The Deceptive Tactics of Christian Evangelism

I like to think of myself as a basically honest person. And you’d think that, given that whole “false-witness” thing, Christians would feel the same way. So why are there so many instances where evangelical Christians misrepresent who they are and what they really want to trick people into giving them an audience?

Last week, the Twin Cities Pride Festival was held in Minneapolis to support and celebrate the LGBT community. And as reported by The Column, the event was infiltrated – there’s no other word for it – by an anti-gay evangelical group called Trinity Works, which came with the express intention of converting people and persuading them to become “ex-gay”. (They also claimed they could miraculously cure AIDS and would be doing so there – a claim that could be lethal if anyone actually believed it.)

According to the article, Trinity Works set up a tent along the parade route and advertised that they were giving away free corn and ice water. Festival-goers who went inside, mistakenly assuming it was LGBT-friendly, were ambushed by proselytizers who told them their lifestyle was sinful and they were going to hell. In addition, also according to the Column story, some of the Trinity Works proselytizers roamed the grounds wearing the same color shirts as event volunteers, while others “posed as medics and evangelized to people who sought assistance” (!!).

The evangelical group claims to have won 80 converts. In reality, what almost certainly happened is that they simply found Pride attendees who identified as gay Christians and got them to say a prayer, assuming this meant that those people would immediately adopt Trinity Works’ entire worldview and all their beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexuality. (They wouldn’t be the first Christians to believe that getting people to say the right magic incantation will immediately change their entire personality.)

This isn’t the first evangelical group that’s tried to get unsuspecting people in the door under false pretenses. It’s a common tactic of so-called “crisis pregnancy centers“, evangelical front groups which mimic family-planning clinics that provide contraception and abortion. These groups go to extreme lengths to lure in vulnerable women who are seeking to terminate a pregnancy, only to give them a heavy dose of shame and anti-choice pressure and frighten them with lies about the dangers of birth control. Some of them pretend they do offer abortion, trying to string women along past the legal deadline for abortion in their state. (By contrast, for pregnant women who actually do want children, they offer no real medical care or assistance.)

In response to women who were deceived by these front groups, some cities have passed laws requiring crisis pregnancy centers to clearly disclose that they don’t offer abortions or other actual medical care. The CPCs are fighting these laws in court, claiming that it infringes their “religious freedom” if they’re prevented from lying to women to get them in the door. (Thanks to Irin Carmon for this link.)

While outrage at these deceptive and unethical evangelistic tactics is amply justified, we can take another lesson from them: it’s a sign that anti-gay, anti-choice evangelicals are losing the culture war and know it. After all, if your strategy relies on getting people to give you a hearing under false pretenses, it’s at least a tacit admission that you know your message would be rejected if it were stated openly and that you expect people to hold unfavorable impressions of you and your beliefs. Granted, these Christians may be taking their cues from the Bible, which seems to endorse this lying-to-get-your-foot-in-the-door strategy (1 Corinthians 9:19-22, in which Paul boasts that he can be “all things to all men”). But even so, it seems safe to say that a preacher who was confident of a good reception wouldn’t feel the need to stoop so low.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • FuzzyDuck81

    Somewhat amusingly, the “i can be all things to all men” taken even a little out of context sounds remarkably similar to the “i can be whatever you want me to be” line used by certain, ah.. lets call them “individuals of negotiable affection”.

    I’m dead mature, me :)

  • cipher

    Because “lying for Jesus”. Nothing we haven’t seen before.

    The CPCs are fighting these laws in court, claiming that it infringes their “religious freedom” if they’re prevented from lying to women to get them in the door.

    Oh, please. Anytime someone has the temerity, the unmitigated gall to tell them, “I disagree with you”, they see it as an infringement of their religious freedom. This is what happens when you’re operating at the developmental level of a child and you live in perpetual terror of hearing something that may challenge your belief system and threaten to take away your security blanket.

  • BeaverTales

    They not only lie, they try to prevent access to the truth (which I know is basically the same thing). Preventing students from learning evolution, for instance.

    How can you claim moral superiority when you are constantly suppressing and changing truth? Stop making evidence and proof look like lies on purpose.

  • cipher

    1. They’re lying for the greater good.
    2. Because it isn’t “truth” unless it comes from God.
    3. It isn’t a lie if it brings you to Jesus.

    Now I have to go lie down; my head hurts.

  • StealthGaytheist

    But they’re Lying for the Lord, so it’s OK.

  • Sneezeguard

    On one level I can understand this. As a personal example. My grandmother, in her last years, was terribly ill and still drank and smoke excessively and it was destroying her health even faster. She had a number of illnesses she didn’t understand that were as deadly as cancer. She understood cancer (at least how bad it was), she always said she would change her lifestyle if she had cancer, she didn’t understand these other diseases and thus refused to change her lifestyle for them. ‘It’s not cancer’ she’d say, not knowing it made no practical difference.
    As the family my mother and her sisters tried to convince the doctor to lie to her. To just tell her what she had was cancer. The doctor refused to lie to his patient. I understood both sides of the issue. My family knew that she would never understand reason so they were willing to try and lie to her to help extend her life. The doctor stood by his oath to never lie to and knowingly misinform his patient.
    If you truly believe that innocent people will be tortured for eternity unless you can get specific information to them, I can understand the value judgement that lying is a necessary evil in pursuit of that goal.
    However, understanding does not mean agreement. I can sympathize with them, I can understand their position, and then still tell them that no, they are wrong.

