Ed Stetzer, one of the bigwigs of the Southern Baptist Convention, has written an opinion piece for CNN* that displays in luscious detail just what’s wrong with his religion: he totally doesn’t understand boundaries or care about people’s consent, and he’s not interested in learning about either one.
It’s a glurge piece for Easter called “Why do Christians keep inviting you to church?” and I suppose it’s meant to make non-Christians marvel at the Jesus Aura of evangelism-minded fundagelicals. In the grand tradition of glurge, his post not only fails spectacularly to persuade those who don’t already buy into the ideas contained therein, but it also says some really awful things about those ideas that the writer doesn’t realize are being communicated. I thought it’d be fun, this lovely Easter holiday, to look at it in detail.
The post begins on a most inauspicious note.
“Maybe you’ve wondered why Christians like me won’t just leave you alone. I assure you, it’s not because we like imposing ourselves on others. In fact, for many of us, it’s just the opposite.”
Actually, I don’t wonder. I already know why they won’t. This country is filled to the brim with people who are either ex-Christians entirely or who have drifted away from formal religion generally; we already know exactly why fundagelicals have to be 24/7 salesbots. Their religion is hemorrhaging believers left and right.
What I actually want is for Christians to leave me alone and quit trying to run my life. If they can’t do that, then I’m not really interested in hearing anything out of them.
Nor do I particularly care what they like or dislike. They are salespeople. They are imposing on me and using up my precious lifetime’s minutes trying to sell me a product that I do not want. The comfort level of the creepy Christian salesbot trying to sell me that unwanted product doesn’t actually enter into my considerations–nor should it. He continues,
But I also know that, to atheists or adherents of other faiths, it can be confusing to know how to respond to such outreach. Understanding our motivation may help.
No, we’re not confused.
Here we go again with Ed Stetzer assuming that I care about why he and his pals are bothering people. No, actually. I don’t care why someone keeps trying to stomp on me and hurt me. I just want them to stop doing it. I don’t cut slack for people who do it because they think a Giant Purple Space Weevil is bearing down on me. Those people need to figure their shit out before they interact with others.
Ed Stetzer is making a common mistake here, though–did you see it? He’s literally trying to push the fundagelical version of love here. Fundagelicals believe that love often doesn’t look or feel loving at all. The motivation makes all the difference in its expressions. The most horrific, pain-inducing, boundary-violating actions can be seen as wonderfully loving and gracious if the motivations behind those actions are correct.
In fundagelicalism, the actual means used to accomplish a goal are almost not a consideration at all. That’s why fundagelicals tend not to focus on exactly how they’re going to do stuff (there’s a lot of underwear gnomes thinking in the religion: We’ll just pray and Jesus will make this happen!). What matters more is the result, which is why fundagelicals do a lot of really skeevy and dishonest things in their efforts to proselytize. And what matters more than that, even, is the motivation behind the actions in the first place.
Ed Stetzer is also displaying his own narcissism by assuming that what he wants matters more than what his sales targets want. If he feels an urgent need to proselytize, that matters more than literally anything his victims might be thinking about.
And in his religion, that kind of narcissism is totally okay.
Little wonder so few of us are buying the product anymore.
The Great Omission.
He goes on to whine about what Christians call their Great Commission, which in their mythology is the supposed command Jesus gave his followers to go convert everyone they possibly can before the end of the world comes (which was, remember, supposed to happen within the next couple of decades of Jesus’ lifetime at most). This commission is, unfortunately, largely regarded as a later addition to the Bible, but it’s one that fundagelicals cling to because it gives them all the excuse they need to be asshats to others.
Ed Stetzer continues with a little story about how he and his pals prayed super-hard for a bunch of people to be open to his sales pitch, saying of the story,
I imagine some react in horror to that statement thinking: How dare anyone try to convert someone to another religion? That makes sense in a world where spirituality has been Oprah-fied, and in a culture that says it’s fine to believe what you want as long as you don’t try to convince anyone else to believe differently.
