might look like “For me being Jewish is a personal and cultural experience that makes me feel connected to people around the world. I respect your experience and I understand that you want me to have the same thing but I think it’s great that we can each find happiness and fulfilment in different ways.”

  9. Speaking as someone who used to be part of a convert-’em-all type of faith, including doing the street-corner proselytizing, you can be a lot more blunt. A lot more. Compared to the outright rudeness other people say to them, you don’t want to sound sweetly not-quite-interested, because it comes across in their worldview as “potentially interested, please keep trying different approaches.”

    Handy scripts for the street approach: “I am very happy with my current beliefs.” or “I am not interested in learning more.” Keep walking. Don’t specify what your current belief/faith situation is, but shake your head no, don’t make eye contact, and keep walking away. Sometimes the quickest way out is to say “I’m in a hurry, but I’ll take a pamphlet” (or whatever they are handing out), and then don’t feel bad about tossing it in the first recycle bin you see.

    I would suggest refusing any future overtly Christian gifts from your colleagues. I know it is rude to refuse a gift, but your colleague took advantage of that aspect of etiquette in order to force gifts on you that are things he wants you to have, rather than things he actually thinks you would want. You could say, “I cannot accept this, because it is incompatible with my beliefs,” and point to the overtly Christian message on it. Explain that just like you refrain from pork products, you also refrain from any items or activities that are expressly Christian.

    1. I’d like to second this. For members of religions that specifically encourage proselytizing and missionary work, “soft no’s” are rarely taken as the Real No’s they are. Faith and religion are tricky subjects and are usually very close to people’s hearts. I know that most people don’t want to offend someone on purpose if they can avoid doing so. But sometimes people take advantage of this in order to up the Pushiness Factor, with the sincere belief that they are truly doing you a favor. They think, after all, your salvation is at stake so it would be more rude of them NOT to keep pushing their beliefs on you.

      I’d recommend straightforward “No” as a complete sentence whenever possible. It saves time, and I think ultimately in the long run it saves both people a lot of stress.

    2. My go to for street proselytizers is always a polite smile and a ‘No thank you, I already have a Faith.’ then keep walking.
      They usually are polite enough to leave me alone.

      1. And if they’re clever enough to accost you at a bus stop, when you CAN’T keep walking?

        1. They’ve done this to me, and I honestly say, “No thanks,” and then avoid eye contact. It’s very disconcerting trying to talk to someone who won’t make eye contact with you. This is harder if they get you knee-deep in conversation before starting to talk about religion. Maybe you could try something like, “I don’t discuss religion. You’d better wait for someone else to talk to about that!”

          If it continues, say, “I’m sorry, I have to send a work email”… then just pull out your phone/tablet/device and do something with it. Rude, perhaps, but very typical for the current Korean culture (at least in Seoul, I know you said you were more rural).

        2. I think in that case, the Broken Record Tactic would be my go-to.

          “No, not today.” “No, thank you.” “No, not interested. Have a nice day!” “No. Also, I have to make a phone call, do you mind?” “No. Gosh, look at my wrist, time flies, you must be so busy, don’t let me keep you!” Or, my favourite, wearing headphone everywhere so if someone tries to talk to you, you get to do the *remove one headphone* “Sorry? Oh, no thanks” *replace heaphone*-routine, which I find makes very clear that the conversation is over.

          If they really won’t stop talking to you, there’s always the blank look of I-Can’t-See-You, although that one might take a bit of practise.

        3. This is where carrying a book/magazine/music device with big earphones/phone or gaming device is SUPER helpful. “No, sorry, I can’t talk now” *make large show of pulling out your weapon of choice and busying yourself with it*
          “But wait I still want to accost you!”
          “Sorry, I’m busy.” or “I need some time to do this right now, thanks.” or “Please leave me alone.” I live in a university town and people are ALWAYS trying to start conversations at the bus stop, but sending out clear can’t-you-see-my-book-is-more-interesting-then-you-go-away signals with face, body language, and short, non-confrontational(if possible) disengagements generally kills the enthusiasm.

        4. One time I looked at someone who was talking at me (I think it was the local socialist alliance, rather than an evangelist?) with complete hurt and anxiety on my face and loudly said “Just please leave me ALONE”. I was honestly stressed out by it and I think that came through. This is a big break from the normal etiquette, and the normal patterns that people are used to, so it can be effective in convincing people to turn off their pitch. I also think it’s kind of apropriate to throw some awkward on them – they’ve ignored soft ‘no’s and hard ‘no’s and they’ve crossed the line from annoying into bothering or harassing. But, obviously, this kind of confrontation is not something that everyone is comfortable with.

    3. For the street-corner proselytizers, you could think of them as telemarketers. Or that is, you can think of how you respond to them as how you might respond to a telemarketer.

      When I get a call from one, I’m very quick to cut them off and ask to be put on the do-not-call list. I’m not rude when I do that, but I’m firm and direct and quick. (Eve’s suggestions above are great for the proselytizers.) Because I’m not rude when I do this, I think of myself as just one of the series of rejections that person got that day. Yes, telemarketing is a tough, hard, sucky job; but telemarketers need to learn quickly to not take rejection personally. So when I cut them off, I don’t mean it personally and I don’t feel bad about rejecting them. It’s just all part of a normal day’s work for them. If the telemarketer does take it personally, well, that’s not my responsibility. I wasn’t trying to be mean. (Yes, I know just because intentions are good, it doesn’t mean that words can’t hurt, but here, its all part of the job.)

      The proselytizers will need to learn this skill quickly too; and your quick “no” gets them on to their next prospect quickly.

      Of course, different skills/tactics are needed with your coworker.

      1. I think that cutting them off quickly is a kindness, rather than sitting through their spiel only to say no after they’ve done all their explaining. I usually just say, “I’m not interested, have a nice day,” and hang up.

      2. I have more sympathy for telemarketers than proselytisers. Telemarketers are doing it because they need a job. Proselytisers don’t have that excuse.

    4. I used to be stopped quite regularly in Birmingham (the UK one) by what I could only take to be recruiters for some cult. Their method was to ask people what they would change about themselves, or didn’t like about their lives; that sort of thing. I used to take great pleasure in professing perfect happiness and telling them there was nothing about myself I wanted to change – they never seemed to expect that as an answer, and just looked mildly baffled…

      1. I once had a door-to-door guy open with, “What do you think is the most important thing?”
        To which I responded, “Right this minute, solitude.”
        And he said something like, “oh… ok,” and went away.

        1. A Mission Mormonary once wanted to know what I would ask God if they existed.
          I said “Why bilateral symmetry?” and it was wonderful.

          1. When I was in graduate school, I got proselytized at the student union, and it was this same “what question would you want to ask God?” thing. I started nattering on about my dissertation project since some key bits of information cannot be obtained with current technology. The proselytizer did not have any pre-packaged answers for science questions, and I hope she rethought her strategy of bugging strangers coming out of Counseling Services.

            Since I am an unbaptized member of a Minority Religion, I used to get bugged a lot when I was younger (either my self-defense training or my increasing age seems to insulate me now). The worst time I remember was flying back home from a horrid work project after being sick all night. I was polite to a youngish guy in the airport, and he would not leave me alone. There is something particularly hellish about someone completely ignoring your boundaries with a big condescending smile on their face. If I hadn’t been using every ounce of my energy to just get on the damn plane, I would have made a huge scene. But then boundary crossers always attack when you’re at your weakest.

      2. That sounds like a Scientologist tactic – I see them quite rarely now, though we get Mormons on the regular and Jehovah’s Witnesses standing on street corners. (Also in Birmingham, West Midlands, so I’m guessing they’re the same people).

        We’ve stopped getting people coming door to door because it turns out politely discussing theology and the history and construction of the Bible *isn’t* what they want? Which is a pity, because I really enjoy it.

      3. Generally my favorite response to this is to say, “I’m happy in my current faith. But if you pray for me, I will pray for you.” And I smile in a “we’re all people of faith together” kind of way. If they say anything after that, I just keep repeating the same thing. That seems to sort of shut things down.

        I’m not totally sure why it works. Maybe it’s rude and unChristian to turn down the offer to pray for someone and for them to pray for you?

    5. I agree with these tactics for street proselytizers. I usually say “Thanks but I’m happy with my current church” to them and door-to-door evangelists (even if it doesn’t follow directly from their opening. a memorable recent one was “we’ve been walking around asking your neighbors this question, can angels help us?” “I’m happy with my current church, thanks.” I care about religion and sometimes enjoy religious conversations, but I’m not interested in situations where I don’t have the spoons for it.

      1. My favorite interaction ever with street proselytizers was when I was at college and lived three blocks down from the campus’s Mormon center. The Mormons would go out in pairs of neatly dressed college guys and walk up on either side of you (scary) and try to talk to you about religion, very politely. One day I was running late to play rehearsal and crossed paths with the Mormon proselytizers, who made the mistake of engaging me in small talk before they got to their spiel. I managed to keep them talking about my play, including the dates/times and where they could buy tickets, until I reached the building and said, “Gotta go, bye!” We were rehearsing in the YMCA, which they seemed reluctant to enter. (I wonder if they have rules about not being able to follow people into buildings? I hope so.)

        TL;DR: I once made a pair of Mormon missionaries listen to my sales pitch instead of listening to theirs.

        I didn’t really mind the Mormon missionaries at my university; they were generally good-natured and polite.

        1. I accidentally solicited a pair of Mormons, once. I was in college and had been lying out in the sun in my backyard in my bikini and gone in for a glass of water when they came to the door. I open it and there are the two neatly dressed college guys holding their books. One of them had just opened his mouth to give the spiel when they noticed how I was dressed. “Did you want to come in?” I say. “I don’t want to let the air conditioning out.” They look at me, then each other, then excuse themselves with “we’ll come back later” but they never did and crossed the street to avoid me the other time I saw them. I did feel a little bad, but not bad enough to try to explain that I wasn’t trying to seduce them.

        2. The “walk up with one person on either side of you” does not seem like a winning strategy. Seems pretty likely to me to end up with the person they’re accosting screaming/running away, calling 911, getting out the pepper spray, etc. I’m sure I can’t be the only one who would got into freak out “I’m being attacked” mode when surrounded by two guys in what’s clearly a joint effort. Which could be particularly exaggerated depending upon the time and location.

    6. Seconding Eve. Since you have to work with this person, being outright rude probably isn’t an option, but blunt directness is probably going to be necessary at some point.

      My sophmore year of college (at large public university) the guy in the dorm room next to me was a member of campus crusade for christ. He was a genuinely nice guy. A genuinely nice guy who would try to turn EVERY SINGLE CONVERSATION into a talk about Jesus. He kept chick tracts in his pockets to hand out. He was an art major, and every one of his art projects were religiously themed (some were quite amazing, actually, but if given the opportunity to show them to someone, it was an opening to..yep, talk about Jesus’ influence on his life). As a relatively agnostic jew myself, it got really irritating, really fast, and I finally had to tell him that if he wanted to have any semblance of a neighborly relationship (polite hallway banter, borrowing laundry detergent, etc.), then he was going to have to cut that sh!t out, or we were going to have to stop speaking altogether. In return, I also wouldn’t try to push my radical feminist, abortion-clinic-escort values onto him.

      1. Waitwaitwait. Chick tracts… not as a joke, but actually being used to try and convert people with? I… how did you not burst into laughter when those were whipped out? And an art student… how did he not dunk those things in acid once he saw the level of art in the usual chick tract?

        1. Oh, there was laughing. But dude was so freaking earnest that it was rarely in front of him. Once he realized that the rest of us were very much not receptive to being handed religious tracts on a regular basis, he took to just leaving polite stacks of the things in the common lounges periodically.

      2. I had to actually look up what a chick tract is and I just
        that’s just… lame

    7. I definitely agree with this. It seems the co-worker has taken the lack of a clear “no” on LW’s part as encouragement. Not only that but the co-worker managed to pull a very manipulative move by giving LW a Christian-flavoured gift so that LW would feel bad about being “rude” and rejecting it. (Where’s Admiral Ackbar when you need him!) The best solution is obviously to recognise the trap and not fall in (and be very firm with rebuffing these dudes as soon as they start this shit so it never gets to the level of devious present-traps), but hopefully LW will still be able to extricate him/herself by mustering up the courage to be firm with this evangeloser. Don’t worry if it hurts his feelings, he will have brought it on himself by being a dick!

    8. Seconding as someone who has grown up christian and still follows that faith. This kind of pestering, rude evangelizing has almost always bothered me but it was not until I got older that I started to put my finger on what it was that bothered me.