  • L.Long

    Very simple and something many say is not appropriate to state….. these people have all the symptoms of being mentally damaged. They live in absolute fear of being wrong and by others living good happy lives put the lie they believe smacked into their faces like a schite pie. Consequently they MUST try to convince us they are right to ease the internal conflict and pain which we know exists because their BS is…REALLY is .. BS. And they will die with out ever accepting the role of an adult and facing reality head on because reality hurts them worse then the comforting lie. And they are for the most part unreachable and the more we succeed they harder they try to slam us down.

  • Azkyroth

    There is logical consistency in the proposition “this illness is not cancer but is similarly threatening” and from the sound of it convincing supporting evidence in your grandmother’s case. Neither is true of Christian-fundy claims. This is an apples-and-barnacles-that-grow-into-geese comparison.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Well, one could argue that in both cases, it’s a sales tactic…

  • TheSquirrel

    It’s a tough sell, of course they’re going to lie to get you in the door…

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    Several years ago someone posted a guideline of effective evangelizing tactics on the community boards at work (despite there being a very clear rule against religious material being posted). Deception was the major, in some cases only, component of them all. Some were subtle like “find out what their interests are and fake the same” as a means to get your foot in the door but others stated to outright lie, such as “if there is something about accepting Jesus that may be a deal-breaker for them, tell them otherwise. It may seem bad to lie but once they accept Christ they won’t ever want to do it anyway.”

    Some years later an acquaintance discovered the various pick-up artist websites and was telling me about their tactics. The similarities were as uncanny as they were unsurprising.

  • fredx2

    It’s kind of creepy that this guy takes one incident at a gay pride march and then proceeds to paints all Christians as being tarnished by it. And big deal – these Evangelicals were at a gay pride thing, and they exercised their right to do what? Persuade people? How horrible of them. Nobody was forced to listen to them, people with minds entered their tent and people with minds left the tent.

    But lastly to say that crisis pregnancy centers are the spawn of the devil simply indicates that this particular atheist is just a liberal, and wants to spout liberal talking points.

    Again, asking for their first amendment rights – how terrible of them.

  • GCT

    It’s kind of creepy that this guy takes one incident at a gay pride march and then proceeds to paints all Christians as being tarnished by it.

    Um…that happened where?

    And big deal – these Evangelicals were at a gay pride thing, and they exercised their right to do what? Persuade people?

    They used misleading and false pretenses to lure people in to tell them lies and that being gay is wrong and they need to change who they are. That you don’t see a problem with that says quite a bit about you.

    But lastly to say that crisis pregnancy centers are the spawn of the devil simply indicates that this particular atheist is just a liberal, and wants to spout liberal talking points.

    1. What he said is true. They don’t offer abortion services, even though they pretend at times that they do in order to trick women into not having abortions. They lie about their services. They lie to women. They don’t have doctors or licensed medical professionals to give actual medical care.

    2. As if being liberal is some sort of horrible thing? Really? Why can’t I just point out that you acting as if “liberal” is a bad word paints you as just a conservative who wants to spout conservative talking points? At least I would be closer to the truth considering that it is a talking point of conservatives to try and paint “liberal” as a nasty word/thing.

    Again, asking for their first amendment rights – how terrible of them.

    Racists do the same thing in trying to defend their views and bigoted nonsense by claiming that it’s not a big deal since they are just defending their freeze peach. How is your argument any different? Additionally, we can easily turn this around and point out that you are criticizing Adam for using his free speech rights, thus making you a hypocrite.

  • Azkyroth

    The first amendment no more protects fraud than it protects shouting fire in a crowded theater.

    Also, the phrase “just a liberal” is nonsensical.

    Finally, being suckered in under false pretenses and bombarded with hateful lies is likely to be triggering to the large fraction of LGBT people who have been harassed, disowned, assaulted, or threatened with hell and/or the previous and taught growing up to see their orientations as sinful or unclean. While a blanket prohibition on recklessly or deliberately triggering people would be problematic and is probably a non-starter, WHAT THE FUCKING HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU that you would defend doing so?!

  • Martin Penwald

    It reminds me the serie of books from Valerio Evangelisti, where the main character is Nicolas Eymerich, an Inquisitor (based on the real Nicolas Eymerich). Before an investigation, he absolves other inquisitors from their future sins (like parjury, lying, etc) and is absolved by one of the other.
    Same pattern of thought here, I guess.

  • felixcox

    “then proceeds to paints all Christians as being tarnished by it”
    Please quote where the author did this. Otherwise, it seems you are making things up to support your tribe.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X