When ‘evangelism’ intends to alienate and exclude

That Truth for Youth culture-war Bible we discussed yesterday is destined to be poorly received.

I think that’s by design.

The purpose of this new, improved Bible, allegedly, is to “reach youth with the gospel.” By the “gospel,” unfortunately, these folks mean the culture-war gospel — not the good news of Jesus the Christ, but a collection of sermons condemning abortion, homosexuality, sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll. But set aside that little matter of blasphemy and let’s just consider this publication’s purported “youth appeal.”

It doesn’t have any. And, again, I think that’s the point.

Imagine the certain fate of any poor kid who accepts the purported premise of this special Bible and attempts to do what he or she has been instructed to do with this Truth For Youth comic-book enhanced edition of the New Testament. Imagine what will happen — not what might happen, but what will happen — when this child takes copies of this horrifying book into school and attempts to distribute them to his or her classmates.

That attempt will not end well. “Here, this is for you. It’s a Bible — but you should like this Bible because it’s a special Bible just for you. It has comic-book stories about abortion and witchcraft in it.”

That will go badly, in part, because the “youth appeal” of this thing seems to have been crafted by people whose understanding of youth culture is roughly that of Principal Weatherbee in old Archie comics. But more importantly it will go badly because what these poor kids have been commissioned to do is deliberately inhospitable and rude.

There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of evangelism practiced and promoted by American Christians. One is hospitable and the other is not. One approach aims to cross lines and to erase boundaries. The other aims to draw lines and to enforce boundaries.

The latter always pretends to be the former, but that pretense is exposed by the way its practitioners determinedly stick with what isn’t working. When their approach offends, alienates and ostracizes the very people they claim to be trying to “reach,” they never reconsider or readjust that approach. They double down.

Because the truth is that their approach is working. It’s working perfectly. It’s doing just exactly what it was designed and intended to do: offend, alienate and ostracize.

That’s the point. Offensiveness is a feature, not a bug. Widening the gap between Us and Them was the plan and the purpose all along.

The poor kids being sent forth with those copies of Truth For Youth to give out at their schools don’t realize this. They’re young. They still believe what they’ve been told — that they are being sent out to share God’s love and to rescue sinners from the fires of Hell.

“Give these out to your unsaved friends,” they are told. And they will, and they do. And very soon, as a result, they have no unsaved friends — no friends at all outside of the tribe.

And that was the plan all along. If you want to control someone, you need to cut them off from every outside influence. Their loyalty to the tribe will be guaranteed because they will have nowhere else to turn.

After the debacle with their classmates, these children will return to church and will be far more receptive to the notion that American Christians are suffering “persecution” for their faith. Sent forth to give offense and to induce mockery, they will inevitably suffer mockery, and that can be twisted into evidence that the tribe is marginal, vulnerable, put-upon and grievously burdened.

Objectively, it’s not easy to convince American Christians of such a thing. It seems laughable to suggest that a pampered majority religion that enjoys countless privileges and cultural hegemony is somehow suffering “persecution.” But by encouraging young people to provoke the hostility and rejection of their peers, you can make those young people more likely to accept this absurd claim. And that’s useful, because fostering a sense of grievance and a persecution complex is an invaluable tool for maintaining control and discipline over the tribe.

All of which is to say that the Truth For Youth Bible will be spectacularly ineffective as a “soul-winning” evangelism tool. But it will be very effective, indeed, for it’s intended purpose.

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  • I have a friend who is devout and does not celebrate Christmas, seeing it as a “pagan” holiday rather than a “Christian” one.  

    But kudos to them that they freely acknowledge that such a thing is simply their personal choice as a family, and not something that threatens their beliefs simply for being prominent, nor something they begrudge anyone else.  

  • Andrew

    I can respect that more than I respect the whole “War on Christmas” folks – there was a time when celebration of Christmas was discouraged by American governments – but that was back when those governments were explicitly Christian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christm…an_New_England)

  • arcseconds

    I’m sure this strategy will have the effect that Fred describes.

    It’s been noted before that the practice of sending relatively fresh inductees out going door-to-door looking for new blood generally ends up strengthening solidarity with the religion for the missionaries.  There’s nothing like forcing someone to argue for something to cement their belief in it themselves, and furthermore they’re in hostile territory with no-one but a co-religionist for company.

    I do wonder how consciously deliberate this is, though.