      Basically the kind of christians that do this are ones that have made you their ‘conversion project’. Many have good intentions (they don’t want you to go to hell!) which makes many think the ends justify the means. But in reality they are making the means work against them by belittling the other person or being pushy or rude or manipulative. It’s also how lots of christians are told or taught to share their faith with others, sometimes they are just as uncomfortable as you are but feel that they have to (re: hell!).

      So all that said, yes be blunt. Name the thing he is doing (making you his ‘project’ or being manipulative) and tell him to stop. Honestly, this whole type of evangelizing has just made me think of pushy guys trying to convince a woman to go out with them. The more they ignore your no, the boundary you have set, and keep trying the less likely you are to say yes or hear them out or even be friends or on good terms with them. It’s also the same kind of dehumanizing experience of not having someone listen to you and accept your decisions. So maybe treat this co worker a bit like you would treat someone who was pressuring you into a romantic relationship.

      Also, never really been evangelized to but its always been my fantasy to be stuck next to ‘that guy’ on the plane and play along and push back in their attempt to ‘convert’ me and then end with yeah I’ll see if I have time to think about it when I get back to seminary. Bonus points if I have my greek or hebrew texts on me.

      Also love love love the commenter above where someone answered ‘can I talk to you about the bible?’ with ‘sure, what do you want to know?’. So totally using that if it ever happens as its almost guaranteed that I’ll be more knowledgable.

    9. May I add that when he attempts to hand you his Bible, DO NOT ACCEPT IT. Keep your hands to your side. It’s habit for us as humans, to take what is handed to us, but do not take it. As the other marvelous poster suggested, go be busy elsewhere.

  10. Unfortunately, my experience with certain flavors of evangelist — and I’ve never found a good way to tell who in advance will be like this — is that if you politely nope on out of there often enough, they become hostile or rude. (A good friend’s sister is still not speaking to me, 10 years after I politely redirected the conversation for the third time, for example; after she stopped talking to me, she returned things she’d borrowed from me via members of her church, and I blanked them as well, and apparently this made her furious??? Furious-er?)

    You might want to feel out someone at your school — preferably one of the non-Christian teachers — and ask them about what is considered OK, and if they have suggestions for a) how to avoid the conversation and b) what to do if the guy gets hostile. With a language barrier this might be hard; is there a local or online community for non-Korean English teachers that you can contact? (I have friends who taught in S Korea & in Japan, and there were for them, but they were organized through their specific teacher training institute.)

  11. This happens to me so very often. I have been learning to be more assertive in other areas of my life. And so, recently, I found myself being cornered by an evangelising person at a business fair (of all places). For me also, the trick is not to engage with the contents of whatever they say. So this time, i found myself telling her: I find your way of approaching me very aggressive. I am not available for that. And I walked off. I think realising inside myself that I have no obligation to stay and listen, to engage, to be polite, especially if they are stomping all over my boundaries and they never even try to know who I am and where I am at.

    1. Congratulations on being able to articulate and call out that behaviour. (I work with some people who can be very aggressive in getting their way, and I’m practising at home to be able to tell them that they’re being intimidating and I don’t think that’s appropriate.)

  12. I’m a church music director. Also an atheist. When church people wherever I’m playing ask me about my personal beliefs, or whether I’ll consider becoming a member of their denomination, I say that I’m happy with my current membership status, thanks but no thanks. The Captain’s scripts are great though. Any kind of polite redirection that makes it clear that you are not interested. Actually, I tend to be evangelised to much more often outside of ‘work’, at work everyone just assumes that you are baptised and hold a certain level of sufficient christian belief.

    1. I sang for a friend’s wedding at our childhood church. Before the ceremony the music director was clarifying some bits about the parts of the mass with me. (Which I needed because I have been an atheist for a while.) And so when I said that she got very hostile about me singing in church and said it was usually NOT ALLOWED. (But fortunately it was right before the wedding so a little late to switch singers.)

      AFter the mass she apologized to me and was very nice about it. But I was a little irritated when she then tried to recruit me back to the church for her choir. Least genuine apology ever.

      1. Let me guess…Tenor? Bass? Choir evangelism is practically a reflex. I haven’t known a church choir director who doesn’t jump on every tenor or bass they meet. I’m well aware of the creepy desperation involved, but I do it anyways. I need basses and tenors. Everyone needs basses and tenors. Basically, if I find out someone sings (any voice part actually) and likes church I will be like JOIN US JOIN US WE HAVE BETTER MUSIC THAN OTHER CHURCH.

  13. Hello LW! I am a professional Jew who sometimes talks to Christians who have never met a Jew before. And, aside from the excellent introduction materials that the Captain provided, I have advice for a script that I have found this helpful (if a bit blunt) in the past.
    “Do you believe [X thing about Jesus]?”
    “Well you know, Jews don’t really think much about Jesus.”
    “But Jesus [wonderful things about Jesus]!”
    “Yes, but as a Jew, I don’t think much about Jesus.”
    “But wouldn’t you like to know more about [Jesus things]?”
    “As a Jew, I have no real reason to think about Jesus much.”
    I have found that Christians who don’t know Jews particularly well are so dumbfounded by learning that we don’t give Jesus much day to day mental bandwidth tend to end up in stunned silence. And your co-worker will be learning a valuable theological lesson, namely, that even if our religions are descended from a shared history and culture, our faith really has very little to do with Christianity, and we are pretty happy with that state of affairs.

    1. You can also go with ‘Jews don’t believe in original sin, we don’t believe we need a saviour.” It dumbfounds people who have never really thought about it.

      1. OK, I have to ask: if Jews as a whole don’t believe in original sin, then what was the point of the rules and sacrifices?

        1. Do you see that list of websites in the OP that answer everything about Judaism 101? Go to them! They literally exist to answer questions like this, whereas a commenter on a website (or a coworker) does not.

        2. disclaimer: Judaism is large and contains multitudes, some of which may not resemble this explanation

          In Judaism, people are not seen as inherently sinful, but they can certainly commit various transgressions and the sacrifices were intended to expiate those sins, either individual or communal. (Though focusing on those particular bits isn’t always terribly relevant to modern Judaism, since the religion has moved pretty far from its Ancient-Near-Eastern-animal-sacrifice-temple-cult roots.) The assorted rules are intended to lay out what the religion considers correct and incorrect behavior; they just generally only apply to grownup humans (children’s behavior is traditionally the moral responsibility of their parents) rather than indicating a state one is born with. Judaism tends to see the “eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge” incident as beginning humanity’s *ability* to commit wrongdoing now that they have both free will and the knowledge of what is good and evil.

    2. Thanks for sharing this. I really like this approach.
      I will try, “Well, I’m a pagan, so we don’t actually think about Jesus that much,” next time and see how it goes.

    3. More than once I have had to gently explain to a believer that telling me I’ll go to Hell if I don’t believe in God is not a terribly effective threat, any more than saying dragons will eat me if I don’t believe in unicorns.

        1. I….. wait I thought in Rapture everybody else died??? And I guess dogs don’t go to heaven. Wtf.

    1. You say this as a joke, but I know somebody whose rabbi was approached by the next-door evangelical church’s pastor, who told him that in light of the tight parking situation, they arranged with their lawyers that after the rapture, the synagogue would get the church’s parking lot. At least he was trying to be nice?

      1. What I love most about this is the implication that the lawyers would not be raptured, and thus still able to handle this matter. I wonder if the lawyers picked up on that and how they felt about it.

  14. “Do not engage” is the most important thing to realise. It’s so tempting, though, since with normal, polite, respectful people, that’s how conversation works: they say something that you agree/disagree/are interested in, you make a statement or ask for clarification, and so on. Responding to any part of what they say is the normal thing to do.

    A person who has decided that they know what’s best for you better than you do is, by definition, not a person who respects you at all. They are taking advantage of the fact that you’ll treat them as though they’re a polite, normal, reasonable human being even when they don’t behave like one, so they can push/force on you whatever idea/lifestyle/product/belief they’re selling. Don’t engage. I mean, try a few, “Oh, okay. Anyway, …” gentle subject changes or other polite noises, just in case they’re actually a nice person who is accidentally being rude. But a person who ignores these is generally either socially blind and needs to be told outright to stop, or doesn’t care about what you want at all and is the disrespectful scum mentioned above. Offer them the chance to exit/change the conversation like an adult, and if they don’t bite, then immediately level things up. After all, if they are happy to ignore 3 “huh okay how ’bout that weather”s then they’ll certainly ignore 100. If something isn’t working, you need to change what you’re doing.

    I like the captain’s scripts. I’ve used, “This conversation isn’t interesting for me. Please stop talking about [topic].” If they keep going, “Oh, you’re going to talk about it anyway? I’d better leave, then.” The next time I see them, if it happens again, I just jump straight to the leaving script. With consistency, some learn to meet the minimum requirements of civility. Some don’t, and I just have to avoid them forever so they don’t tell me how clueless I am about my own life over and over again, blatantly without my consent. I’ve never had gifts (wow, LW, that’s super awkward), but a brisk, “No thanks!” without touching it so he’s left holding it while you vamoose might work. If he leaves gifts on your desk, I dunno, put them back on his, with a note? “Whoops–you put your stuff on my desk by mistake!” or just, “Please don’t leave your things on my desk.” It’s always his thing, not yours, because you totally don’t have to accept a gift, especially one given by a person who sees you as a conversion project rather than a person.

    People like this are using the fact that you’re a polite person to be completely and utterly disrespectful to you. “You’re a woman–you aren’t allowed to do these things I’ve decided without your input or consent!” “You’re not a Christian–you have no choice but to watch/read/listen to this!” “You’re a vegetarian–you should read these biased, agenda-driven things!” “You’re [race]–you have to live this way!” It’s all the same thing. And it’s all horrible. People who do this are awful and don’t get to have conversations with you.

    1. Gift-giving is actually a big part of Korean culture, so in context it’s not actually that awkward, except that he’s using it as a jumping-off point for evangelizing, and except that many westerners aren’t used to it.

      1. Exactly! Which is why I didn’t think much about accepting the first gift, which I think is what led to the rest of this.

  15. I was once on a bus (I am British, btw) when a young African man stood up halfway through the journey and said loudly to the whole bus, “I would like to share the good news with you about Jesus Christ!”. An old man then politely but firmly said to him, “No. We don’t do that in this country.” The evangelist look abashed and sat down again in silence. (I am still conflicted about this, as part of me was all “YES!” and the other part was “I bet he wouldn’t have said that if the good news guy had been white and American”.)

    I once had to ask a religious friend to stop trying to convert me, and she looked sad and said seriously, “I don’t want to annoy you – it’s just that I don’t want you to go to Hell”. Gave me a bit of a pause and reminded me she wasn’t doing it to be irritating – she genuinely believed I would damned if I didn’t believe what she did. Eventually we agreed that she would stop trying to convert me and I would stop bashing religion in front of her. I think she hoped her lived example of faith would eventually bring me round (no such luck – I’m still going to Hell).

    1. I once had to ask a religious friend to stop trying to convert me, and she looked sad and said seriously, “I don’t want to annoy you – it’s just that I don’t want you to go to Hell”.

      Been there. My friend started crying about my impending damnation. :/

      1. I found out (accidentally! while drunk at a friend’s wake with a mixed-faith group of friends!) that a lot of people who believe in hell don’t understand that other people don’t. I ended up drunkenly explaining to a Christian friend that no, atheists don’t believe in hell. No, really. No, I’m humanist, and no, I don’t believe in hell either. It had never occurred to her that hell was a religious belief rather than an actual place.

        Since then I’ve occasionally asked people about this while sober, and was really surprised at the number of people who accepted that I didn’t worship a deity but believed I accepted the reality of hell, or of afterlife generally.

        1. And finding out that you are religious but don’t believe in an afterlife gets equally baffled expressions 😉

        2. Blech, that is so weird.

          I don’t believe in the afterlife simply because I don’t feel like worrying about it. Something I’ve said to people before is, “I believe I’ve lived my life well and try to be a good person and that’s just gonna have to be good enough.”

      2. My sister used to tell me that I was going to hell because I wore black socks and rock concert T-shirts. When I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) it got far worse, and she would tell at him that he had damned my immortal soul. It caused a lot of friction then that we still haven’t gotten over, and that was about 20 years ago. It’s hard to bond with a new sister when they spend a lot of their time telling you that you are causing the woman you love to go to hell. I wish my husband and sister would get along, but the bad feelings caused by her “helpful” proselytizing run deep.

      3. I will joke with my coworker that after doing some wrong or naughty thing that I’m going to Hell, she responds with “Well, I’ll be holding the door for you.” Good to know that neither of us take ourselves too seriously.

