I’ve Been Attending 18+ Anime Cons (Like Any Good Christian Should)

“You can’t be serious. Why would a Christian go there?”

I should have been ready for this kind of reaction to my posts about going to an 18+ anime convention, but I wasn’t. I had invented this fantasy in my mind where our community members would flood my con post with praises like, “Right on!” and “That’s awesome that you went” or more inquisitive comments like, “Were the temptations you faced really extreme?” or “What was it like ministering there?”

This conquering hero mentality faded really quickly when I posted a reel showing (tame) footage of the event. The comments were few and, like the one quoted above, mostly judgmental in tone.

I admit that my initial reaction to these responses wasn’t great. I sulked a little. I got a little angry, too. And then I did what I should have done in the first place: I turned to Jesus.

In the Book of Luke, Jesus is often found at large gatherings, like the convention I went to. In fact, it’s been said that most of the Gospel of Luke is set on the way to, at, or just after a party. One such instance is described in verses 27-32 of chapter 5:

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Levi, also known as Matthew (and the writer of another of the Gospels), is called by Jesus to leave everything and become his disciple. And what’s this tax collector’s response? Levi not only goes, but he throws a lavish party to celebrate his new path in life, inviting all his tax collector friends, with Jesus at the center of it.

The Pharisees, as legalistic as they were, gave the expected response: they approached Jesus’ disciples and asked why their teacher was cavorting with sinners. The tax collectors, after all, were among the worst of the worst in Jewish society. They were considered unclean before the Jewish law and thus unable to go to the temple to receive forgiveness for their sins. In fact, they were so unclean that Jews threw their tax money at them rather than risk touching them. This is all on top of their position as working for the hated Roman occupiers (and thus being traitors) and making their living by skimming off the top, robbing their fellow Jews.

Jesus treated Levi and his friends with love and compassion, though—these are the very people, he explains, that he’d come for (v. 32).

I felt that type of kinship with the attendees at Ecchi Expo and other such conventions (I’ve been to four 18+ cons over the past two years). These are the lovely and broken people that I want to minister to, that I hope to connect to Beneath the Tangles. My desire is to develop meaningful friendships with many of them and to show them the hope that we as Christians know.

But judging by responses I received (and presumably much more left unsaid), not all Christians buy into this idea. Why? Pharisaism may certainly be one reason. Judging by how non-believers often view Christians, it’s as rampant now as it was in first-century Palestine. Other reasons may include not knowing scripture very well, which can lead to substituting an emphasis on tradition and conservative values for faithfulness to the heart of God, or simply living in disobedience, justifying avoidance of discomforting situations that Jesus requires us to enter.

That last possibility sticks with me most because it’s one that I know most intimately. For even if I’m being obedient to the call to go where non-Christians are in these particular cases, I wouldn’t say that doing so is my daily lifestyle. In so many ways, I’m not living a sold-out life to Christ. I continue to conform to many of the patterns of this world by setting my faith aside in everyday activities at work, play, and home, instead of letting Jesus and only Jesus determine how I live, like the times I pass up developing deeper relationships that could lead to spiritual conversations at my workplace or when I find myself turning my head to the indigent rather than looking them in the eye and giving them my spare change and a little bit of conversation.

But thank God that this life is a journey and I have the chance to grow and learn! Our Father sent Jesus to forgive me where I fall short and the Holy Spirit to transform me. Bit by bit, I can make changes that allow me to move forward in obedience and love. And a part of that moving forward is to get out of my comfort zone, to move away from having only like-minded friends, and instead purposely seek out the people that I might not be loving the same way Jesus did, those that I might instead be judging or dismissing. 

How does that look in a real-life setting? It means evaluating your talents, gifts, and skills, and thinking about the type of people that God has specially placed on your heart. Do you have a heart for the orphans? The homeless? Teen mothers? The incarcerated? Fellow geeks? Start there and investigate how you can be among them and befriend them. That friendship part is especially important: to share the hope you have, you must first love them; to love them, you must get to know them; and to know them, you must be among them.