  •  See I totally respect that. Indeed, kudos to them in recognizing that their choice is exactly that and that anybody doing anything else isn’t automatically a rejection of them or their beliefs, which is what I think the Xmas Crusaders really want to believe.

    Alternately, may I ask if you know if they celebrate Easter? Or if they do, how? I actually think it’s really cool to see the blending of traditions as religions merged together (yes, unfortunately sometimes forcibly instead of willingly). And it does provide for some amusing moments when somebody’s all red in the face about how War on Christmas!!1!111!1!!! really is crying about a…not historically accurate holiday.

  • people are terrified that [..] little kids will be talked into teh ghey.

    And no, I honestly don’t know how they think sexuality really works

    The working model I use of how they think sexuality works goes something like this: “The important thing about sexuality is not how people feel, or whom they’re attracted to, or whom they love. The important thing is how people contribute to the social order. More specifically, when it comes to sexuality people ought to fulfill the social role that is appropriate for their gender, which includes men marrying women and working hard to satisfy their family’s material needs, and women being married by men and working hard to satisfy their family’s emotional needs, and both of them bearing children and working hard to ensure their children contribute to the social order in their own turn. People who don’t do this are failing to do the important thing. Even more perniciously, some of them have managed to convince large groups of people that it’s not really important at all, and they are using superficially harmless means (e.g., children’s books) to communicate that message, and it’s working and we need to stop it. ” 

    That said, I can really only understand that intellectually.

    To actually empathize with these people, I pretty much have to flip the content around. That is, if I turn that into “The important thing about sexuality is not how people contribute to the social order. The important thing is how people feel, whom they’re attracted
    to, whom they love. More specifically, when it comes to sexuality people ought to find social roles that express their own preferences and emotions and relationships. People who don’t do this are failing to do the important
    thing. Even more perniciously, some of them have managed to convince
    large groups of people that it’s not really important at all, and they are using superficially harmless means (e.g., Bible study) to communicate that message, and it’s working and we need to stop it. “… if I turn it into that, my emotional reaction is pretty compelling.

  • PJ Evans

    the Bible I was given by my church at age 13

    They gave us bibles when we finished fifth grade – I still have mine somewhere, although the cover’s seriously worn. It’s an RSV with some good maps in the back and a presentation page. Useful, not flashy, and the closest it comes to ‘youth bible’ is the color plates illustrating some of the scenes (somewhat sentimental, but not bad).

  • SisterCoyote


    I’d place good money tomorrow’s kids won’t be, either.

  • SisterCoyote

    1) Santa Clause is a tradition that was tacked onto Christianity – more evidence of Evil Pagan Influence.

    2) Santa Claus is also known as Saint Nick, and as we all know, sainthood is just dressed-up idolatry.

    3) If the emphasis of Christmas is on glitter and materialism, it’s not on Jesus.

    (3 is one I actually agree with. But it can and should still be a fun holiday – just not a free-for-all greedfest. There’s certainly a medium.)

  • Alternately, may I ask if you know if they celebrate Easter? Or if they do, how?

    The topic never came up.  Unfortunately, I do not hang out with that friend much these days.  Partially because our interest venues do not overlap as much, and unfortunately our circles of friendship overlap little too, ever since the wife of the guy she had a crush on (before he even met that wife-to-be) had it in for her, largely driving her from our mutual contact.  

    She holds different political values than I do, one might assume, but she was always intelligent, articulate, and reasonable, which are qualities sorely lacking in most political debates, and I had nothing but respect for her over that.  However, the way the political discourse in this country has been going over the last four years has made me want to stay away from the topic around her.  I am afraid of what I might find.  

    I once caught her defending Rick Santorum on a Facebook group, asserting that when he was saying that women who were raped should not abort, it was that there is no sense adding the tragedy of baby murder to the tragedy of traumatic rape.

    … so yeah.  :(

  • I agree with #3 and I know Santa is kind of a “bolt-on” (e.g. Sinter Klaas in Europe) from legends in the 1500s and 1600s – however this idea that Santa represents a War on Christmas is … wow. Just wow, you know?

  • Edo

    …it might have been fifth grade, now that you mention it; I benchmark it as “a long time ago.” And the description of your Bible is close enough to mine that the only difference was probably generational (RSV was out of print by the time I came of age.)

  • ) Santa Claus is also known as Saint Nick, and as we all know, sainthood is just dressed-up idolatry.

    And Saint Nick is just one word away from Old Nick, which is a name for the devil.