Actually, what horrifies me is that he didn’t get the consent of the people he prayed for before asking his god to strong-arm them into being vulnerable to his noxious come-ons. That sounds grotesque to me–monstrous even. But I don’t think that because I think some big invisible sky wizard is seriously going to force me with magic to stop caring about evidence for claims or make me believe untrue supernatural claims. Those prayers are a waste of time, but that he did it–and then bragged afterward about doing it–displays how little fundagelicals care about other people’s self-ownership and rights.
He mocks and derides the idea of a culture that celebrates consent and self-ownership, that teaches to live and let live. That’s really all anybody needs to know about his religion, isn’t it? If he were a Nice Guy™ acting like this on a first date, I’d have already gotten up and left the restaurant by now.
Oh, but he has an excuse:
It works great, if not for one reality: the words of Jesus.
Unfortunately, if someone else doesn’t believe in the same thing that Ed Stetzer does, then it doesn’t really have much of an impact as an excuse for bothering people and infringing on their free time. I don’t care how hard he believes in the Giant Purple Space Weevil. That may matter a lot to him while he’s trying to rationalize an action to his pals, but it doesn’t matter at all to the rest of us.
Then we go into another favorite Christian pastime: making false comparisons:
Proselytize means to convert someone to another belief or opinion. And the truth is, we all do it — or at least try to. We try to convince our buddies that our sports team is better, our wives that this restaurant serves tastier food, our children that smartphones aren’t actually as interesting as adults make them seem.
Except people who like Chipotle aren’t trying to outlaw all other restaurants. Nobody knocks on my door to sell me on the supremacy of the Seattle Seahawks (and they’d better not). No pro-pistachio group is throwing tantrums because people who like chocolate ice cream are eating cones of it in public like they have equal rights or something.
Ed Stetzer’s group lost the right many years ago to compare their proselytization efforts with those of everyday persuasion about everyday topics. But it’s fascinating that he’s trying to go there. Is he saying that Christianity’s just a preference like what restaurant someone likes? Or that fundagelicalism is simply like the sportsball team someone fancies? Because I kinda thought that he thought religion was a little more important than that.
Christians who are actively trying to rob others of their rights don’t get to dictate to those others how we’ll react to their proselytization attempts. Actually nobody does, but they particularly don’t. Fundagelicals are a canker sore in the mouth of humanity, forcing the rest of us to deal with them and work around them and get stuff done somehow despite the pain they cause.
And sensible parents don’t lie to their kids. Ed Stetzer might be lying to his own kids about smartphones, but a decent parent would acknowledge that smartphones are a lot of fun. Interesting that he doesn’t want kids to have smartphones, isn’t it? I wonder how many kids in his very own church have stumbled across real science or history–or found debunks of his favorite talking points–using the computers in their pocket? I’m no fan of giving very young children expensive electronic gadgets, but I wouldn’t ever lie to them about it.
Or does Ed Stetzer himself think smartphones are no fun? I should introduce him to Covet Fashion. (Goddamn you, Covet, I cannot quit you.) And I’ll do it in a way he’ll understand. I’ll block his access to all other phone apps, legislate my favorite game to the top of the heap by giving it tax breaks and legal preferences, peel away the rights of people who like Candy Crush Saga better, and then send a constant stream of Coveters to his door to invite him to join their own Fashion House clan while putting down all the other Fashion Houses. If he refuses, they’ll tell him about the torture and pain (and total lack of Top Looks) that awaits him for not joining their clan.Oh won’t that be fun?
It’s Still a Dirty Word.
He whines about how people dislike the word “proselytize,” calling it “the ‘P’ word,” and tries to excuse his desire to do it anyway because Penn Jillette didn’t mind it.
I like the show Bullshit! as much as anybody, but Penn Jillette’s personal boundaries are not my personal boundaries. I’m not required to allow Christians to run roughshod over my life just because one well-known atheist said at one point that he was theoretically okay with it. The fact that Ed Stetzer isn’t interested in finding out what his victims’ own boundaries are, instead using that one atheist’s quote as a permission slip to abuse others with his come-ons and manipulations, is another serious mark against his religion.