    2. This bugs me a lot–“I don’t want you to go to hell!” As though that makes it okay. Well, it’s not about what you want. When we’re talking about my life and my beliefs, it’s 100% about what I want. And I want to make this particular decision. The consequences might be not what you’d like, but too bad. I’m an adult, I get to make my own choices, even if they’re the wrong ones, or ones you disagree with. If you behave otherwise, then you’re not treating me as a competent adult, which is pretty insulting.

      Even from the point of view of a person who really is truly concerned for your soul’s salvation, it’s a pretty horrible thing to do:

      If someone you know is, for example, an alcoholic? Or has some other bad lifestyle? You don’t harp on at them every time you can. It doesn’t help them, damages your relationship, and is really rude and awful. You maybe have a polite, brief, and not intrusive talk with them once, earnestly and seriously, letting them know you’re worried about their drinking and that if they ever want anything to help with it or even just talk then they are free to call on you for whatever, and maybe here’s a resource they can look at in their own time if they choose to do so, and that’s it. You don’t ask them the next day about if they read the website you suggested or anything. You let them do it in their own time, if ever. Because it’s their decision, not yours. And if you absolutely can’t abide by the decision they make, then you need to stop having a relationship with that person, and fill your life with people whose lifestyles gel with yours. This is how the world works for decent, respectful people.

      (I’m not saying being irreligious or non-Christian, in the case of the LW, is remotely similar to an actually damaging lifestyle like alcoholism. It isn’t. It’s totally fine. But to a hard-core, convert-them-at-any-cost person, they can appear equatable.)

      1. Unfortunately I think there is an incredibly prevalent strain of non-religious thought which encourages invasive maneuvers like interventions and what boils down to harassment in the name of “tough love,” at least in my corner of the U.S. So I don’t think there’s actually a healthy non-religious equivalent situation for many people to refer themselves to in order to get the perspective that what they’re doing is Not Awesome.

      2. In defence of my friend, we were both about 16 at the time, so still pretty immature, and she was a new member of a very happy-clappy enthusiastically evangelical church, which she has since left. She no longer tells people they’re going to hell. 😀

        There’s no excuse for grown adults continuing to do the “I’m worried you’re going to hell” thing after you’ve told them to stop, though.

    3. In spite of his many failings (mostly of the colonialist/imperialist/racist sort) I still hold a fondness for C.S. Lewis deep in my crappy little heart. I read “Mere Christianity” as I was spiraling into my first bad spate depression, and at that point it felt like it one of the few small voices telling me that maybe I was okay in spite of how much I hated myself.

      The thing that still strikes fear and sorrow into my soul was this very sensible, conservative Anglican’s insistence that if you truly loved someone, why wouldn’t you want to give them the gift of eternal salvation? It is the only explanation for evangelism that has ever made sense to me — but now it kind of makes me sick, because when you pair that with the fundamentalist insistence that this life means nothing and anyone who enjoys it or cares about it at all must be distracted by Satan, the lengths to which it seems reasonable for an evangelist to go to bully someone into agreeing with them become greater and greater. It was standard practice in my childhood church to send kids off to church camp during the summer, where they would invariably be isolated from their normal support systems and harassed by peers and camp counselors until they professed their faith — truly or not. The youth minister would then come back and proudly report the number of young people “saved” the next Sunday.

      If you are raised in this belief system, you are bludgeoned with the idea you *cannot* *truly* love someone and also allow them to remain outside the faith. It is one of the many reasons I have mostly left structured Christianity, because I am not able to reconcile that idea of love with my own experience.

      1. In spite of his many failings (mostly of the colonialist/imperialist/racist sort) I still hold a fondness for C.S. Lewis.

        Somewhat appropriately, the “I would like to tell you the good news about Jesus Christ” thing happened on a bus coming down the hill where Lewis had his “pushing on an open door” moment of accepting his belief in God. Sometimes life does things that that would be considered too on the nose in fiction… 🙂

      2. And I just realised that I didn’t say anything about the rest of your comment as I was reminded of the Lewis coincidence, which has always been my favourite part of that story. I am really sorry that you went through that. It sounds horribly isolating and stressful.

        Despite being a lifelong agnostic, I went to a church school and a lot of my friends were religious. I remember a similarly jarring experience when a group of these nice, kind people started a “love the sinner, hate the sin” discussion about being gay (“It’s fine to be gay! Just so long as you deprive yourself of a significant chunk of human experience!”). I had to walk out because I was so angry that I thought I might actually punch someone. It was eye-opening about the limits of “loving thy neighbour”.

      3. Oh god, is that what that book is about? I feel like throwing up.

        An ex-friend in college lent me that book once and I read like the introduction then stuff happened and I was too depressed to read anything, so I forgot about it. I was sexually harassed and stalked (for the first time) and assaulted (for the only time so far) by a different student and, when I told this ex-friend, he was the only one who didn’t believe me. He said, “Are you sure you’re not just over-reacting?” He’s going to be a cop.

        Blech. I can’t look at that book the same way anymore.

        1. No, no, that’s not what the book is about. The book is about beliefs held in common by all Christians, trying to get down to the core beneath the denominational differences. So it spends some time addressing some of the “Why do you do that?” vs. “Why don’t you do that?” issues between Christians, such as aggressive evangelizing. As thegirlfrommarz says, it’s very much of its time (1950s, I think) and has its issues to modern eyes. It certainly wouldn’t be at the top of my list to give someone who wasn’t Christian. But I have a fondness for it because it had a message I badly needed to hear when I first read it, which was that it wasn’t necessary to check my brain at the church door.

    4. I once had to ask a religious friend to stop trying to convert me, and she looked sad and said seriously, “I don’t want to annoy you – it’s just that I don’t want you to go to Hell”.

      Just flagging this — it’s a really, really, really important thing to remember. Even though it feels rude and even though from your point of view it *is* extremely rude (disrespect for your beliefs, consent, etc.), it at least becomes understandable when you keep in mind that religious evangelizers genuinely believe that they are doing you a favor. It can be extremely distressing to them to engage with non-believers since (to them) the stakes are so very high, and remembering that can give you a little bit more insight and perhaps even sympathy.

      For some (but by no means all) types of Christians, being Jewish can be enough. Many (small-e) evangelical Christians respect Judaism more than other types of Christianity, so … that can be useful.

      And I’ll second “I am very happy with my own religion and don’t want to change.” as a way of getting out of conversations. (In my own personal situation, I couldn’t say religion was private or that I didn’t want to talk about it. Lots of “Thank you for sharing your beliefs, that’s really interesting to me” though!)

      And for everyone’s amusement, I’ve had some very interesting conversations with Christians who *were* genuinely interested in Judaism. My all-time favorite:
      “Do Jews believe in Jesus?”
      “We believe THAT a man named Jesus was born around this time, and that he was a great teacher and maybe even a prophet.”
      “And he was the son of God.”
      “We generally don’t believe that part, no, but we do believe that he was a real historical figure and that he was a pretty hoopy frood.”
      “So you believe in Jesus?”
      “Well, I probably wouldn’t say that, since I think by ‘believe in’ you mean ‘believe in the divinity of.’ But I ‘believe in’ Jesus in that I believe he was a person…”
      At some point, this totally just … clicked. We also went on to have discussions about what “the Bible” is. (No, we don’t read all that new stuff. And I don’t care about this overmuch, but many Jews won’t use the term ‘Old Testament’ since it implies acceptance of some New Testament.)

      (Source for all: I’m an anthropologist who does research in a religious community that I am not myself a member of. No personal knowledge about Korea, though. I am sending you wishes of strength, LW — it’s a thorny problem to have!)

      1. “Do you believe in robot Jesus?”

        “We believe he was built, and that he was a very well-programmed robot, but he wasn’t our Messiah.”

        I love Futurama so much.

  16. I was raised born again Christian and it was years after I got away before it occurred to me that my problem wasn’t with Christianity per se but with rabid, intrusive fundamentalism — which I discovered when I came up against fundamentalism of all other sorts. It was both a relief and a terrible moment when I fully grasped the fact that people can be bossy, self-righteous, obnoxious assholes about damn near anything.

    (Then I thought of a few things *I* can be that way about. Man, why is personal growth so fucking embarrassing most of the time?)

    1. A lot of very nice Christian people I’ve met go to great pains to assure me that Christianity isn’t all about being a hateful asshole. And then I have to go to equally great pains to explain that I was actually raised by loving parents who took me to a social justice church where it was taught that each and every human being was a beloved child of God, that true evil was hating and hurting other people, and that the single most important thing you could do in this life, or indeed any life, was show compassion to other people.
      I experienced some pretty profound culture shock around the age of thirteen or so when I met people who not only believed that Hell was a real place that God actually sent people to, but that you could go there for being gay or not a Christian. It was sort of like finding out that there were people who thought Santa Claus ate children – and still celebrated Christmas. After a lot of thought, I concluded that if people could get “love is all you need” AND “you deserve to suffer eternally for misusing your genitalia” from the same book, that didn’t say a whole lot about the divine (except possibly the need for better editors), but it sure said a crapload about the people who claimed to follow it.

      1. Your experience is a bit like mine. I didn’t really learn about the ‘other’ kind of religion until I was a teenager (I guess I knew a little about other kinds of Christianity as a child, but I vaguely thought of them as strange fringe cults), and I still have to remind myself sometimes that some of the things that seem so strange and foreign to me aren’t as rare and fringe an interpretation as it feels like to me, and that in some parts of the world they’re actually a really common and mainstream form of Christianity.

  17. I taught in Korea. I’m an atheist but had a generally Christian upbringing. For me, I just ended up lying, a lot. Many of the Korean missionaries didn’t speak English (you could tell by the stacks of Watchtower that they were missionaries), so I would take the Watchtower copy and deny any knowledge of the Korean language until they left me alone. I stopped answering my door because unless someone was frantically pounding on it, it was a missionary. It was a little trickier in school, most of my students were Christians (it was not a dedicated Christian school, that’s just how it happened) and would ask me if I “knew” Jesus. Half the time they were asking if I was a Christian, half the time they were asking if I’d actually heard of the guy. So I would just say yes. If they asked me if I went to church I would say “no, there are no English churches near me here” (probably the truth). With my students, they mostly wanted to have a conversation about something they had the language for. (Side story: One day I had a student who must have just learned about WW2 in school, he ran into my classroom early and yelled “Teacher! Do you know Hitler?”)

    I had a friend who was Hindu who worked at a different school. She didn’t follow any of their dietary restrictions and one day a coworker came up to her and said “you aren’t really Hindu, I see you eat cow at lunch. You should be Christian.” Fortunately my friend had another coworker who could act as a liaison and get the offending coworker to mostly backoff. Your mileage is going to widely vary by the English skills of your coworker/your Korean skills. If this has popped up out of nowhere, it could be because of Easter being so soon and it will blow over after the holiday (I almost wonder if he is gearing up to ask you to church/another Easter event, in which case “oh no, I already have plans but thank you” should be your immediate answer). I think taking a hard “this is rude in America” approach is your best bet, depending on the culture of your school/area. Best of luck to you!

    1. “For me, I just ended up lying, a lot.”

      That brings back memories! I lived in Ghana for 6 months and I also just ended up lying a lot. I felt bad for a while and was honest with people, but then I stopped caring about about being 100% transparent with strangers or near-strangers. I just said “Yes, I am Christian” (I’m not.) “I go to [name of a church I saw on the side of the road]” (I didn’t) “I’m going to my church this Sunday, so no, I can’t go to yours!” ….and just find a way to not be near them for the next few minutes.

  18. When approached for conversion, I simply reply that I’m atheist. If the attempt continues, I say, “I can’t help it. This is how god made me.”

    LW – do you think you would have better success presenting your dietary choices as more of a cultural/family tradition type of thing rather than a religious observation? I understand that the language for this may be more difficult. Is there anyone who could translate what you’re trying to convey into language that would get the point across effectively in this particular culture?

    1. And having re-read your letter, I now realize that this doesn’t solve the central issue. Sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake.

  19. I’m not a good conflict-avoidant person. My instinctive response would be to craft a beautiful, lovingly-made and intricate piece of decorative embroidery as a gift for the evangelising co-worker to reciprocate their kindness. It would have a very positive and beneficial message on it and would very, very clearly be based on my Very Pagan Beliefs. Because, if we’re in the spirit of sharing about our faith with each other in a way that extends to gifts, then clearly that is something that goes both ways, right? I may also opt for inspiring quotes by Carl Sagan and Neil Degrasse Tyson if the mood so takes me.

