Last time we met up, I briefly mentioned an instance of truly predatory evangelism. Someone on the r/TrueChristian subreddit had tangled with what sounds like the slimiest evangelist in a pack of overqualified contenders. And our OP still has no idea in the world why this slimy recruiter is acting that way toward him.
As with last time, I’m not talking about anybody specific to make them into a target or to pick on them. Instead, I want us to put this very sad story into context as an example of the power of emotional manipulation.
(From introduction: Hobo spiders; distribution of various venomous spiders. Poast data breach; Telegram data breach in 2020; VPN data leaked on Telegram in 2022; Mastodon data breach; Mastodon’s devs just don’t like “toot” anymore; High hopes for Mastodon; Cohost is going dead broke; Why the great #TwitterMigration didn’t pan out. Social media is really really really bad for people’s mental health. Soda pop is bad for your bones too, mmkay.)
(This post first ran on Patreon on 7/11/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there too and should be available by now!)
Christianity doesn’t really help anybody, Part 50817CA120*1023
Around the end of June, a 22-year-old man made an account on Reddit with the handle r/IWISHICOULDTHANKTHEM. (We’ll just call him Thanks.) Very quickly, he made his very first post on the r/Christianity subreddit. He titled it “Same Sex Attraction.”
As he does with most of his OPs (original posts), he deleted it fairly quickly. (At other times, mods in the subreddits delete them for rules violations.) From the responses, though, we can guess that it contained his heartfelt thanks to Jesus for totes curing his “same sex attraction,” which is what hard-right Christians call a sexual orientation toward the same sex (in other words, homosexuality, lesbianism, or bisexuality). Since r/Christianity doesn’t exclusively contain hard-right Christians, he got a very mixed reception—which annoyed him mightily.
Since then, Thanks has mostly argued about sexuality on a range of Christian subreddits. In between, he writes OPs that thank Jesus for totes curing his depression. It’s a miracle, y’all! Jesus has also cured his homosexuality by, apparently, completely mostly sorta-kinda removing his entire sex drive (at 22)! MIRACULOUS!
However, Thanks expresses annoyance at commenters who (correctly) suss out that he’s still quite depressed-sounding. Nobody that I’ve seen has pointed out that he also still sounds completely gay, but I reckon that’d be a bridge too far for the good Christians of Reddit.
Also, Thanks is obsessively and zealously Catholic. He was raised Catholic and still thinks Catholicism is Jesus’ very own originally-founded Christian flavor. I say this because as we’ll see, he acts exactly like a hardline evangelical. Ever since the two flavors got in bed together over abortion, the difference between them has grown smaller and smaller—like the Incredible Shrinking Woman.
A TRUE CHRISTIAN™ has experienced a real live miracle, y’all! (Except it looks exactly like predatory evangelism)
On July 6th, Thanks wrote two posts. I caught the one on r/TrueChristian and archived it, obviously. The other one, which appears to have been identical, was posted to r/Christianity. Both concern a totes for realsies third stupendous, completely obviously divine miracle that he has experienced, one so shockingly compelling that every one of us will hear it and be rocked to our foundations.
Ready? Here it is:
Thanks ran into a creepy, predatory evangelist again after a whole year of lost contact.
Here’s how Thanks described the meeting on the post we still have:
I made a post here before about how I feel like I had the opportunity to have Christian friends then ruined it I met this dude evangelizing over a year ago. I gave my google voice number and we would have Bible study with his other friend. I wasn’t saved yet at this point so I didn’t cherish the importance. I went along with the Bible studies but it wasn’t with my full heart. And we just lost contact.
Today I’m walking from my college student center and I see this guy that might be him. I start walking the same direction then I ask if his name is Jr. He says yes and I have confirmation. So I start reminding him how we met and telling him how I found God on my own and looking for a church. He listened to my words and dapped me up a couple times. He invited me to his church like last time and I said I’ll try. He laughed and said it’s either you will or won’t. So I said I will. I gave him my actual phone number this time, no google voice. And found out we got the same last name.
I think I’m gonna go to the church this time everyone. I’m not nervous but I’m not exactly a social person. But it’s about God. So I think I should give this church a try.
This is actually insane because there was literally no coincidence. To run into someone again I only met once by chance. I had been praying to God to reconnect us and God answered wow.
Knowing what I do now about this young man’s struggles with his homosexuality, my heart hurts now to read this OP. I strongly suspect that he’s kinda crushing on this completely predatory hard-sales evangelist, who views him in turn as just another notch in his Bible cover.
Translating an evangelism encounter into real talk
As mentioned, Thanks is college-aged. The predatory evangelist he mentions preys upon little lost lambs at his college. So it’s not at all weird that he’d run into the guy twice at his college campus.
Last time, the evangelist bagged Thanks’ phone number and his attendance at a couple of Bible studies. That’s halfway to a sale! Alas, Thanks never turned into a full sale. As Thanks put it here,
Then he had me doing Bible studies with his friend. They invited me to church and dinner. I said no cause I had anxiety. We still did Bible study then he said it seemed like I wasn’t interested. So he let me go. I lost the number.
Seriously, ouch. Friendship evangelism hurts.