If Ed Stetzer’s god were real, I’d have to assume that he was either evil or stupid based on the behavior of this follower, especially when he says this:
I get that Christians who are proselytizing seem out of step in modern, live-and-let-live America, but when you are a Christian, you don’t get to pick and choose which of his commandments to obey.
Oh, does this sanctimonious twit mean like all the commandments he himself is ignoring? Here’s one partial list. Here’s another that’s even more to the point. These aren’t all commandments per se, but they’re certainly verses that most fundagelicals totally ignore or try to pretend aren’t really exactly what they say they are. (I saw in the wild yesterday a Christian trying to claim that the two she-bears in the Old Testament story in 2 Kings 2:23-24 actually mauled 42 adult bandits, not 42 little boys, a very common modern fundagelical attempt to massage the story to fit into their notion of inerrancy, though someone did immediately ask why she was okay with any number of any group being mauled to death for the crime of taunting anybody. She took a vow of silence at that point, unsurprisingly.)
The problem is that every year that goes by produces more non-Christians who have a good understanding of exactly what fundagelicals are ignoring in the Bible–and what they don’t know about it. Ed Stetzer, like his tribe, focuses on the verses that prop up what he himself wants to do–and totally ignores the ones that would stop him from doing it.
He goes on:
I understand that some non-Christians think Christians who share the good news are being intolerant. Admittedly, some Christians have been intolerant at times throughout history, seeking conversions through unethical means.
Yes, I saw one of those attempts just recently written by no less than one of the biggest names in the Southern Baptist Conven–oh dear, how awkward!
There’s a reason why non-Christians think Christians are unethical and intolerant. It’s because we’ve had a lot of experience with unethical, intolerant Christians. Many of us sat in church pews for years beside unethical, intolerant Christians. Some of us even were once unethical, intolerant Christians ourselves.
He talks about the situation like it’s just a few silly-billy non-Christians who kinda think that based on some silly li’l mistakes that his tribe’s made in the far-flung past, and this is a mischaracterization that he surely knows isn’t true. He’s not reluctantly admitting anything here that his would-be victims don’t already know very well based on personal experience.
And alas, Christian corruption and dishonesty isn’t a “throughout history” situation located only in the past. Nor is it a situation of one or two bad apples spoiling the whole bunch. It’s ongoing now and it’s incredibly common. Fundagelicals are so eager to proselytize that they bend rules and break them constantly in order to shove themselves into people’s field of view. They even try to sneak into schools to reach the vulnerable children there, away from the eyes (and consent) of their parents–because they know very well that if they can’t inculcate children with their nonsense very early, they’ll never get the chance.
In a very ballsy attempt to deflect his own blame for intruding on others, he continues:
However, sharing our faith itself is not intolerant, but in fact is something that shows we really believe what Jesus said and we care about those around us. Tolerance means more than acceptance of different people’s beliefs, sometimes it also means listening to them.
Of course, what he really means here is that we need to listen to him whenever he wants to sell us stuff. (Freedom for me, but not for thee! — it’s the motto of fundagelicalism.) Ed Stetzer doesn’t actually understand what real tolerance is; that’s another word his religion has co-opted and tried to redefine.
Fundagelicals would love it if the rest of us allowed them to redefine tolerance to the point where we let them dictate our lives and destroy our rights as if they’d actually won their various culture wars. But they lost. They need to learn what tolerance really means, or we’re going to leave them behind.
No No, Please Dictate My Feelings For Me.
Ed Stetzer winds up his post at last:
So, please don’t be offended. Your Christian friends, neighbors, family members or co-workers are mustering up some courage because they care enough to reach out to you.
How about if Christians don’t fucking tell people what they will and won’t be offended by? How about if they find out what their victims really want and need and give them that, instead of showering them with sales pitches they don’t want?
How about Ed Stetzer’s poor widdle beleaguered salesbots not try to hard-sell us against our will, and instead just be our friends without trying to fix or change us to be more like themselves? Or how about they leave us the fuck alone unless we ask them about their religion, as a mark of respect, and let us enjoy a fun candy-filled holiday with our families doing whatever is most meaningful to us?