    That said, I don’t necessarily recommend that response as a Thing To Do if you preferred goal is to make the religious discussions stop altogether, although it may serve as an excellent litmus test for working out whether co-worker is evangelising or just being naively over-sharing. I might also suggest, if the gift you received makes you uncomfortable but throwing it out feels like an insult to the work and thought that went into it, you could always re-gift it. “I wanted to thank you again for that painting. It doesn’t reflect my own beliefs, but I have a friend back home who fell in love with it when I showed it to them.” or “I was volunteering at the care home and met a delightful old lady who’s room at the home looked so dreary – she thought the painting you gave me was lovely and was so happy when I offered to let her have it”. Speaking as someone who crafts – I never mind if people don’t keep the things I make for them, and I love it if something gets re-gifted because it means it found a loving home.

    1. I love your pagan gift idea. Personally, I would be touched and flattered if someone gave me something like that, but then I have much less antipathy toward paganism than christianity. Actually, I have nothing against christians, but I do have an issue with evangelicalism. Long story involving a jehovah’s witness grandmother, her church, her inheritance, my great aunt, the nursing home, etc. Not pretty.

      Anyway, I also have a habit of giving my things away, even if they were gifts. I figure it served its purpose by making me happy for a while, and now it’s going to go on with that purpose by bringing joy to someone else. Who am I to stand in the way of this lovely trout-shaped rhinestone-bedazzled vase from fulfilling its mission?

      1. …. Trout shaped. Trout shaped?
        I’m sorry. All I’m picturing now is a bedazzled Billy The Singing Bass with flowers stuck in his flapping mouth.

    2. I am SO JEWISH, and I would love to have a Neil DeGrasse or Carl Sagan cross stitch. Please and thank you.

    3. Hahahaha, you and I might get along well because I am also not very conflict-avoidant. I am actually very comfortable with conflict. Lolz

  20. “not up for discussion at work.” i’d leave out the “at work” since you really don’t ever want to discuss this with coworker. don’t give any opening to discussing it elsewhere.

    1. Yes! This! I was reading all the comments to see if this got said. I could just picture the LW’s co-worker lurking off-campus in hopes of an opportunity to proslytize.

  21. Hey all!

    Thanks for the advice. A lot of these scripts and ways of phrasing will be super helpful to have in my arsenal.

    There is just one specific situation I can’t figure out how to use this advice for. For the first two weeks of work at the new school (I’m on the third), I was operating under the assumption that this was a friendly, curious guy, so please do not judge me or “you shouldn’t have done _____” me for the following about the gifts:

    The first time, he came into my office to show me his calligraphy and I did the usual, “Wow, that’s so pretty, you’re very talented” thing, which led to him giving me the first gift. The second time, I was in the teacher’s lounge and he invited me to his desk to see the calligraphy and quote (in Korean) mentioned in the above letter. By this time, I’d become uneasy enough to consider writing to the Captain, but I wasn’t sure if I was overreacting. So I tried to redirect, saying that the flowers he drew were very pretty. When he translated the quote and then asked me what I thought about it, I vaguely nodded and said “Mmmm, yes.” So did I like it? “The flowers are so nice, I wish I could draw like that.” Finally, during the encounter that happened almost immediately after I sent the first letter, he came into my office with the English version of the quote and said that, if I liked it, I could have it. I got very flustered, and said I thought it was very pretty, and I understand it must mean a lot to him, which is when I got the whole backstory on his being saved and having his leg cured and being given the gift of speaking in tongues and lots of Jews really do come to realise that The Resurrection is real and check out biblegateway.com and on and on (Hence the second email). He then said that he wanted me to have it, if I liked it, and I somehow ended up with gift number two. I say “somehow” because I’m looking back on the conversation and I am honestly not sure how it happened*.

    So what do I do about these gifts? What do I do if he wants to give me another one, given that I’ve basically already accepted two of them?

    *The “not sure how it happened” thing is a bit common here – it’s a result of the language barrier and cultural differences and me erring on the side of politeness.

    There are no fluent English speakers at my school, some who can get by in simple-to-moderately difficult conversations (such as this teacher I am having difficulties with), and many who have limited to no English at all. South Korea is also a society where it is very important to be respectful to elders and people in authority; there are two different ways of speaking Korean to those who are “above” you in social stature (more polite, reverent), and those who are below you (more informal, casual). It’s not like in English, where you use different tones, body language, and extra words (like “sir” or “thank you so much” or “Good evening” instead of “Hey!) based on your personal feelings or relationship to someone else; it’s prescribed. This is your boss. This is your senior.

    But like @tinyorc said above (how do you link to comments?), this is a person thing, not a culture thing. I chose to live here, I am the visitor, and I wanted to experience and learn from/about another culture, so, although this particular problem is sort of separate from that, I do need to deal with it and work within those boundaries placed on me by where I am.

    Also, for those who are wondering, I am Canadian 🙂

    1. Er. . . I am not so sure how close Korean culture is to Japanese culture (I think there are some similarities), but if it is at all similar: you are not going to be able to get him to take these gifts back without offending him down to the bone. I think you might just have to call them a hazard of employment and quietly rehome them. Honestly based on my experience I suspect that the method piny1 lays out above is the only way you are going to get out of more weird gifts/interactions — set all systems to AVOID, set all camouflage to FRIENDLY.

      1. I don’t need him to take them back, I just need a way to decline further gifts, even though I’ve already accepted some

        1. Ok, I think step one is to listen to your gut – is he trying to convert you into his girlfriend? If that is the case, then I think piny1’s method will definitely be your best choice. (Realizing that you are the exotic/oversexualized foreigner in a given situation is something of a head trip, but it’s useful to remember.) If you don’t think it’s that, then I think there are a couple of things to keep in mind – one is that the culture you are in has specific ideas about gift-giving, politeness, and hospitality that it is best to go along with when you can. For example – when I lived in China, I followed the rule to always eat or drink the first thing offered to you in the home of an acquaintance*, even if you don’t want to make trouble/aren’t thirsty/etc. Early in my time there, I learned that turning something down would result in ever more troublesome offers – a no to tea turning into offers for entire meals, when really they just wanted to extend me hospitality in a concrete way. There is a gracious spirit of generosity that I wish my country had more of, and part of what you’re experiencing might be that disconnect we have with thinking gifts come with expectations.

          Another thing to keep in mind is that self-effacing, generous behavior (and a language barrier) can work in your favor. This is slightly tricky, but a useful thing I have found in my experiences is to simply ‘not get’ anything I don’t want to. If he tries to gift you with a thing in the teachers’ lounge, effuse over its beauty, call another teacher over to appreciate it with you, and walk away without it. If he tries to push it into your hands, show it to other people until someone says it’s lovely, and immediately give it away. With similar insistence.

          *that you trust. Don’t go drinking things in the home of someone you don’t trust. Preferably do not be in their homes at all.

        2. A way to decline further gifts.

          First, don’t compliment his art so strongly. Through a language/cultural barrier, the kind of generous compliments Canadians only intend as compliments (I wish I could draw like that) can often come across like you are asking for the item as a gift (I wish I had that particular piece of artwork since I am not capable of creating one like it). When discussing his art, be very factual. “I see that you have drawn red flowers. What is the name of that kind of flower?”

          Second, think about the way you decline foods that contain pig, and do something similar. You don’t take any food until you’ve first asked “does this contain pig?” So, when an artwork item belonging to this guy is under discussion, make a habit of asking “does this contain Jesus?” or “is this a quote from the Bible?” or even just “what is the significance of these words, this symbol, this scene?” If you’re just discussing the art, then it’s just part of the factual discussion of the art. If there’s still a concern that discussing his art might segue into him gifting it to you, then you’ll know that you’ll be declining this. “I cannot accept Christian art, because I am a Jew. This beautiful art deserves to be displayed, and I do not display Christian art in my home, because it is not compatible with my beliefs.”

          1. Like reading the product information on a food package.

            May contain: Soy, tree nuts, Jesus.

          2. “May contain: Soy, tree nuts, Jesus.”

            Should this should be the new way that trying-to-be-transdenominational Catholics refer to communion wafers/bread from Protestant churches?

        3. Take this with a grain of salt (and please check with a Korean person first), but maybe a way to stop gift-giving is giving him a gift of your own in return.

          I mean, setting the conversion part aside (because it’s already been discussed by a lot of thoughtful posters and I can add nothing of use to their advice), this looks like a ritual: a) hospitality says I should make the foreigner feel welcome and appreciated b) This calls for a GIFT! c) Oh, my gift was not returned… they must not have appreciated it very much. Maybe there was something wrong with the gift? d) This calls for ANOTHER GIFT! A BETTER ONE! (read: one with higher content of Jesus?) e) scalate, rinse and repeat.

          Please consider the possibility he’s trying to apologise for his first gift with more gifts. Maybe you need to close the ritual. If the gift is like a greeting, you may need to return it so the person can make sure you heard.
          So, I’d suggest making something you know you’re good at or getting him something you like (be it a sweets, a casserole, a poem, a song, a mixed CD of music you like, a book about a topic that is not Judaism since you don’t want to end up talking about religion…). This lets you show you appreciate his effort, he’s no longer under any obligation to you and you are no longer “”in his debt”” (please notice the liberal use of quoting marks here, I don’t know how to explain this cultural concept any better).

          Why something *you* like? Because a) he didn’t take your feelings into account (be it innocently or on purpose) when he made his gift and b) it’s a bit like giving him a piece of your culture/personality as a show of appreciation and politeness.

          Source: my college classes on different politeness systems and the comparisons I’ve drawn between the place of gift-giving in my culture and in other cultures further north.

          PS: If you decide to re-gift or relocate the gifts, for the love of everything please make sure he doesn’t learn about it, I think it would be considered a serious insult.

          1. I would be very careful of giving gifts back. I do not know if Korean culture is similar to Japanese culture (which I am much more familiar with), but if you give a gift back, it could turn into what my Japanese teacher called a “gift war.” This is especially likely if he perceives that your gift was more valuable than his because he will be “forced” to give you another gift of higher value back to avoid insulting you.

            As you can see, it can turn into a gift spiral rather quickly.

          2. (rhytla, I hope this comment lands somewhere under yours)
            It’s a very real risk, that’s true. I was thinking more along the lines of acknowledging the gift and ending the “favour transaction” in a somewhat equal footing. However, if this guy is using his gifts as conversion-bargaining-chips, he could certainly jump on the chance of a return gift to keep harassing LW, evenmore so if there is a cultural precedent :^/

    2. I’m such a lurker here, but as a fellow Jew who taught in SK (for two years), I thought I might be able to help with your last couple of paragraphs. Being straightforward in South Korea to a senior is suuuuper hard and also rude, so I get where you’re coming from. I was lucky in that my coworkers were largely politely interested in my Jewishness and didn’t invite me to church, but I definitely had some awkward conversations and know a ton of people who have been sort of roped in to religious events just because they couldn’t say no.

      I think really the key is to do the soft ‘no’ that I found to be pretty common in Korea, and will be easy to do with a language barrier. Whenever he tries to rope you into a conversation, just tell him that that sounds interesting (or whatever) but you’re super busy so you can’t talk now, sorry! Don’t dismiss him outright, but what’s he gonna do, tell you not to do your work? Maybe you can talk later! (You can’t, obviously.) And honestly, eventually he’ll get the hint. I mean, there really are a lot of ways to do this, but the less interest you show and the more you try to change the subject while still being polite, then I think you’ll be fine in no time. As for the gifts, that’s really up to you, but I’m sure that’ll slow down, too. And I think it’d be more rude to refuse the gift than to like, take it and throw it away. Outright rudeness is what you really want to try to avoid with a senior coworker.

      I know it’s super uncomfortable and difficult, but I also know you’re going to be fine. Especially since he probably wants to hear himself talk more than he really wants to convert you (annoying middle aged men are the same everywhere). Also, I think it really is a cultural difference, especially since proselytizing is so common in South Korea (they send more missionaries abroad per capita than anyone else) and I guarantee you he’d be doing the same thing to a younger Buddhist coworker. So maybe if you see it less about you being Jewish and more as him being a giant proselytizer that would help? (I’m not saying you’re overreacting or shouldn’t be upset about it, but to just survive the next 6 months maybe thinking of it as his problem and not yours could be helpful.)

    3. (If you have your own office and it’s allowed, close your door from now on.)

      Well, again, I hope people with more experience will chime in, but I think the important thing here is to separate these things. One, he’s handing you some artwork he did. Two, he’s trying to use that artwork to drag you into a discussion about Christianity that you super do not want to have.

      You feel bad and conflicted because the gift is technically a separate thing, and because we are supposed to feel grateful for gifts even if we don’t want or need them. It’s the thought that counts, right? This is clearly a very thoughtful gift.