I’ve also discovered some additional tips in my visits with otaku at anime conventions that may offer wisdom across a variety of settings:

  1. Plug into an already-existing ministry if you can. Jesus Otaku, for instance, has the kind of experience and passion in outreaches to otaku that I can’t match, and might be a good resource for West Coasters.
  2. If you’re going somewhere that is heavily tempting to you, don’t go it alone. A partner offers accountability, security, and encouragement.
  3. Follow up with your contacts. I’ve known Christians who are passionate about proselytizing but then end their encounters with just the conversation and a tract, thinking that the next steps are now “up to God.” All conversion is up to God, frankly, but are we justifying “leaving it up to God” because it’s scriptural or because we feel uncomfortable or unwilling to go further? Following up isn’t just smart—it’s a demonstration of love, modeling ourselves after a God who pursues us passionately. The people you meet are worth more than just a one-off conversation.
  4. Always be in prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is pretty perfect, in fact, for putting our eyes where they need to be and asking for protection.

But maybe you’re not ready to go to an 18+ convention or host a neighborhood barbeque to get to know those around you. Maybe you feel unsafe doing so. Or perhaps you’re just too nervous. That’s okay. Transformation happens over time as you climb upward toward knowing and worshiping God more and more. The little steps in faith and obedience add up, bringing you closer and closer to the work that God is preparing you to do.

Or maybe your next step is an internal one, rather than an outward action. Maybe it’s a “heart” step, just waiting to be taken. Maybe it’s time to look at your justifications for inaction, or examine your heart for self-righteousness, and see if you are identifying more with the tax collector at the feast or the Pharisee steering clear and casting shade.

If that’s you, I encourage you to pray on it. Pray that you won’t miss the feast; that you won’t miss the neighborhood barbeque, the party or the prison visit, the inner-city tutoring opportunity or homeless shelter cookout, or maybe even the 18+ anime convention. Because if you do, you’ll miss the very people Jesus loves. You’ll miss the very ones our beautiful, heroic Savior came to find without fear or reluctance. And when we do the same as Jesus, going to all these places—the highways and byways, the parties and the revelries—we’ll not only encounter those he loved, but we’ll encounter him, too.

What better place for a Christian to go?

The featured photograph was taken at Anime Expo 2011 by Doug Kline (PopCultureGeek.com). It has been made available for use with this attribution. It was edited for size restrictions.

8 thoughts on “I’ve Been Attending 18+ Anime Cons (Like Any Good Christian Should)

  1. This is a really good post, especially complemented by how, in my experience, a lot of this negative judgment (especially in the case of these conventions or of their surrounding genre) rests squarely on assigning definitions of “sin” to how people (especially women) are dressed, which generally does not exist in the Bible, Exodus 20:26 being one of few exceptions.

    If I may ask, is that Christina K at timestamp 0:19?

    1. It unfortunately feels as if many people would rather point out sin rather than serve people and point them toward relationship with Christ. :/

      And yes, that’s Christina! I grabbed dinner with her and few other folks at one of the cons.

  2. “That friendship part is especially important: to share the hope you have, you must first love them; to love them, you must get to know them; and to know them, you must be among them.”

    This part right here. Ever since my grandmother died to cancer 13 years ago, I haven’t been able to reopen my heart to my existing relationships, and they’ve suffered as a result. I don’t really have many friends left from high school, and even then, I barely had any. As for college, well, I barely made any friends. In fact, it’s always been difficult to make friends for me, even while she was still alive, due to Asperger syndrome. But I know that God is still with me as I struggle with banishing my fear of talking to others to the Shadow Realm.

    1. Thanks for sharing! It sounds like you’ve had a great many struggles. I’m encouraged that you continue to try to move forward though. Do your best!

  3. Hi! You said “That friendship part is especially important: to share the hope you have, you must first love them; to love them, you must get to know them; and to know them, you must be among them.” That sounds amazing, and obviously it is easier to talk to people you have come to know well. But is this right?

    Jesus says that it is His job to build the church (i.e. to convert people’s hearts) and our job is ‘just’ to tell people the good news about Him. Do you need to be someone’s friend to do that? Or is it just easier?

    Don’t get me wrong – I think this is very important work you’re doing! But the friendship is a bonus, and relatively easy to achieve because you know you have something in common with the people at the con (a love of animé for example, or games, or figure collecting, or a particular work). The important bit is to tell people so Jesus can convict them (or convince them, which sounds less antagonistic). You could do that from on top of a soapbox!

    We are also called to love our neighbours but I don’t think that is so we can evangelise to them, it’s so we can help them, which requires us to know them (or possibly not, as in the case of the good Samaritan). We can be (and should be if required) neighbours to complete strangers, and we can also share the good news with them on that basis. The friendship – the community – is for our benefit, to allow us to support and be supported. It’s not a requirement.

    What do you think?