  • Manga started to become popularized in the U.S. in the 90s. It was not more popular in the 90s.

  • vsm

     I’m pretty sure it was a deliberate reference, since Marilyn Manson used to be their go-to example of evil in music. Metal fans tend to find this amusing.

  • even as a member of the evangelical bubble, when I was a teenager I was automatically put off by anything explicitly labeled as ‘For Youth’ or ‘For Teens’.

    I was the opposite. I was so lonely, and so desperate to connect to people my own age, that anything “for teens” was something I really wanted to have.

  • Much like when the Church Lady demonstrated how one can change SANTA into SATAN by rearranging the letters.

  • Edo

    I don’t have much more experience, but I do have some (a megachurch *started* in town while I was growing up) and a fair number of anecdotes that I’ll pass as data, soooo…

    First and foremost, it’s EASIER to participate in a megachurch. They don’t usually identify as part of a historic church tradition (compare a megachurch website’s Statement of Faith to the list of stuff that, say, a Lutheran church believes), they’re not high-church, and they’re *spectacular.* There are no hymnals, and praise music is written for emotional impact. So (to my mind) at great theological cost, megachurches are more accessible and *feel* more moving.

    Second, megachurches *inevitably* have a youth pastor; I can’t think of any local churches that could afford one. I bring that up because my sister was introduced to the megachurch through a friend, and after my deciding vote left for college Mom started taking her there. If megachurches are giant and young and multi-generational, it bears noting that at least some of the adults aren’t converts but chauffeurs.

    Third, megachurches are structured and run more like a business than a church. Which is why once in a blue moon they’ll do un-churchy things like file for bankruptcy: all the numbers are bigger, including the overhead. (I’m not sure what the financial cultures of megachurches are like, but I do recall that my neighbors tithed to the local one.) In the religious marketplace, the megachurch is a corporation amidst co-ops.

    And fourth, megachurch attendance has to come from somewhere, and judging by demographics that somewhere is “other churches.” That has HUGE effects over time. My hometown had churches dating back to the Revolution, which (judging by the seating) have probably survived at 100-200 people for centuries. Even if it’s stable at that size, though, it only takes one or two families leaving for the megachurch, and a half-dozen high school graduates going to college, and suddenly the church is 75% gray-haired. At that point, if you go shopping, the obvious conclusion would be that the megachurch is the ONLY thriving one in the region, because all the rest are septagenarians.

    There’s more to it than that, much more, but I’m an outsider and all I can offer is an outsider’s observations.

  • Jared Bascomb

    @twitter-15487831:disqus You’re correct that it is a form of courage, but I see it more as them thinking they’re the angels visiting Lot in Sodom. For realz. I think they come into the Castro or wherever from their suburban enclave, literally expecting the locals to be fornicating in the streets or that they themselves will be taken by force. And when they finally return home, they do so with a sense of relief that their worst nightmare didn’t happen.

  • Jared Bascomb

    Re: “Prudence Turnblad” — that would be Prudie Pingleton.

  • Tonio

    Oops! Thanks for the correction – I’ve only seen Waters’ original movie, and not for many years.

  • Jared Bascomb

    IMHO, the original John Waters movie is by far the best version of “Hairspray.”

  • arcseconds

    While functionally speaking I think what you say is correct: an important social function of homophobia is enforcing gender roles and social conformity.   And you’re certainly right that homophobia is is deeply connected to gender roles and social conformity, and the latter are extremely important to conservatives (whereas most of us here are pretty relaxed about those things).  

    However, I think your account misses a couple of important factors, which it needs to explain the horror that people have about the possibility of their children being infected with gayness.  If it was just failure to contribute to the social order, then being gay would be no worse than throwing away good prospects as a laywer in order to eek out an existence as a starving artist.  Bad and awkward, sure, but no-one’s writing screeds to protect children from art exhibits.

    Firstly, there’s what some blog post Fred linked to recently but I forget the details and can’t be bothered looking it up called ‘platonism’ about sex and gender.    Female and Male are part of the Cosmic Order, not just part of our particular social order.   Deviation from the cosmic order, if they aren’t deliberate acts of perversity, are a species of sickness and degeneracy (that’s pretty much how physical intersexness has been treated in our society up until recently – obviously no-one’s choice, but a horrific affliction that has to be fixed, like a cleft palette, but in some ways worse).