Then, a year later, Thanks ran into him again. Because our evangelist is always looking to score a sale, he scoped out Thanks’ willingness to sign on the line that is dotted. Thanks seemed a lot closer to a sale now than before, so the evangelist acted super-friendly toward him. He even dapped him up!
(BTW: “Dapping” is a kind of extra-friendly Zoomer handshake. To do it, you press your palm very firmly against the other person’s. Squeeze the air out from between y’all’s two palms. Then, cup your palm slightly as you separate. It’ll make a cute little “dap” noise from the suction. You can do it with your own two hands, even, if you want. When I was in high school, we called these hand farts and got in trouble for doing it in class.)
But when the evangelist tried to zero in on a sale, Thanks tried to wriggle away with an “I’ll try.” The evangelist refused to accept a soft rejection like that. He nailed Thanks down. So yes indeed, Thanks has decided that despite his extreme Catholicism, he’s gonna totally attend this evangelist’s church. You know, just to see what it’s like.
In fact, this evangelist has gotten him very mixed up about just how scrupulously correct Catholicism is after all.
The reactions Thanks got to this example of predatory evangelism
As I said last time, Thanks got next to no responses at all on this ZOMG MEERKUL from r/TrueChristian. After I archived the post, someone slipped in with a second reply: “How does this not have more upvotes?? That’s AMAZING! Look at God work!” And Thanks elaborated on just how amazing the ZOMG MEERKUL really was:
Hallelujah! Thank you!! I was actually shocked. Because idk how I recognized him. I said God that was you. And I kept praying to God before saying “God please reconnect us. I just want to be able to grow in fellowship” because I never had any believers around me to talk about Jesus like that. And the timing didn’t make sense. I was starting to just let it go. I told God well maybe you want to wait until I’m done with my degree so I have more time. And here I see him today. Not done with my degree quite yet. God just works in such mysterious ways.
Yeah, it’s just so mysterious for a predatory evangelist to be working his grift on the same college campus a year later.
On r/Christianity, he titled the same post “Something unbelievable happened IT WAS GOD’S WILL.” There, it garnered about 8 comments (for a total of 12 with his own replies). Many of these came from an atheist who correctly pointed out that this second meeting wasn’t miraculous in the least. Another came from a guy who called that atheist a meaniepie for pissing all over OP’s jen-yoo-wine miracles, and at least one from a Christian who misinterpreted that atheist’s pushback as a general belittlement of Christianity itself rather than an expression of disbelief in the meeting being miraculous.
The next day (on the 7th), Thanks wrote another post about this evangelist for r/TrueChristian. He titled it “Finding a church,” but it apparently contained more information about his totes for realsies third miracle. This time, Thanks described his willingness to get into the car of this evangelist, who was still a near-stranger to him, to visit his church. And this time, commenters zeroed in directly on just how sketchy this entire situation sounded.
For the record, I really hope that Thanks does not trust this stranger’s goodwill. If he’s as hard-sales as I suspect, who even knows what he’ll do once Thanks is entirely within his power. The very least I’d expect him to do is keep his mark at the church way later than the mark wants to be there.
Jesus recruiters use predatory evangelism because it works
When I was in college, I saw firsthand how incredibly manipulative evangelism could be. My Evil Ex—who coincidentally checked every single box of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, though I’m not formally diagnosing him—was a past master of this style of sales.
It doesn’t sound like Thanks’ evangelist is a professional, but he’s got that same whiff of A-Always B-Be C-Closing that Evil Ex always did, that always-on, 24/7/365 nose for a sales pitch opportunity.
We see similar noses for opportunity in the professional leagues, though. One Southern Baptist missionary has had to open a recording studio in his host country to find sales opportunities. Still another missionary zeroes in on war-torn nations like Ukraine to find people desperate enough to listen to what he has to say. And a Southern Baptist missionary board has had to advise its recruiters to offer counseling as a free service to help with recruit retention.
That isn’t even counting the way that pro-level recruiters are taught to view their marks as hopeless and “lost” without their product (which is active membership in their own church/flavor of Christianity).
Recruiters use sneaky, dishonest, manipulative tactics because they can’t just sell their product on its own merits. First of all, it doesn’t do anything that Christians claim it can do. Second, it makes adherents’ lives worse more often than it fixes anything. Third, even the most zealous, fervent Christian recruiters obviously don’t believe their own twaddle—which is why they must embellish their stories so much and so often.
Without dishonesty, Christian recruiters would score very few sales.
And it works on particular kinds of people
There’s just one major problem with this style of evangelism:
It only works on certain kinds of people. People who have their shit together, who have options, who have a firm sense of self and boundaries, who will think critically about any and every claim they hear, who know that magic isn’t real, who have experience with conjobs and hard-sales tactics, they don’t fall for this kind of manipulation.
Dishonest recruiters avoid such people. Very quickly, recruiters learn that these folks are a waste of their time, so they learn to weed them out right off the bat. Instead, they zero in on the people who will more reliably respond to their manipulation: young and impressionable people, the poor, the terrified (or easily-frightened), the mentally ill, the lonely, the intellectually untrained and/or unprepared, those lacking a firm identity and healthy boundaries, and those desperate for magic cures and quick fixes.