      But this is obviously being given with ulterior motives, motives that involve contact you simply do not want to have. Uncomfortable!

      Also, he’s a Christian trying to make you stop being Jewish, which is really pretty offensive and invasive. Uncomfortable and irritating!

      Also, he’s a man giving you presents. Presents of handcrafted artwork and also heartfelt confessions. Uncomfortable and embarrassing! (And foreigner stuff aside, this is just as potentially awkward in Korea as in the US – and just as difficult to openly shut down, unfortunately).

      So you feel obliged, if not grateful, but also very uncomfortable, irritated and offended. He wants the obligation to cover up all the other stuff – that elision has probably already taken place in his own head. You don’t have to let it. Don’t bring up his art work or give him compliments again. If he asks you if you want another one, say, “Thank you, but you have already given me one. You should give this one to someone else. No, really. I don’t think I can accept. No, I think you should keep it. But thank you!” If he insists that he made it for you, say, “Oh, that was kind of you. I don’t think I have room in my apartment for any more artwork, but it is nice of you to think of me. Perhaps you could give it to the principal.” Don’t apologize, don’t admit to having misunderstood anything, and don’t explain.

      I know this seems super passive-aggressive and weird, but he’s not giving you a souvenir. You’re allowed to respond to what is actually happening here. This is a gift you don’t want, and under these circumstances it is all right for you to refuse. You don’t have to protect his feelings or be any more honest than him.

      And I hate to say it, but I think that since he is already giving Bible quotes to someone who is Jewish, and saying things like, “Jewish people sometimes do find Jesus!” you really do not want to respond to this with, “No, because JEWISH.” I don’t think this is even about how you’ve already lost your devotional art refusal rights by accepting twice. I think that he is trying to provoke you – in a super cheerful way! with presents! – into an argument about being Jewish, so that he can keep on trying to convince you not to be. I would not provide that opening. And if he tries to bring it up, just say, “I think that I should keep my faith private. I don’t think I should talk with you about it anymore. Thank you for thinking of me. I think I hear my mother calling.”

      Hopefully, he’ll get that message. But if he doesn’t – and particularly if he comments on your irritation/offense and then engages further and more – then you might want to consider talking to your foreigner-helper and boss. Politely, but as though this male coworker is annoying you with his very special attention.

      1. Mega thumbs upping Piny’s advice of “oh I don’t have more room” and repeating the suggestion, if you feel you need a stronger no for some reason of going with the “I’m a foreigner and my first few weeks have been so overwhelming! I’m not sure I’m expressing myself adequately with our language and culture barrier” – prime him to assume best intentions from you! just because you’re living in Korea doesn’t mean you magically know how to navigate socially like a Korean person and most Korean folks know that, and give a lot of leeway. (sometimes too much, but that’s another rant about asshole foreigners)

    4. I don’t know anything at all about Korean society, so take this with a shaker of salt. But I see this has sort of a two-possibilities fork:

      1. You don’t feel like (culturally) you can say no to any future gifts. That said, accepting gifts doesn’t mean you need to put up with his conversion attempts. You say thank you, (or write a thank you note, my mamma is from the South so I write thank you notes) and you put the beautiful calligraphy away somewhere. You also stop him when he tries to talk about religion. Just because you took his beautiful calligraphy doesn’t mean you need to take his missionary zeal. He may be having trouble separating those two facts in his mind but I feel like it’s vital that you keep them clear in yours.

      2. You feel like you CAN say no and then you say, “No, thank you, they are beautiful but I can’t accept it.” And then you stop him when he tries to talk about religion.

      If you have a mentor, boss, HR person, or other expert on Korean culture, that may be a person to tap for advice. There may be some nuance you’re missing — I’m the Queen of Missing Nuance and like to consult an expert whenever I’m somewhere High Context. From what little I do know about Korea, it’s Very High Context.

      That said, you may also be able to use your position as an outsider to your advantage. It’s not a great card to play but I bet you’ll be forgiven if you fail to follow all the social conventions. In fact, it may be that the social conventions are that you HAVE to listen to this, in which case you’re just going to fail and you might as well embrace that.

    5. Hi LW! I don’t have any experience of Korean culture, so I’m not speaking from any position of expertise here.

      Would a polite and respectful “Thank for the offer of this beautiful gift, but I cannot accept any more gifts from you” work? No explanation, just keep politely and regretfully declining until he gives up.

      I know gift-giving and -receiving is fraught anyway because it confers obligation (there’s a reason why anthropologists study it!) and in some cultures it is more significant than others. If that’s the case in Korea, I guess you might have to keep accepting the gifts but refusing the Jesus talk until he gets the hint and stops offering them. The gifts are a way (possibly not consciously) to make you feel obligated to him, but you don’t have to accept that obligation.

    6. LW, you are eventually returning to Canada sometime in the future, yes? A trick many of my friends rely on is pointing out that they only have so much room in their suitcase when they go home. “Oh yes, this is so lovely, but I’m afraid I can’t accept it because I won’t be able to take it back with me. You’ve already given me two lovely pieces and I won’t be able to fit another!” This gives them a face saving way out of the situation, because you’re not rejecting them and their effort, you’re rejecting a logistical obstacle.
      My friends who do long, multi-country trips will also will often re-gift things when they get to the next country, but I don’t know if that applies to you.


    7. I’m Korean American, but more importantly, I recently spent 5 years living in Korea (with my Korean language skills going from baby-talk to “let’s talk about the impact of Japanese colonial rule on Korean masculinity). You have to say “No, thank you” (아니요 괜찮습니다 / literally “no, that’s ok” in the polite verb phrasing) MULTIPLE TIMES and push the gift back to him. This is a culture that has elevated the “Let me pay” tussle over the restaurant check to Olympic level wrestling. I definitely have had unwanted gifts bestowed upon me because I was not persistent enough in my refusals. And it still may not work with this other teacher. I do think Eve of Destruction has a good script below. “Is this a Christian quote?” and then refuse based on that since you are Jewish.

  22. I don’t need him to take them back, I just need a way to decline further gifts, even though I’ve already accepted some.

    1. I agree with Miss Wintertowne about the “soft” refusal. I have a colleague who for a while was bringing me candy EVERY DAY. He’s also an older man with decent English skills in a Korean office. I (for my own reasons) really didn’t want candy at all, much less every day. I accepted the first few times, and then threw them away. Once it became a pattern, I started saying, “No thanks”, not offering an explanation, and immediately changing the subject. He figured out what was going on and stopped offering.

      Similarly, I had another colleague bring me tea and some other food items. When I never reciprocated, the gifts stopped. Now, I actually didn’t mind that much, but I also didn’t want to feel beholden to certain colleagues every day in the office.

      One issue you may have here in Korea is that when you tell someone that a pen/pin/bracelet/vase/painting is beautiful, they feel culturally obligated to give it to you. If you want to avoid these gifts in the future, RELIGIOUSLY (pun intended) refuse to comment on the work itself. Only comment on the skill of the artist, or something tangentially related to what’s being offerred. Try not to say you like it, that it’s beautiful, etc. It’s awkward conversationally, but you can still give him complements in the more round-about Korean style. This is difficult for people who grow up in a different culture, but I work hard to tell my colleagues, “You look nice today!” rather than “Nice headband/phone case/necklace!” You’re generally safe if you comment on something physically attached to them (“Nice manicure!” is usually safe). However, even shoes/socks/toothpaste are not off limits! I once told a Korean aunt that I liked her warm, fuzzy, socks, and SHE TOOK THEM OFF HER FEET AND MADE ME PUT THEM ON. I have had this happen not once, not twice, but three times in my presence!

      1. That is so off-the-wall to me like I don’t know if I could wear someone else’s sock wow

  23. As a lapsed Mormon, I have rich and varied experience dealing with people who want to bring me back to the fold. My main method of dealing is avoidance. I don’t engage, I don’t discuss, I don’t explain. I have used “That’s personal.” Nowadays I don’t even let the conversation get that far. Once or twice a year the missionaries come to my door and I tell them politely but firmly, “I prefer not to be visited” and shut the door. I do not open mail I know is from the church. I don’t return calls. I just get really quiet and awkward if family members try to talk actual beliefs.

    Maybe eventually the LW can be friendly with this coworker, but the LW has become his Project, and right now every interaction is an Opportunity to Share the Word. Avoid him as much as possible and shut down religious talk as quickly and politely as possible. If you must get increasingly abrupt with him, so be it. Maybe once you get to know some other coworkers better, you can find some allies in “Let’s not talk Jesus at work.” If you have been placed in this school by a larger program, perhaps there is a mentor or peer you can email for advice as to whether they have faced a similar situation with someone in a senior position? If he continues to give you gifts, I would just politely accept them without much discussion and maybe start a Jesus box where you keep them and never look at them. He may think you are rude for not reciprocating, but he’s the one making it awkward. Hopefully he’ll lose interest eventually.

  24. I hope this is not a derail, but since the topic is religion/religious conversations, I live in a part of the Southern U.S. where it is very common for people who are just meeting you and getting to know you to ask “What church do you go to?” This question is very fraught for me – I do not attend church and do not wish to attend church, no matter how awesome/relaxed/non-judgmental your church is. I also probably (very likely) make a horrified face to go with my “We don’t go to church” reply, which I’m not sure if I can control. Is there a better way for me to answer this question? I feel like my “no church” response immediately puts us on a list in people’s minds wherein we are not “suitable friends” or my children wouldn’t be “suitable playmates” etc.

      1. Yeah, all the responses I can think of that would avoid having to say “we don’t go to church” are less than perfectly honest. “I worship at home/with friends,” “I go to (local atheist-friendly Unitarian congregation),” even if that’s for a value of “go” involving having driven past it once, “my family are (Baptists/Episcopal/whatever),” even if you have to bite your tongue not to add that you aren’t, “I haven’t found a local church yet,” even if you’ve lived here all your life and aren’t looking. You may not like any of those.

        It may help to take this as an inquiry about what community you belong to, which is often really what people want to know more than they care about your religious beliefs (may not be true if you live somewhere where lots of people are trying to convert the unbelievers). “We don’t go to church, but we’ve gotten to know a lot of people through (X volunteer group/Y social activity/Z activity your kid does” may be enough to deflect the conversation away from religion.

        1. Based on my experiences living in a similar environment (although in the Midwest rather than the South), don’t use “I haven’t found a local church yet” unless you want to hear all about your conversation partner’s church and receive at least one invitation to go with them.

          My personal go-to’s have become, “Oh, I’m more of a spiritual person than a religious one/I’m more of a spiritual person than an organized religion person/churchgoer,” although since I now live in the Pacific Northwest, this happens to me far less frequently than it used to. (Oddly enough, since I am a nanny, I mostly get asked this question in job interviews these days, because people don’t always realize that they are still not allowed to ask this question if they’re outside an office environment. In that situation, I usually say, “Oh, I like to keep my personal beliefs private; I’m comfortable supporting families of all faith traditions raising their kids within those traditions,” and then mentally cross them off my list of people I want to work for. :P)

          Also! One of my dearest friends is an atheist who is currently attending a demanding professional school program in the South, and she says that when she has a client ask her about where she goes to church, she channels her Southern great-aunts and says, “You know, I really feel that I am being Called to [Professional Discipline] these days. I’ve been spending more time with my textbooks than I have with my Bible, but I rest easy, knowing that I am doing what I’ve been Called to do.” This works very well for her, because (1) she is a Southerner with religious relatives, so she is fluent in Southern Churchspeak and (2) she is very good at striking a simultaneously earnest and breezy tone. She gets out of the church conversation, and her clients feel that they are speaking to one of Their People and feel more at ease. Depending on your culture and comfort level with Southern Churchspeak, you might be able to use something similar? Or, if you want to stay out of Churchspeak land, perhaps something like, “Oh, we are just so busy these days, it’s difficult to find the time! + [SUBJECT CHANGE, POSSIBLY TO TOPIC OF MUTUAL BUSYNESS]” I could be off-base (so, please, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, Actual Southerners!), but I feel like you will have better social luck in the South if you can find a way to gently dodge around the question and redirect, as opposed to directly shutting it down.

          1. Oh, yeah, you’ll totally get invited to their church if you use the “I haven’t found a church yet.” My experience when dealing with people who are not super-religious evangelists (those exist, but are a different issue from most people who ask you what church you go to) is that the invitation is token, and all you have to do is say “well, maybe I will sometime,” which is a polite way of saying that you probably won’t, and then forget about it. It’s just a thing people feel compelled to say to be hospitable.