    (what’s going on behind this, I guess, is a reification of our particular social order into the One Proper Social Order, a mistake commonly committed by white middle class people in majority white societies for the last couple of centuries or so.  In earlier times, I think educated people at least were more aware of the particularity of their society, although that didn’t necessarily mean any less enthusiasm for defending their particular traditions within their own society.)

    Secondly, and closely related to this, is personal virtue, by which I don’t just mean moral goodness, but a wider concept that also includes virtù in Machiavelli’s sense, and maybe with a whiff of Nietzsche in there too.   For example, if your son should happen to turn out to be a promiscuous rake and ladies’ man, that may be a matter of regret morally speaking, but it’s proof of his masculine power.   Being a nancy would be so much worse.    (unfortunately I don’t know of any way women can be morally bad but nevertheless display feminine virtue under this schema.  Perhaps conniving to get their children into socially desirable places? maybe someone else can help).

    One reason for introducing these concepts is to account for how fragile people seem to think heterosexuality is, and to connect homosexuality with other ways of falling away from virtue: sex, drugs, poverty, ‘bad company’, failure to complete high school, etc.

    Finally,  I wanted to mention a more prosaic matter, which is somewhat implicit in your own account.  That’s the worry about practical matters.  If your child is going after members of the same sex, then there won’t be a wedding (no traditional wedding.  therefore no wedding), (so no mother-of-the-bride for you), who will they take to the prom, should they use a different changing-room to everyone else? are they going to start wearing hideous polo necks and courderouy jackets? no grandchildren! getting AIDS by casual sex in public toilets, &c. &c.

  • Tonio

    While I admire your theory, I suspect the cause of homophobia is far simpler – protection of male privilege. Without gender norms, there would be no basis for a gender hierarchy.


    I don’t know of any way women can be morally bad but
    nevertheless display feminine virtue under this schema.

    If I’m understanding the schema you have in mind, I would think that lying and cheating to get a better husband than they would otherwise obtain falls into the category.

  • arcseconds

    Well, of course I think preserving male privilege is a part of it.   But I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

    Read my last paragraph again.  Surely you won’t deny that that kind of panicked fretting ends up going through the minds of many parents who wind up with non-straight offspring.   That fretting isn’t straightforwardly to do with male privilege – it’s to do with the abandonment of social roles that they’re familiar with.   They’re not thinking “if Lucy gets with another girl, how will we oppress women any more? ” they’re more thinking “ZOMG! I had all these vague ideas of what Lucy’s future life would be like, and now I have to through them out the window! Also, society provides me with virtually no framework for how it will work out for her! The future is a blank slate! Uncharted Waters! PANIC!!”

    And also, there’s a fair bit of honest concern for their child there too.

    (Remember, it’s highly likely that they’ll also be perhaps not this panicked, but Highly Concerned about Franky’s decision to through in Law for Art School, and I think that’s a similar phenomenon, and it’s not got a strong connection to male privilege (it is of course more acceptable for Franky to become a bohemian than Lucy, but that still doesn’t make it completely acceptable)).

    Also, even if you do think it’s to do with male privilege and male privilege only, once you unpack that, you already end up with a theory like mine. 

      For there to be male privilege, there need to be males in a straightforward sense, and they need to have different traits to everyone else (quintessentially masculine traits) , so you’re already having to have some kind of a ‘platonic’ take on gender.   Once you’ve got that set up, it’s important for everyone you’ve identified as being male to embody the masculine traits, and to the extent they don’t they’re not being sufficiently masculine, so you’ve recovered masculine virtue there too.

  • arcseconds

    Yes, that sounds reasonable. 

  • Tonio

    I wasn’t suggesting that the desire to preserve privilege was a conscious one. It’s more that masculinity is thought of as a commodity or asset, so whenever some men don’t conform to gender norms because of homosexuality or some other reason, others perceive this as masculinity losing its value. Sort of like HOAs that obsess over property values if residents hang their laundry or put up the wrong style of fence.

    And some of the parental behavior you describe could be simple selfishness, a desire to have grandchildren or to see the child follow the parents’ paths. I’m skeptical of parents who say their opposition to their children’s homosexuality is based in concern over them being ostracized. That’s because of my on family’s experience with children who have dated people of different ethnicities. 