Unfortunately, Thanks very obviously falls into every one of those categories.
Again, I’m not picking on him. Rather, my heart goes out to him. Dude needs real help for his problems, but instead he’s latched onto Jesusing as a way to fix himself. If that evangelist he met had any real compassion, he would be pushing Thanks into finding that real help instead of pushing his boundaries and negging him like a pickup artist to score a Jesus sale. Even if that guy scores a sale here, Thanks will soon learn that his problems remain exactly as they are now. The danger, really, is that Thanks will descend into more and more hardline flavors of Christianity to find the one that will totally fix him.
I know where that road goes. It’s not a good place. The only way to win once you’re on that road is to walk away from it forever.
The only good news here is that I don’t see any indication that Thanks actually did attend that recruiter’s church. Instead, he’s been utterly fixated on his “same-sex attraction.”
The more Christianity declines, the more predatory its evangelism will become
Of course, this evangelist dude that has targeted Thanks isn’t some new quantity in Christianity. As I said earlier, even in the 1980s I saw predatory evangelism everywhere around me. I saw people lying about their testimonies, embellishing miracles, and even using urban legends as miracle claims to make sales. I saw Evil Ex acting like a weird movie caricature of a used-car salesman all the time. In fact, when I pushed back against Evil Ex’s doctored-up testimony, everyone got mad at me for interfering with their sales attempts.
Back then, making Jesus sales mattered so much that evangelicals were willing to do absolutely anything to get them. And even then, almost none of us ever made any sales at all. I think I made one, but I didn’t know about it until many years after my deconversion, so I went my entire time as a Christian thinking I’d gotten zero sales. Evil Ex got a few while we were together, but only one stuck that I know of. No one else in our friend circle made any at all.
That dismal record got written when evangelicals were at their height of cultural power and membership growth.
For decades now, they have been on a steady decline in both with no end in sight. Evangelical leaders have been desperately trying to organize evangelism events to try to score big sales, but these obviously aren’t providing a good return on investment. I say that because they are pushing harder and harder on their flocks to do more amateur evangelism on their own, and claiming that this personal evangelism will be the only thing to reverse their decline.
So I don’t think for a million years that Jesus recruiters will become more honest and straightforward with those kinds of demands on them. Instead, I think they’ll laser-focus even harder on the people who are vulnerable to the kind of manipulation that they can bring to bear.
A strange byproduct of predatory evangelism: The monkey-paw wish
When I was Pentecostal, I noticed that there were specific kinds of people who joined our churches as brand-new converts.
Lifelong Pentecostals tended to be pretty well-heeled. They seemed comfortable, at least, if not fairly wealthy. A lot of them were science professionals, too: engineers, chemists, astrophysicists, healthcare providers, etc. Younger ones suffered financially, especially if they married and had kids too early as many did, but usually they got off the struggle bus eventually with their families’ help.
But new converts did not tend to be like that at all. I even remember wondering once, during an altar call, why we didn’t ever seem to bag wealthy, got-their-shit-together converts. As I said, they were people who resonated with evangelicals’ promises of quick cures and magic healings. Often, they were also conspiracy theorists and into other really wackadoodle stuff.
So these new folks would join and when Jesus didn’t immediately fix whatever problems they had, they’d fall upon the congregation expecting tons of help.
And you can bet just how very thrilled evangelical congregations always were to provide it.
After evangelism success, retention is a whole other matter
Nobody joins any church thinking that yes, finally, HERE they shall be able to sacrifice their time and resources for other people until they are drained completely dry. Yes, HERE at last they shall be able to volunteer to be emotionally available and eternally comforting and wise at all hours for whoever wants to call upon them.
No. People join and stay members of any churches because they want to reap the real-world benefits of belonging to one. For the lifelong people, those benefits might include networking and leadership opportunities, enjoying a premade (if often shallow and superficial) friend circle, and feeling safe from Hell or destined for Heaven. But for the new converts, those benefits often include the time and resources of the congregation itself. When congregations inevitably deny these requests, disappointed recruits often lash out and leave.
In college, I even knew a guy who was on his third such congregation when Evil Ex met him and recruited him. He’d left each community after he wore their patience thin. And then he wore our church’s patience thin and left it too. And as he had with the other three, he called us “Pharisees” (Christianese for hypocrites, essentially) for not being willing to do whatever he wanted immediately and to the hilt.
But predatory evangelists don’t care
Knowing that, I wonder how long it’ll take Thanks to run through his future congregation’s goodwill, and what he’ll do once he realizes he has.
Of course, it is absolutely not those recruits’ fault that they took predatory evangelism promises seriously. We don’t blame the victims of wrongdoing for falling for a conjob.
As for the predatory evangelists themselves, they aren’t stressed. They’re not the ones who’ll have to deal with those recruits. They only count sales, never retention! As their recruits wash out one by one, they’re already back out at whatever they think is their divinely-mandated mission field hunting for new prey for their evangelism.
Retention is someone else’s problem.
Not theirs, not ever. All they gotta worry about is the evangelism part of this equation. And that, they can do quite well.
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