    1. It’s important we take the fullness of scripture into account. Jesus’ life is our greatest model, right? And you see him moving in people in the fullness of how we can be reached. He’s speaking truth very frankly through scripture. He’s doing storytelling. And he’s spending time with people. There are those that are immediately changed by being with him, not just through miracles but just by him explaining the Bible. And there are those with whom it took time, including his own family members.

      And thus, I don’t think this is an either/or situation. And it tends to be, this is about taking up our cross and living a life fully dedicated to God, which makes things complicated. I don’t think “friendship” evangelism is necessarily easier or more challenging than the door-to-door style. Either can lead to justification and pride, and one may be more comfortable for a person than the other. A good question would be, why are we doing evangelism in the first place? For traditional evangelists, I’ve often seen it done from a legalistic perspective and it hardens their hearts. “They don’t believe because they’re sinners, and it’s not up to me anyway. I’m yelling from the watchtower; that’s all I can do.” But is it really?

      And for the relational method, people don’t follow through. They get too comfy. They forget to talk about Christ. They can tell themselves they’re doing enough when the gospel MUST be the goal. If we love our friends (or neighbors), we have to share the life-saving hope we have. Otherwise, I wouldn’t say we’re loving them at all.

      There’s places for one style or the other, or both. Christian living isn’t procedural—it’s life, with all its twists and turns and the depth therein. But I think as Paul demonstrates and Christ himself, we meet different people with different methods. The Holy Spirit will guide us if we’re really seeking God and his desires. Increasingly in our culture, the way in is not by clearly explaining the gospel because the hindrance now for many of our readers is they live in a culture where there isn’t an automatic buy-in for our God (like in 1st century Palestine) or any god (1st century Greece and Rome).

      Yet, people are still thirsting for the gospel. They always will. It’s our greatest need. And studies show that Gen Z is more open to religion than Baby Boomers are. So how can we reach them? Well, everyone is different, but many of them also just want friends. Friendship—and not necessarily these deep, life-long friendships (every relationship is different and we can’t make a thousand life-long friends)—is a way to show Christ’s love and opens up opportunities to share the gospel, if we avoid the pitfalls of relational evangelism and keep our eyes on what’s important (loving God and loving people).

      It’s not easy. But carrying our cross shouldn’t be. What’s easy is to do just enough to make ourselves feel good or to do nothing at all and ignore it.

      I’ll leave you with an example that’s dear to me: my mom’s. She’s old-school. During my youth, she went to the goods stores on our local military installation day after day to approach fellow Koreans and share the gospel. She was letting the Holy Spirit work, not developing friendships. Seems contrary to what I’m preaching here. Later on, I realized that most Koreans in the U.S. were looking for community which primarily was centered in business groups, Buddhist temples, or the church. They needed someone to give them that connection.

      I saw my mom evangelize like this on a couple of occasions, but what I saw more often was what happened afterward. She held bible studies in her house week after week, year after year. She spent hours on the phone talking to pastors about theology (Korean pastors sometimes tend to come to that position because they desire authority, not for a love of God). And she prayed, often hours each day, for those she visited.

      In other words, her approach met the culture. She let God do the work. And she carried her cross—often at her own expense in many ways—sacrificing to love others like Christ love the church. It was her life.

      It needs to be our lives, too. That’s what we’re here for. And I think as we truly love the people around us with the love that Christ has for us (which is another reason for making friends by the way—the more we spend time with people and pray for them, the closer we get to the heart of God), we’ll find ways that speak to their personal experiences and which allow us to become better instruments to draw them closer to relationship with God.

  4. I’ll certainly admit to some skepticality. It’s really extremely easy to be skeptical of attending such a con when I’d wager most detractors are probably have such weaknesses to this content, such as myself, and easily project their own weaknesses onto other people. I know I’d probably be quite tempted in such a scenario, but I know some friends who are really into this kind of thing, and it’s a lot like any other anime convention, and you’re still likely in polite company during the majority of the convention. You, Sir, are courageous for braving such uncharted wilds in Christ’s name in such a Gospel Recipient rich environment.
    Glad you got see Christina Vee as well. I got to meet her again too last year. I felt bad for not being able to afford her autograph.

    1. Thank, Tyler. I totally feel ya (as I’m sure most guys and many women will). I think God is using Beneath the Tangles to help me in focusing on love for others and for mission. I can generally focus on this environment: keep my eyes down, treat women as the image bearers they are rather than as sexual objects, and have a sense of purpose rather than languishing and getting caught up in temptation.

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