            As an Actual Southerner, I’m not sure the busyness response really works, because “where do you go to church?” isn’t usually about whether you actually GO, it’s about whether you have a church community that you theoretically belong to, even if you haven’t attended a service since Easter three years ago. But it’s worth a try, even if it may come off as something of a non sequitur.

            The language of “called to do X/spending more time with X than with my Bible” will give the impression that you’re an evangelical Christian. If you live in an area where nearly everybody is, that may be exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re in a more liberal/multicultural area (as I am), you may want to be aware that people who are asking “where do you go to church?” as social small talk may assume you’re much more conservative than they are if you use that language in reply.

          2. Yeah careful with the called-to-do. I’m a Unitarian and for a while I would use evangelical language to gloss over having to talk about religion directly, which led to my boss (a Seventh Day Adventist) doing things like trying to shield me from having to type six sixes in a row. Seriously, he would do it for me because he was trying to respect what he perceived as my culture. It was kind of adorable but also I felt pretty guilty that he was doing such a decent job of ecumenicalism and I was just being deceptive.

          3. Also I want to agree with Amtelope about how it’s a question of do you have a church community that you could be attending if you weren’t at Cardio Boot Camp all morning on Sundays (real example; the last person to get really stressed about this at me was in fact at Cardio Boot Camp on Sunday morning; she dropped the kids at Sunday School and then went to the gym, but she wanted me to have the opportunity even if I was like her and didn’t use it, especially since I was a young woman living alone and I think she thought I might need someone to check up on me every so often)

            This might be Southsplaining, but: there are very real historical and cultural reasons why churches are in the social role they are in a lot of the South – there’s a really messy history, which you’re probably well aware of, around funding public spaces and civic infrastructure, and church culture has very much filled that niche. Someone asking you about your relationship with Jesus may be asking about the state of your soul, but someone asking you about your church is maybe giving your soul a passing thought but is also trying to see if you have any mutual friends and might also be worried that you won’t have access to church-based services like adult rec softball teams etc. So in that context, naming where your mother goes even though you don’t is perfectly legit – first, they’re curious if they know anyone who knows someone who knows you, and second, it tells them that if the shit really hits in the fan in your life, the Methodists would be the ones bringing you lasagnas and you wouldn’t be abandoned with no lasagnas.

            (Trust me, I am aware of the ways that this isn’t fair, but for me, having some theory around the whole thing helps me see the good even when I’m annoyed. And apparently in parts of the South with a high enough Jewish population – I hear about this from Floridians, for example – people ask “where do you worship?” in order to avoid offending you, which I think is lovely and lends itself more easily to a laugh and “mostly in the garden, honestly, I spend most of my weekend out there” and then you talk about tomatoes.)

          4. I’m from “the South” and this is good advice. Busyness usually works, and “haven’t found the right church” also works if you do it right, but that’s an easy one to end up with a “you should come to my church!” invite. Though in my experience, most people will not continually pester you to try their church; it’s more a “I have asked them” checkoff in their minds, and is often meant out of genuine desire to help you meet people if you’re new to the area. A lot of people attend church purely for networking reasons (which is crazy to me, but it’s exactly why my ex-stepfather had us going to church), and at least in most Southern towns, finding out which church someone goes to/inviting them to their own church is roughly equivalent to asking if they belong to a sorority/frat, and which one. Most people don’t care which one or if you’re part of one at all, except for the people who think being part of one is the MOST AWESOME THING EVER. But if you want to straight up avoid having the convo, here are some things to try:

            If the topic of religion ever comes up during a meal, I invoke the “Sorry, my mother taught me it was never polite to discuss religion or politics at the dinner table.”

            If you’ve EVER attended anything held at a church, you can use that, too–“oh, we went to First Methodist Christmas concert. I really like their choir/etc.” + change of topic.

            Another option: “I don’t think going to church is the only part of religion/spirituality that’s important./I don’t need to go to church to live my faith.” My family is big on this; I never attended church until I was in 7th grade (and do not at the moment), none of my grandparents do, nor do my in-laws, and neither does most of my extended family. And we all grew up in the Deep South.

            The best thing you can do is divert attention/change the topic/dodge the question. That should easily handle 90% of the Southerners asking about church that you run into, because some are just asking it b/c it’s one of those questions everyone asks, and they should back off if you say you’re another religion, etc. The other 10% are the ones you have to get super blunt with. I like the phrase “Thanks, but I don’t need Jesus as my fire insurance.”

            *Note: I am a Christian, can quote scripture, etc., and I still get Assholes-for-Christ trying to evangelize to me. They are unrelenting no matter who you are, or what you know. Newly converted adults are far and away the worst–just avoid them as much as possible.

          5. I moved to Idaho, which is kind of like the South in many ways (some people call it Idassissippi), with my former husband, and we promptly got divorced, which meant I was in a state where I literally knew no one who wasn’t related to my ex-husband. And since we were in a custody battle, I needed to be careful about where I found community, especially since he was doing things like telling the psychologist doing our evaluation that I was gay and going to raise our daughter to be gay, in an attempt to win custody.

            So I started going back to church. And if you don’t know anybody in town, and you want a place to go with your small child where you are always welcome, and where there’s a fair number of social events depending on which one you pick, church can be a lifesaver.

            Do I agree with all of the dogma? Of course not. But I do like running into the same people every couple of weeks and feeling like part of a community, and especially when my daughter was young, it was great to have someplace to go that was free that would give us something to do.

        2. Sadly, more and more, I find, “I’m Episcopalian. The closest branch of my church is four hours away for me, so I don’t get there as often as I’d like,” works, especially with a chaser of “Unfortunately, at the core of my Christian beliefs is, ‘Render unto God the things which are God’s; render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,’ and I get very sad and turn away when I find a church trying to meddle in politics, such as in matters of gay marriage or birth control, because my heart immediately goes to ‘Is this person truly trying to gain spiritual power, or is he masking his desire for secular power as a calling to Jesus?’, and I find that really interferes with my ability to trust my pastor if he tries to fill out my voting ballot or tell people not in his congregation how they must educate their children. So yes, I am a child of God, saved by Jesus and baptized by the waters of Christ, but I won’t go to a church that tells me how to vote, or says that God hates gay marriage more than He hates wealthy people letting children starve in His name.”

          I’m actually pagan, but was baptized Anglican. I really do believe the Bible preaches separation of religious and political leadership, and fuck those Deutero-Pauline heresies anyway. Every word of the above is true, but you may want to adjust for your personal truth and the geographic availability of your churches— you could go with the Moravians, if you like, who literally believe religiously in thinking for yourself, being nice to everyone, and great food—- and are SO scattered in the U.S. (Sorry, Moravians.)

          You can also think back to the last service you attended in your area, and name that church, blush, and say, “But, wow, it’s been more than a _month_ since I’ve been back,” with a bit of surprise in your voice that you’ve let it go that long.

          All bets off if you have children, but if someone is screening playmates on the basis of what church they go to, you may not want your kids playing with their kids. Trust me on this one, Jack Chick pamphlets in the hands of an eight-year-old lead to conversations that may be better delayed until they’re of the age to ask difficult questions about the motivations of those who speak as if they have authority.

    1. I have two standard answers to that question that I deploy based on my feelings about the person I’m talking to.

      If I can tell that this is a get-to-know-you with little to no pressure from someone I won’t see again or find non-threatening, I smile politely and say “I don’t” + immediate subject change.

      If it’s clear that this is an Issue and I need to deploy camouflage, I give a truthful non-answer: “Mount Somethingorother Baptist is just down the street from me” or “My family goes to Our Lady of the Thingamajigs” + immediate subject change/escape.

      The people who ask that question while making me feel uncomfortable or unsafe are not entitled to the information that I don’t go to either of these places and that the family I mentioned is my estranged extended network.

      These aren’t perfect, but I’ve found they’re better than stammering, especially if you can successfully deflect the conversation back onto the people you’re talking to and make it you finding out about them instead of the other way around.

      1. Oh, the “my family goes” one is excellent, especially if you feel uncomfortable lying more directly. Your mom does go there!

        I used to say “I grew up attending Joe’s Discount Worship Emporium” as a deflection, which mostly worked too.

    2. Thank you all so much for your thoughts! (I hope this reply nests properly/where I think it will.) I would like to try the “I’m more of a spiritual person so we church at home” approach and see how that lands. I have used the “my family goes to XX church” to fend off some very aggressive church invites. It works! Thanks everyone.

      1. FYI, in my corner of the world, “church at home” means nobody is conservative enough for ultrasuperfundy you, so you stay home and play by yourself. Might not be the message you’re wanting to send.

    3. I usually say “St. So-and-So’s is our parish church,” which is absolutely true. The last time I actually set foot inside St. So-and-So’s was five years ago when a Very Catholic Relative was visiting at Christmastime and wanted to go to Mass, but no one needs to know that.

  25. This obviously won’t work for a colleague with whom you have to interact to some extent, but my go-to script for any and all uninvited public interlocutors that I don’t want to deal with is to look them in the eye while still walking and say briskly: “Sorry, I don’t have time to talk.” And then immediately break eye contact and keep moving. And if you aren’t walking, like waiting in a train station or whatever, the same verbal script works, too. And if they persist in talking to you, you just keep saying, “Sorry, I don’t have time to talk.” Eventually, they’ll move on to greener pastures for their annoying fuckewittitude.

  26. When I work with Christians who have never met Jews before sometimes it can be utterly baffling to them that Jews exist. I mean, if you read the Hebrew Bible entirely in the context of the New Testament, and you read it as clear prophecies of Christ, it can be hard to understand how people could follow the Hebrew Bible and *not* be Christian. It might take her some time to get used to the idea. Maybe she is genuinely curious about how this is possible, in which case recommending books might be the way to go. (Judaism is one topic on which I don’t recommend ‘just google it’, since the chances of stumbling on a hate site are pretty high with random google searches on Judaism-related topics.)

    One thing that I have found useful to say to people who want to engage me in religious debates: Jews doesn’t proselytize. So I am not interested in trying to get into a debate about which religion is better, since I do not want to convert you to my religion, because Jews don’t believe that you have to be Jewish to be a good person or go to heaven or whatever.

    On the other hand, sometimes people who are very invested in converting Jews to Christianity can be very friendly and welcoming to Jews up until it becomes clear that they are not going to convert, and then turn hostile. (For a historical example see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_and_antisemitism) So it’s probably a good idea to keep clearer than usual records of what is going on at work, in case she starts to be a less-than-friendly co-worker once she knows you aren’t joining her religion.

  27. I haven’t read through the comments, so I’m not sure if this already came up, but I’ll admit I’m not SUPER comfortable with the “trying to convert someone to a religion is exactly like trying to convert someone to a new diet” idea. It may be that the scripts end up the same, but when someone tries to convert me to Christianity, it’s not just annoying like someone trying to convert me to a gluten-free diet. There is serious anti-Semitism in the world right now, and Christians have killed and do kill Jews for their Jewishness. (insert other religions in there as desired–obviously this is not limited to Jews and Christians). I think treating it like something that is just a nice but overeager thing someone is doing would be unpalatable for me, personally. If someone gave me the “gift” mentioned, I would feel very troubled. It would not at all be like someone giving me their gluten-free bread that I just didn’t enjoy, or something like that.

    1. Maybe a useful analogy would be someone who responds to “I’m allergic to cabbage” with “nonsense, cabbage is good for everybody! It will cure the cancer you don’t have” and then tries to sneak it into your food in order “prove” that you aren’t really allergic. They might not be trying to harm you, but that won’t be much comfort when you’re dealing with the medical effects.

      1. Still not really, though. That’s still ignoring the specific persecution we Jews face. Like, when I’m dealing with a pushy Christian, while I am worried that they’ll accidentally harm me, I’m also worried that they’ll very intentionally harm me when they realize I’m not going to convert. I’m worried they’ll deface my things with swastikas, destroy my things, shoot at my home or myself, and so on. Please don’t try to metaphor this.

        Just in general, with this conversation, I share Helle Woods’ reservations and am pretty distressed that their comment is the only place on the page at the time that I’m replying that even mentioned anti-semitism by name. A lot of the advice is okay, but I think just like how we specifically name sexism when it shows up and try to prioritize women’s voices in the response, we should also specifically name anti-semitism when it comes up and try to prioritize Jewish voices in the response.

        1. Yeah. Someone trying to convert me to their religion once I’ve already said no feels kind of like someone trying to convince me to have sex with me when I’ve already said no – there’s always the fear that if they keep not taking no for an answer eventually they are going to do something *really bad* to me.

          1. Thank you, I couldn’t figure out why the general slant of the comments was bothering me so much. Completely agree, multicoastal—being approached by street proselytizers scares the hell out of me in a way that’s kind of similar to the jolt of fear I get when I’m cat-called, and the ones you encounter in spaces where you can’t get away easily are way worse.

