Workplace evangelism is so tiresome, am I right? I’m thinking about it because a couple weeks ago, a Daily Kos post describing a military chaplain’s dissertation rocketed around the skept-o-sphere. The writer of the dissertation, William C. Harrison, described himself as a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) member who’d worked as an Army chaplain for the past 27 years. His school, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is also an SBC school.

Very clearly, nobody in his entire chain of scholastic command thought there was anything amiss, much less sleazy and scary, about what he submitted for his Doctorate of Ministry. Evangelicals are so egotistical and narcissistic that they can’t even perceive how truly unacceptable their behavior looks to normies. Worse, even when they do dimly realize it, they have a library’s worth of hand-waving excuses to rationalize doing it anyway. Today, we look at evangelicals in the workplace who keep trying to recruit people for their churches: why they do it, the techniques they use, how normies react to it, and how they rationalize this creepy, predatory behavior.

(Arie Carpenter, mentioned in the introduction. According to her obituary, Aunt Arie died in 1978 at 92 years old. Jessica Tandy played her on stage! And here’s a link to Foxfire’s cookbook.)

(Patreon link.)

Everyone, meet William C. Harrison

Today’s story is just part of the overall exhausting onslaught against human decency that the Religious Right is pushing these days. A year or two ago, maybe we’d react differently. But now, I think maybe we are more aware that we must fight every single offensive move made by these theocrats.

In the Daily Kos post, Chris Rodda introduces us to William C. Harrison. Until his 2021 retirement, this SBC member was a career Army chaplain. I’m guessing he thought he’d begin a career in ministry, because he was working on his dissertation before he even officially retired. He entered seminary shortly afterward, and graduated last summer. Whew, lightning fast! Have you ever even heard of someone writing a dissertation in 7 months? I sure haven’t.

(Well, maybe Kent Hovind beat that record. I refuse to believe that incompetent Creationist sermon of his took more than one meth-fueled weekend to write.)

For those outside the United States, retired military personnel are often significantly younger than their private-sector peers. Their relative youth grants them plenty of time to take up a new career. Then, they draw retirement pay from the military, plus they get veterans’ benefits for life, and then they earn whatever the new career pays. My dad made a good living that way.

We also learn that Harrison is a proud Trumpist who buys fully into every single lie that the SBC holds dear. SHOCKED! Yes, SHOCKED I am!

A guide to workplace evangelism

William Harrison came to the skept-o-sphere’s attention because of his dissertation. It described how the SBC can use military chaplains — just like he was! — to recruit new members for the SBC. As you can guess, it’s really creepy and full of overreach.

And that’s interesting, because here is the Army’s description of what chaplains are supposed to do:

Chaplains are spiritual leaders who reach out and provide spiritual guidance to anyone in need. As an Army Chaplain you’ll have the responsibility of caring for the spiritual well-being of Soldiers and their Families. You’ll also oversee a full program of religious ministries, including workshops, counseling sessions, religious education, and special events.

Elsewhere, another page at the Army site clarifies slightly:

While each Army Chaplain is a clergy person in their specific denomination or faith group and won’t be asked to perform services or duties outside of their denomination, their role is to promote spirituality and faith as a whole, and serve all Soldiers, regardless of background and religion.

Does any of that sound like workplace evangelism is okay? It sure doesn’t to me.

Workplace evangelism and chaplains: they should not mix

Military chaplains serve everyone in their group. It doesn’t matter what beliefs a service person holds or doesn’t hold. Chaplains are supposed to get them the support they need regardless.

But evangelical chaplains, and Southern Baptist chaplains in particular, have a very different view of the matter. They see a military organization, be it a unit of personnel, a whole base, or an entire branch of the armed forces, as their own personal mission field. They see themselves as missionaries. Instead of Jesus telling them to go to Paris to try to talk Parisians into joining their church, Jesus tells them to enlist in the military. From there, he tells them to start selling!

Evangelicals position their evangelism efforts as the expression of their religion. If that were true, their evangelism would indeed be a Constitutional right. It’s very easy to find evangelicals talking about it online.

They always use the same wording, too: Chaplains are missionaries. The armed forces are their mission fields. And the fields always look white unto harvest. Workplace evangelism is a Constitutionally-protected activity. So, these missionaries can get right to work!

Flooding the workplace with evangelists

According to Chris Rodda, about 28% of military chaplains are Southern Baptists. However, less than 1% of their mission fields are. Regardless, William Harrison wants to “flood” chaplains’ offices with even more SBC-lings. He’s sure that if the SBC packs more chaplains into chaplain positions, then the SBC will benefit hugely from their concerted workplace evangelism.

Harrison reveres the so-called Great Commission. This is a later addition to the Gospels. It wasn’t there in the earliest fragments we have. Many Christians think the Great Commission requires them to evangelize constantly. Harrison sure thinks it’s way more important than the oaths he swore to join the military.

Hemant Mehta offers up some very troubling passages from the dissertation. Harrison offers glowing praise to a chaplain who refused to honor a dead soldier’s survivors. The family wanted the soldier to have a secular funeral. This disgusting chaplain retaliated by making the funeral even more Jesus-y. Of course, Harrison claims that some “underground Christians” thanked the chaplain afterward for making sure Muslims heard about Jesus. And naturally, the chaplain didn’t get in trouble!

Oh, and that chaplain’s name? Albert BonhoeTenBoomSpurgeon, obviously!

A growing friction between chaplains’ desire to evangelize and the workplace’s need to provide harassment-free conditions

Around the mid-2000s, friction grew quickly between evangelicals’ desires to evangelize and their employers’ requirement to provide all workers with a harassment-free workplace. Some military chaplains complained to NPR in 2005 that being forced to follow standard workplace rules would “force them to deny a basic tenet of their faith.”