Oh, but that’d just continue the circling of the drain for the SBC’s membership, and that’s what pays Ed Stetzer’s bills, isn’t it?
Look, he’s basically telling his tribe to be creepy pickup-artists and use creepy pickup-artist tactics to strong-arm people into joining his tribe. Pickup-artists do this stuff because they know that though they’ll be rejected a thousand times, they’ll sometimes find the one young woman in the crowd who has low self-esteem or Daddy issues or something who actually will respond to their tactics. They’re looking for that one young woman. They know they’ll piss off and alienate the other 999 women who know them for who they are: predators and abusers, emotionally-stunted children in men’s bodies who have no idea how to relate to women as equals and co-partners in a relationship. But unless they grow up and figure this shit out, they’re left with seeking that one young woman in the crowd.
Fundagelicals are exactly the same way. Their authoritarian system needs leaders and followers. The ones who proselytize the hardest are leaders, and they seek followers. Normal, emotionally-mature, well-adjusted people will be totally turned off by the tactics that Ed Stetzer favors. They’ll know those tactics for what they are. But he’s not looking for people like that. He’s looking for the authoritarian followers. He’s looking for the people who’ll read this kind of appeal and feel a social obligation to do as he asks. Those are the people who will respond to proselytization and be suggestible enough to consider joining his group.
He implores us:
They believe they’ve seen lives changed and are following a person whom they believe guides them toward faith and good works.
Too bad those changes didn’t include respect for others. But then, most people are well aware that Christians tend to be raging hypocrites. And the more focused they are on proselytization, the worse they are.
He ends thusly:
Trust that it comes from a good place and take a moment to hear them out.
Ed Stetzer can go lick an egg.
I don’t have to take a single second more out of my day to hear a salesperson than I wish to spend. I can refuse them for any reason I wish, even no reason at all, and I can walk away at any point I choose. He can’t force me to reconsider that decision. He probably wishes he could, but all he can do is beg me to reconsider. That’s what consent is all about, and it’s little wonder he doesn’t like the idea of people having consent.
I’ll bet he masturbates to the idea of the Good Ole Days when he didn’t have to beg–when his every word carried force, when his desires were law, when people had to listen whether they liked it or not.
And his tribe is doing every single thing it can to make that vision a reality again.
Until then, they are forced to beg for their victims’ time. If they managed to succeed in their quest for dominance, you can bet they wouldn’t be pretending to be nicey-nicey anymore.
Of course, Ed Stetzer isn’t just talking to a bunch of fictional non-believers.
He’s also talking to his own tribe.
He knows that his followers aren’t actually doing a lot of proselytization–the statistics indicate that most of them manage to proselytize perhaps just one person a year, with many not even managing that dismal number. Young fundagelicals, who have the least experience and the least understanding of reality of all their tribe, do the bulk of that evangelism. And poor and uneducated people, who are the most vulnerable to the come-ons and manipulations of fundagelicalism, evangelize far more often than those who have more secure and favorable bases. The older, better-educated, and more financially secure a person is, the better the chances are that that person will slide out of fundagelicalism–or be immune to its threats and promises.
So he’s also talking to his tribe. He’s telling them indirectly that their totally pure motivations for proselytization make it okay to bother others, that it’s okay to break the social contract by selling a product to others that they patently clearly don’t want. He’s trying to make their proselytization sound just like the normal, everyday conversation that people have about sports or food or gadgets. He’s telling them that he’s softened up the marks by wheedling them into a state of greater receptiveness to the sales pitch–so go out there and harvest!
I don’t think it’ll work though. Americans are getting more and more savvy to the false promises of fundagelicalism, and an op-ed post isn’t going to turn around a many-years-long baptism drought. The only thing that could is a course that Ed Stetzer absolutely does not want to take.
So… humanity wins.
Isn’t that a nice Easter message?
See y’all Tuesday! Enjoy your day–and enjoy the half-off chocolate tomorrow!
* h/t to our lovely Lambchop.