            I think Piny’s approach—passive-aggressive avoidance until he gets the hint that you don’t want to have personal conversations at all—is the best, because evangelists are not going to politely stop when told they’ve crossed a line. It’s a case of irreconcilable social morals: he read your conversations as showing a slight chink in your going-to-hell armor, so he’s not allowed to give up on you, because that would be *mean to you*.

          2. Seconding caedocyon’s thanks. There is a long history, even after Christian attempts to proselytize Jews moved away from explicit violence (“convert or we kill you now”), of Christian churches having missionary work directed specifically at Jews, with the intent of converting Jews out of existence by “saving” us. Missionary work is not some benign attempt to get me to eat more kale or visit your favorite vacation spot. It presupposes that my life would be better, and that the world would be better, if Jews weren’t Jews. The attitude that conversion attempts are okay is, to me, a little like saying, “it would be nicer to find and get rid genes that make people queer so that they’d never get born, rather than putting them through reparative therapy or throwing them in jail or executing them.” Just because you made your attempt to get rid of people look kind and humane doesn’t make it so.

          3. As someone who was raised in a cult, and now has what amounts to a serious allergy to organized religion–it’s a valid fear. I spent the first few years after I left home terrified that my parents would forcibly enrol me in a reprogramming camp. I think that people with standard American Christian backgrounds don’t understand the kinds of things that some of their more fringe brethren do to people they’ve deemed “unbelievers”.

        2. I’m jewish as well, but I think the specific issue here is that LW is looking for productive methods to maintain at least a cordial relationship with this person whom she still has to work with, in a country where the cultural “norms” around religious discussion/proselytizing may be very different from our own (Canadian/American). I don’t think there’s any question that the proselytizer’s behavior is problematic – it’s so obvious that we’ve basically all skipped over the “is this actually a problem” question to “here are solutions to how to deal with your obvious problem”.

          I’ve certainly called out anti-semitic behavior when I’ve encountered it in my own life, but it’s something that could very well blow up the relationship – I think LW is looking for coping mechansims short of relationship destruction, so the tools in this thread are really geared towards the specific request she made, which involves attempting to maintain a collegial relationship with this person, rather than identifying the fairly obvious problematic behavior.

  28. Once I was waiting in a catholic school lobby for some friends of mine to get out of theater practice. They have an office of their “Hard core christian dude club” right there next to the theater. (Trying to balance out the hedonism I guess?) So anyway I somehow got sucked into a conversation with this guy where I Told him I had left the church and he insisted that all I needed to do was to go on a retreat and accept jesus and the role of the church back into my life. (*gag*) It was a pretty heated conversationa nd he was super evangalizey and I didn’t really disengage because at the time that was not me.

    So we had like 2 more hours to wait and they were ordering pizza, and the looked at me and my friend and they were like “but YOU can’t have any.”

    40 loaves my ass. (I originally typed this as 40 loves my ass, which obviously is TRUE)

    I also once got into an argument with some mormon dudes at a laundrymat for some reason because I was reading the book Snow Crash, I don’t even know. I actually find their ministering to me easier to shut down. “I don’t like the way your religion treats women.” END. (Though, you might be able to apply that to Christianity too.)

    But everyone’s advice here is right. There is no winning here, winning is simply escaping, or getting them to redirect to other topics. If you engage the conversation just keeps going, because there is really no arguing with faith.

    1. Apparently the Mormons visiting my area have a new thing now. They don’t actually try to convert, they just wander around offering to help people with yard work and things. And then… don’t try to convert you. It’s actually really confusing. I guess it’s just the whole modelling a good lifestyle thing?

      (My suburb has a LOT of churches per capita though so I’ve gotten a lot of door knockers trying to sell me god and my standard line is “I have other religious beliefs” which so far has been pretty effective.)

      1. Maybe they’re taking a page from Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

        1. And these are the “evangelists” I can stomach. My (atheist, bisexual) husband’s best friend is an actual, ordained minister with a pHD in religion. He spends his time working for a nonprofit that tries to make sure everyone, not just the wealthy, has access to healthcare. Tim never preaches, never lectures… just lets his life speak for itself. I wish everyone of all religions could be like that.

      2. Oh yeah, my neighborhood had fleets of Mormons and Baptists descend upon us after a severe flash flood about eight years ago (3 ft deep on my parents’ property, 5-6 ft deep on the lower part of the neighborhood -_-) to shovel out muddy crap that has settled during the week the water sat, pull out the rotting drywall and floorboards, carry out the ruined appliances, etc. I think the fact that everyone was nattering on about God and His Plan and His Will anyway (because there isn’t a lot else to say when you’ve lost most of your stuff and didn’t have flood insurance?) meant that the Christianity Saturation Level had already been reached, and no conversion was attempted.

        (My dad, for some reason, has always used this incident as proof that Baptists — closer theologically to the church he was raised in — have greater faith in God than Mormons: the Baptists were the crew who went down to our moldy, disgusting cellar and pulled out all the faulty, damaged wiring.) The help was much appreciated, in any case.

        1. Before I lived here I was back in my hometown which was half-destroyed by a natural disaster and yeah… apart from the Red Cross where I worked, basically every group doing anything to help was religious. If there was a place set up where you could get food/water/use appliances it was either a church or a school. I felt kind of weird directing people to them (and will never send people to the Salvation Army on principle) but mostly they actually were interested in helping, not converting.

      3. My instinct is that they’re long-term favour sharking. One day the people they’ve helped may need more than a hand shovelling snow, and that’s when the love-bombing and such kicks in.
        Missionaries and their superiors think LONG TERM.

      4. Some Mormon missionaries helped me move out of an apartment once, involving carrying heavy boxes down lots of flights of stairs, and were super-nice even after we made it clear that we were lesbian pagans. I know it was an attempt to witness to us through their actions, and I’m still grateful for the help carrying boxes. There are a lot worse ways to advertise your faith than being really nice to other people without explicitly trying to convert them.

  29. A friend of mine is a priestess in a Nordic tradition, and used to live down the street from a rather evangelical bible college. Fun times. “Why would I need Jesus when I have Loki?” is my favorite of her responses.

    I don’t recommend the LW invoke any of the more capricious gods in a false bid to get this guy to knock it off, but a good deadpan broken record of, “I’m happy with my religious beliefs. Let’s talk about something else/I need to go now,” seems like it would be the best tactic in this situation.

  30. I lived and worked in Gangwondo for 2 years in public school and mostly concur with Piny. I’d also maybe give the “my Jewish heritage is important to me and makes me feel connected to my ancestors” response if the topic ever comes up again and you feel pressed to explain why Christianity isn’t of interest. I hope that doesn’t happen though.

  31. Unlurking to comment, I’m Christian, and I once when I was studying in my college library, I was approached by a group of Christians who attempted to convert me. I’m also disabled, and in my experience, we get a lot of conversion conversations along the lines of “My faith-healer will help you” which is very annoying if, like me, you don’t believe in faith healing. Anyway, these kids were very persistent even after I said, “I believe in Jesus too, but right now, I really need to study for my math exam.” They ended up praying, loudly, for me to pass my exam in the middle of the library. I was beyond embarrassed for them, me and my religion. I really wish that folks would stop with the hard-sell tactics.

    I think the best advice in these situations is to politely disengage.

    PS: One of my Jewish friends gave me a T-shirt that says: “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.”

    A sense of humor goes a long way in dealing with the fun life we all lead on this earth together.

    PPS: I’ve started teaching World Religion these days, and I’m amazed at how little time people spend thinking about religions other than their own.

  32. I used to travel to India for work several times a year. In the garment factories there, I was usually working with middle-aged men (owners) and young women, just out of fashion school. Invariably, their first question to me (after welcome, etc.) was “Are you married?”. The second was, “How much do you make?” The first few times I would try to answer, explaining relative costs of an apartment in NYC (because really, I was living fairly hand to mouth at the time, but their eyes would get big when I told them my salary). But after the second or third trip of this, I finally began telling them, “You know, in my culture that’s a really rude question.” End of discussion. And since most of these people would be spending their future working with more Americans, not fewer, I didn’t feel it rude as much as important and imformative.

  33. My mother, who has used a wheelchair since just before I was born, gets proselytized at in public regularly. She gets a lot of “If you accept Jesus as your personal savior, he will answer your prayers,” with a pitying, how-sad-you-can’t-walk look. She always cheerfully tells them that all her prayers have been answered. The look on their faces always makes me giggle. So shocked at the idea that she leads a full, happy, productive life while sitting down the whole time.

  34. It says something about how long these issues have been around in that as I was reading the question, I was thinking it’s time for the recommend-a-book tactic. Then I saw that our Captain was recommending websites. I hadn’t updated in my imagination. But yeah, one way to avoid the I-asked-about-your-beliefs-so-you-have-to-listen-to-mine tactic is with a quick “Oh, are you interested in Judaism, read this book.” If he comes back with questions, recommend another book or suggest he write to the author. That way you can give him the idea that you’re thinking he’s too stupid to understand what he’s read. (Don’t spell this out. Just keep giving more homework to help him with what you’re defining as his problem. (I actually like recommending books over websites since it generally takes longer to find them and read them, and feedback directly to the author is harder. There’s no comments section.)

    For any unwanted/inappropriate/not-so-hidden agenda gift, I like: “Thank-you. That’s so thoughtful. This isn’t the right size/my taste/my belief/something I can use, but I’ll be glad to pass it on to someone who can use it/fit into it/like it/has somewhere to put it, or would you like it back? If the gifter insists you keep it anyway, thank them again, then go home and either give it away as you said, or throw it away with no guilt or second thought.

    From the get-go, I don’t like offering a religious reason or any other reason for refusing food. “I don’t care for any, thank-you” is really all you need. I don’t eat beets, and there’s not a rational reason anywhere that any beet lover could understand. That’s the first step in non-negotiable discussions: Don’t give reasons. This goes for health reasons too. If I say that I don’t drink orange juice for health reasons, there’s bound to be someone who wants to would love to discuss all the ins and outs of my health history followed by telling me what my doctors go wrong. Feh!

    Whenever a question contains some variation on “how can I do x without being rude,” I suggest going ahead with being as rude as you need to in order to accomplish x. Reframe it as “someone is being rude to me and is counting on my not being rude in return so they can keep on doing that rude thing.” This guy treated you to a 15-20 minute “conversation” which was really an unwanted lecture in which he talked about himself the whole time to someone who was uninterested. If you don’t want to see that as aggressive and asshole behavior, can you at least see it as rude? What if you’d cut him off abruptly and told him plainly that you weren’t interested, didn’t want to hear any more and walked away? Is there really anything he could do to make your life miserable? (That’s an honest question. If he is in a position of power, the tactics change, but then it has nothing to do with rudeness.)

    As much as I love the Captain’s advice, I would quibble with “Please, this is uncomfortable for me” and change it to “I want to change the subject now.” If you so much as say you’re uncomfortable, you’re giving him ammunition to talk about the same thing in a way that he’s sure will make you more comfortable. He’s likely to reassure you that there’s no need for discomfort. He’s also likely to walk away thrilled that Jews are uncomfortable with their religion, something he always suspected.

    I guess I don’t see evangelists as nice folks who are just sharing something they think is wonderful. I see them as insufferable assholes on par with guys who think if they’re persistent enough they can convince you it’s in your best interest to have sex with them. (Note: I’m not talking about the vast number of sincere Christians. I’m talking about the ones who keep charging ahead despite normal signs of I’m-not-interested. My comparison with sexual predators holds. Great guys who express a desire to have sex with me are fine. Guys who keep on after being turned down are not.)

  35. As a christian too I would like to add. The Bible does say “go preach to others” but also “love your neighbour”. It’s great to preach the Gospel when people are in the right frame of mind to listen to it/are interested in it/are looking for something/are willing and interested to examine their beliefs. A person trying to proselytise if they truly love their newfound neighbour have to put this person’s comfort above their own need to feel like a good Christian by insistently proselytising. A Christian isn’t fulfilling God’s command of loving people if he/she doesn’t care or seek to know how the person they are proselytising to feels, they are just making themselves feel important and fulfilled.
    So if a Christian approaches you persistently like a rocket launcher bombarding you, feel free to say “I’m not in a stage in my life where I want to reconsider my beliefs, please stop proselytising to me, if I ever change my mind I will let you know, for now can we stick to work topics?”. Yes some of them are going to have feelings about it, feeling rejected that they are terrible missionairies and how could you possibly not accept their amazing testimony etc etc. That’s their problem, not yours. You are doing nothing terrible by saying this kind of firm “no”, you are doing them a favour actually. I.e. there is nothing spiritual about pushing your beliefs on others.