In 2006, Jack Chick set forth this same deceptive redefinition of religious freedom. Of course, it’s far from factual. (For instance, he claimed that the Navy forbade chaplains to pray “in the name of Jesus” in 1997. That is absolutely untrue. But this lie persisted until at least 2014).

Jack Chick and numerous other evangelical leaders wanted to make evangelicals’ situation sound unfair and dire. So, they were all wringing their widdle handsies over the idea of refraining from making sales pitches in the workplace.

They all claimed constantly that their religious freedom meant that all the rest of us had to endure their workplace evangelism. Thus, restricting these pitches limited evangelicals’ religious freedom.

Besides being just plain rude, workplace evangelism distracts from the business’ needs

It doesn’t matter if the person fishing off the company’s dock is trying to catch a date for Friday night, a new sucker for their multi-level marketing scheme (MLM), or a new customer for their church.

Workers are there to do a job. The employer didn’t hire them to make sales pitches for anything else. Likewise, the fisher’s co-workers don’t come in to work to navigate endless sales pitches for stuff they don’t want or need.

I was once guilty of that, long ago. SO CRINGEY. But in my defense, I was 19 or 20 years old. And I learned better.

Putting our foot down

Years later, in Idaho, I discovered that literally half my co-workers were involved with various MLMs. (Some ran several at once!) Eventually, these co-workers’ constant attempts to sell product and sign up downline made even the Mormon masters of the call center put their collective feet down. They forbade all sales pitches. Yes, even Girl Scout cookies. Nobody could actually even bring an Avon catalog to work anymore.

The hunbots grumbled, but everyone else breathed a sigh of relief. A few months later, LuLaRoe went belly-up for the first time, but the anti-MLM backlash had already begun.

Workplace evangelism is like that. We go to work to earn money, not to spend it on mostly useless stuff. Similarly, we go to work because we must, not so we can join a social group we don’t need.

Interestingly, now that I think about it, that call center was like 90% evangelical. We had some very, very, very fervent evangelical workers. But I don’t remember anybody evangelizing at work. At the previous call center, with a similar religious demographic makeup, a pastor’s daughter kept trying and hinting that she wanted to talk about religion with me. But I shut her down hard every time. I still don’t know what flavor she was. Probably something Mormon-adjacent or like a Jehovah’s Witness. That girl was weeeeeeeeeeeeeeird.

The friction boils over into a fight about workplace evangelism

But by 2006, Americans had kind of gotten soured on evangelicals. We’d let them go as far as we could stand. We were starting to see them as greedy, overreaching, dishonest, and vicious when rejected. And their religion was suddenly starting to be more voluntary and optional than it had ever been in American history.

Evangelicals have not handled their decline very gracefully. This dissertation works as part of the decline process. Specifically, it works as the part where they, as frustrated authoritarians watching their power erode more every year, lash out by trying to go extra-hard.

But out in the real world, workplace evangelism does not get a lot of love. Ask a Manager, a long-running work advice site, has a lot of entries about it. (Also, see this flabbergasting column from the same writer.) All of them come down hard on Christians who intrude on others with unwanted sales pitches.

Legal sites (like this one) also hold that unwanted workplace evangelism in the private sector could easily be considered religious harassment by a court. But the military has some different rules, and it’s been long overrun by power-hungry evangelical zealots. So, in 2020, the military tried to clarify exactly how freedom of religious expression should work. Evangelicals weren’t happy with it. They sound like they’re itching to call this their hill to die on.

It’s hard to imagine they actually score that many sales doing this.

But something bigger is at stake for them than sales.

How workplace evangelism reflects evangelical fears

My first pastor had a folksy saying that applies here. He said, Dogs don’t bark at what don’t move. Here, it means evangelicals get way more obnoxious when they fear losing power.

The Red Scare came about (roughly) after World War II, when evangelicals began to notice a certain lack of deference in the general public. Similarly, the Satanic Panic broke out shortly after hippies, rock music, and D&D became more popular among American young adults than church and Bible studies ever were.

And plenty of ex-Christians might remember a time right before deconversion when they got more obnoxious than usual. I sure was.

Evangelicals are grabbing for whatever they can right now. They act obnoxious for the same reason that catcallers impose on women: to tell themselves that they still hold power, that they can still make women fear them.

Ineffective doesn’t mean it’s okay

As I mentioned, workplace evangelism isn’t actually that effective. But it creates a very hostile environment for both the person being imposed upon and everyone else who has to overhear and deal with the Jesus salesperson. When the mark feels like the salesperson outranks them, the situation gets way worse. Then, it starts feeling predatory.

Evangelists in general don’t mind that at all. They use every manipulative trick in the book to make their marks feel like they’re obligated to sit still and listen. In the military, with its huge, life-altering penalties for insubordination and disobedience, it’s more important for military leaders to firmly and decisively rein in these overreaching authoritarians.

In the end, evangelicals act like this more to soothe and reassure themselves than to actually score sales. That doesn’t make them less creepy and predatory, of course. But it does drive home, once again, how little of Christianity is actually based around a real live god who loves and cherishes his human ant farm.

Until he sets it on fire, at least, since he can’t commit global genocide again with water like he did last time. I mean, it’s not like Yahweh can keep his own words straight in his own head. But still.

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Captain Cassidy

Captain Cassidy is a Gen-X ex-Christian and writer. She writes about how people engage with science, religion, art, and each other. She lives in Idaho with her husband, Mr. Captain, and their squawky orange tabby cat, Princess Bother Pretty Toes. And at any given time, she is running out of bookcase space.

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