    1. “I.e. there is nothing spiritual about pushing your beliefs on others.” Exactly, nor is it very spiritual or humble to set yourself up on a pedestal and sit in judgment of another person’s personal relationship with God, as if you can look into their soul and judge it. My faith is important to me but (or maybe and?) uninvited proselytising angers me on so many levels — the hubris and arrogance, the disrespect… Living your life by example is a great thing, sharing your values about the actual teachings of Christ is really important (I mean the actual direct teachings of Christ himself, not the stuff his followers added — i.e., empathy for others, living simply and humbly, forgiveness, etc – none of which even require mentioning His name to share, all of which have been given to humans in so many different ways of which Jesus is only one, and which are usually better shared by living them than by talk).

      And there might even be times when someone actually WANTS to have a conversation about your beliefs, in which case, of course go ahead and share what’s helped you.

      But otherwise the idea just seems so aweful to me. So arrogant, so invasive to other people. To talk to another person as if you know more about the state of their soul or their personal beliefs then THEY do. It’s between them and God (including whether or not they believe in any god on any intellectual level). It’s so so far away, to me, of what ‘sharing the good news’ means to me.

  36. I have a cousin-in-law who used to be a really aggressive conservative Christian who would try to convert people out of “love” I’m a liberal Christian feminist sort so while he never tried to convert me exactly, he definitely spent a lot of time trying to convince me that I couldn’t really exist as all those things as once. He’s now a pretty aggressive libertarish atheist who still doesn’t think I can exist as all those things as once, although the parts of me he thinks I should renounce are different.

    I’m not trying to make any greater point about athiest jerks vs Christian jerks. Just that there really aren’t any magic words you can say to make this person respect that you’re not a problem to be fixed. He could fundamentally change the biggest part of his identity and still try to “fix” you. Alls you can do is make it clear that you aren’t open to his prostelytizing and remove yourself from his presence whenever possible.

    What works for me is just agreeing with my evangelizer’s doomsday scenario and then bean dipping. “I guess I’m going to hell, then! How about UK Basketball this year?” Or, more recently “I guess I’m just a close-minded bigot who doesn’t actually care about social justice! Did you see that thing Kanye did?”.

    1. I love this.
      The next time somebody says I’m going to hell, I’m going to say “Probably! Did I tell you about my new project to read 50 books by…?”

      1. I just say “so I’ve been told.” Quite deadpan, and let it ride. Amusing, sometimes.

  37. This advice is spot on, and not just for religion. Normally, my cousin is great to be around, but sometimes the subject of politics comes up, and listening politely then trying to steer the subject anywhere but off this cliff did not help. She was always so determined to talk about that Loose Change documentary, and why it’s really suspicious that the Sandy Hook security footage hasn’t been released. Otherwise, totally pleasant person, but very susceptible to conspiracy theories, and really, really wanted me to share them with her. It wasn’t until I finally said, “Cousin, we argue about this a lot, don’t we?” She laughed, and kept talking about the melting temperature of steel. I’d had enough, and finally asked why we were still arguing about it, after I’d changed the subject several times. “Because, you’re so close!” she said, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that by indulging her, I was only encouraging her. The polite appearance of an open mind only made her think she could up and make a deposit in there. It’s delicate ground, but thankfully, she no longer treads it since I put up that boundary. Thank goodness.

    1. Yes. Personally where I live and in my social circle, religious proselytizing is very rare, but I’ve had a few bad experiences with militant vegans or atheists.

  38. It sounds like you may want to be more private than this, but if you are open to being open about some things with him (and given the language barrier sometimes saying things explicitly may be helpful?) I have reason to think that this script might be helpful: “I have thought about religion quite a lot for a long time, and I have made my decisions about it. I fully understand what the Christian message is, and I have decided that is not the religion I am going to follow, and I am not going to change my mind. I appreciate your kind attention etc, etc, but I do not want to talk about religion.”

    The reason I think this might help, specifically with an ardent evangelical, is that I was raised evangelical and this script hits several “buttons” based on what we were taught (especially what I was taught when I spent some time in more fundamentalist circles) about evangelism. I’m gonna bullet-point this here for simplicity but please understand it’s the simplistic version:

    – people are not Christians because they have not heard the Christian message. (So you explain that you have.)

    – people are not Christians because they haven’t thought the question over. (So you explain that you have.)

    – once someone hears the message & thinks the question over, the choice they make is fundamentally a moral one; it may appear, even to them, to be intellectual, but in actuality they are on some level hearing the call of God and choosing to accept or reject it. (This is a very fundie belief, a ton of mainstream evangelicals don’t actually think this; it’s based on not wanting to think God would set up a system where you could be damned for a genuine intellectual disagreement. Anyway. You hit this button by explicitly pointing to decision and choice in your script, as well as saying the decision is final. To his ears your subtext is “I have already made a personal decision to reject Jesus.” I guess it’s your decision whether you feel comfortable doing that, but I really believe it would be effective.)

    Good luck, and I am sorry you are experiencing this!

    Incidentally (iow irrelevant chatting starts here) I am still a Christian, and for years I found it very weird how people would sometimes talk about evangelism/proselytizing as if it were something inherently coercive. This is because I hadn’t seen the bad version. My parents, who were actual missionaries, evangelized by sounding people out about whether they were interested in talking about Christianity, had real conversations with them and learned stuff, didn’t persist with people who were not interested or bring it up out of the blue over and over or launch into sermons-within-conversations, and were super polite about being turned down if they invited someone to a “short course on Christianity” event or what-have-you. It took me awhile to notice that my friend’s parents who worked with them would instead act like your coworker… and longer than that before I realized how dreadfully common that (including much more offensive versions) is. To everyone who’s experienced that stuff, you deserve an apology and if it’s not weird for me to give it, I want to say I’m sorry. Experiencing *being* “evangelized” (once by an ardent Muslim, once by a perhaps-even-more-ardent Christian cultist) opened my eyes very much to the dynamics, and I’m sorry for not seeing it before.

    It’s weird that I should happen on this today, because I also happened on this this morning:
    It’s basically a conversation about other Christians’ eyes being opened to those dynamics too. I found it fascinating. Hope it’s OK sharing it. Being written for Christians, it does have a few bits in about how Christianity & Jesus are good, and there’s one section that is rather Christian-technical, so content warning I guess? But the main theme is how the interviewee learned about “learning from ‘the other’.”

    1. Thank you for posting this, it’s fascinating. The bit about how some Christians get round the issue of being damned for reasoned disagreement is eye-opening, I’d often wondered how people deal with that.

    2. I liked Paul Simon’s comment on this (in the song “Hurricane Eye”) — “Want to be a missionary? Got that missionary zeal? Let a stranger change your life — how’s that make you feel?”

      The spouse is in training to be a pastor. We like to say he’s going to be a missionary to the Christians, to convert them to Christianity. After all, they’re the only ones who have already expressed an interest.

    3. I am Christian also, and I worked at a large seminary in the US for a while when I was out of a job. There is some interesting research and some interesting discussions on why “cold evangelism” (aka proselytizing to a stranger) doesn’t work anymore, and people get all huffy about how in the olden days, Christianity was the norm so it was more acceptable to push it on people. Yeah, no. Just no.

      I’ve definitely seen the bad stuff, and I hope people here see your comment and know that not all of us are nutty. I don’t blame them though, because a lot of our community is just filled with bigotry, pushiness, and just… ack. I’m so sorry LW, for the poor behavior of others from my religious faith. 😦

  39. If you weren’t in S. Korea or another Asian country with the emphasis on politeness to elders and business superiors then if he started asking you questions I’d tell you to say, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to convert you to Judaism.” However, the workplace and culture are very different where you are now. Think of the Avoidance Technique as your Stealth Cloak. “Engage cloaking device, Captain!”

  40. I don’t really have any advice, but in my experience folks who are trying to convert you are literally working from a different reality. I wandered into the weird part of the internet once and started reading advice on how to witness to various different sorts of people. The page about witnessing to Hindus actually said the phrase “cow is one of their favorite gods” and reminded the reader that they were engaged in spiritual warfare.
    The whole experience was a sort of “if I don’t laugh I will never stop being angry” thing, and a huge reminder that when I’m dealing with these folks, I am not dealing with people who think in the same way I do. They don’t particularly care how they operate so long as they can win in this particular spiritual battle.
    As for door to door folks, I have had an absurd amount of success with saying “no, thank you, but would you like to buy ‘insert random object from my house here’?” I just match all of their selling techniques with my own selling techniques, and in the end they go away. Once in a while they actually buy some random crap from my house. I once sold a rug!

    1. That… that is amazing. You sold a rug to a door-to-door evangelist who came to YOU. I am in awe!

  41. Door-to-door evangelists are the personal WORST for me. Once, two of them kept knocking and ringing the doorbell when I was home alone with a migraine and I eventually had to get to the door, nearly crying with the pain, and just…shrieked. Incoherently. Demonically, until they went away and never came back.

    I also have had some limited success with pointing out that evangelizing makes for very uncomfortable and unsafe atmosphere, and that I only discuss my religious beliefs with people whom I know are not judging me for them or attempting to convert them. Also with flatly saying something along the lines of either “You’re being rude and inappropriate. Stop.” (doing this in a disapproving-mother voice works best) or “I know I’m going to hell. I’m looking forward to it!” (best is the peppiest happy voice you can muster).

    It’s always very, very awkward trying to get someone you like/respect/have to deal with to stop converting you. It can feel extremely rude and mean. LW, I would advise you to remember that you didn’t make it awkward, THEY did. You did not start this fire. You are just smothering it.

  42. A slightly different perspective : I’m atheist and very sure about that. When I met my (now amicably ex) boyfriend, he mentioned his religion, asked me questions etc. So I asked straight out “why are you asking this?”

    His reply was that he just wanted to know that I’d made my decision from an informed perspective. I wasn’t overjoyed at the topic, but I liked him, so I indulged him (on the grounds it was a One Time Only conversation). It was actually quite fascinating to see what he thought and why (even though it left me wanting to hunt down his parents and swear at them, A Lot). In the end he realised that I had reasons for not believing in God, that if I was wrong I’d be genuinely remorseful & would deserve hell or purgatory (and that I was THAT confident / entrenched in my opinion) – and the killer blow was that even if God did exist, I did not want to support or acknowledge him, due to some pretty awful events in my life to that date which supposedly he let happen, if he existed.

    My partner was happy that I’d let him put his views, that I’d listened, that I had arguments for his points (and let’s face it “even if he does exist I don’t want to know him” is hard to argue with – it’s a statement of fact) – and so he said he hoped I hadn’t minded but he felt obliged to have asked. It had been an interesting discussion in the end, tho I guess you have to be in the mood for it.

    And thereafter, boyfriend did not question my choice.

    So to be honest I’d be tempted to ask “why do you keep asking me / talking to me about your religion?” and see if that gets anywhere. If not, then firmer tactics are definitely needed.

  43. Hey OP. I keep having to preface my comments by saying I’m Christian, but I thought I’d drop a comment here in the main post (and not responding to someone else) to cover my thoughts on this in case it helps you. I come from a Chinese background (grew up in Taiwan) and while in the United States, I believe “No thank you” is a complete sentence and you should feel free to walk away, that isn’t exactly true for Asian culture where that might be perceived as rude.

    I’ve been in your shoe a lot, with religious type people trying to lecture me about my own faith in a most unwanted manner. When it comes to an Asian culture where you’re supposed to respect your elders, I think you do have to deflect and just nod and say “Thank you for your thoughts. However, I have do do X now” and walk away. Do it in as calm and respectful tone as possible, and keep avoiding/deflecting and eventually the guy will back off because it isn’t fun to preach to you anymore when you don’t react at all. Keeping a friendly but firmly unreacting face is your friend here. Give these people nothing to work with.

  44. First, an anecdote:
    When I was a teenager we would get heaps of Latter Day Saints ‘elders’ door-knocking. Whenever my (devoutly Catholic) mum answered the door she would greet them enthusiastically and invite them to come in – “We’re just sitting down to pray the rosary!” They always backed off pretty quickly 🙂

    As for tactics:
    In my family, if somebody begins discussing an uncomfortable topic/something gross etc we interject/reply with a comment about “the chocolate factory”. ie mum discusses at length her Crohn’s disease during dinner*. Sister interjects, “So bigmeeow, I was thinking of going to the chocolate factory – want to come?”
    Sometimes the best response is to pretend you didn’t hear it/are oblivious.

    *our mum has plenty of opportunities to talk over her medical stuff with us – we just don’t like it at dinner.

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