    Read my last paragraph again.  Surely you won’t deny that that kind of
    panicked fretting ends up going through the minds of many parents who
    wind up with non-straight offspring.   That fretting isn’t
    straightforwardly to do with male privilege – it’s to do with the
    abandonment of social roles that they’re familiar with.   They’re not
    thinking “if Lucy gets with another girl, how will we oppress women any
    more? ” they’re more thinking “ZOMG! I had all these vague ideas of what
    Lucy’s future life would be like, and now I have to through them out
    the window! Also, society provides me with virtually no framework for
    how it will work out for her! The future is a blank slate! Uncharted
    Waters! PANIC!!”

    It is generally fraught to try to draw conclusions from the consequences of the posiitons of people like that.

    One of Fred’s favorite rhetorical methods is to assume that those he opposes have thought out their actions, so he follows them forward to their consequences and then works backward to hypothesize as to intent: their methods of fighting abortion lead inevitably and obviously to an increase in human suffering, therefore their _goal_ must have been an increase in human suffering. The inevitable and obvious conclusion of their evangelizing methods is to alienate the evangelist and cut him off from those outside the tribe, therefore the *goal* must have been to get him alienated and ostracised.

    But the truth of the matter is, a lot of these people hold the views they do only by virtue of the fact that they have built up immense mental barriers to *stop* them thinking these things through to their natural conclusion. THey do not think “If I oppose marriage equality, that will force the  gays to magically turn straight,” nor “If I oppose gay marriage, the gays will be unable to marry and therefore will be condemned to unhappy lives,” and they don’t think “If I ban abortion, these women will suffer,” nor “If I ban abortion, those sluts will magically change into happy mothers.”  They compose a mental block between action and consequence to *stop* them having to think things through.

    In mqny cases, they don’t even really think about the thing they’re supporting or opposing at all: they think one thing: “Is this an “us” position or a “them” position?” 

    That’s how they can say things like “Obama is a atheist muslim kenyan nazi communist who is the biological son of malcolm X”: those words don’t actually *mean* anything to them other than “Them”.

    And they can stand behind someone spouting literally medieval medical science because being anti-abortion is an “us” position.

  • I think they come into the Castro or wherever from their suburban enclave, literally expecting the locals to be fornicating in the streets or that they themselves will be taken by force. And when they finally return home, they do so with a sense of relief that their worst nightmare didn’t happen.

    I am not sure that “relief” is the emotion I would infer that they feel.  I mean, these are people who have demonstrated a remarkable and well-practiced talent for self-deception.  Just because observational evidence that contradicts their established belief’s passes their eyes does not mean they are willing to see it.  If anything, absence of evidence just strikes them as evidence well hidden.  In that scenario, relief would not be what they feel, but a mounting sense of tension that does not break.  

  • arcseconds

    I understand that you don’t think it’s a conscious desire, and my paraphrases are no meant to denote explicit conscious activity, either.  What a socially conservative parent experiences on discovering their child is gay is emotional turmoil, and that’s what we’re trying to make sense of by referring to unconscious or subconscious thought-process.

    Let’s put it this way.  My take on this is that there’s a whole lot of different things going on in that emotional turmoil, which varies from case to case.  Your stated position is that it’s all just about male privilege.

    The big advantage of my position over yours (in my eyes) is that it accounts for similar kinds of outrage, frustration, anger and concern that socially conservative parents display on other occasions.  You’ve mentioned one yourself: dating people of different ethnicities.  I suppose you’ll say that’s about preserving a different kind of privilege, and I’ll agree that’s probably a part of it, although it starts to get tricky to explain the fact that parents of  minority, underprivileged ethnicities also often don’t take too kindly about their kids dating outside their ethnic group. 

    Perhaps you can indeed explain that in terms of preserving privilege — I can vaguely see how you could. 

    However, there are others that provoke similar reactions which really don’t seem to be about privilege at all.  Dying your hair an outrageous colour or getting a tattoo spring to mind.  I can guarantee that doing either will provoke all sorts of fireworks even in only mildly socially conservative households.   These can straightforwardly be interpreted as sins against social norms.  Explaining in terms of privilege might be possible, but it’ll be convoluted, and I can’t see how it’d explain the strength of the outrage – the hair will grow out before too long, and tattoos can be covered.  I also suspect such an explanation will end up importing concern with the social order, again. 

    And if you allow that people do get outraged about violations of the social order, and not just about privilege, then it’d be odd to maintain that they somehow don’t care about the violations of the social order when their kid turns out to be gay, but only the undermining of male privilege.

    Anyway, you just admitted that there could be other contributing factors, such as selfishness.  Now, if I could just convince you that they could be selfishly concerned about their place in the social order, I’d basically have made my case…

  • Lily

    I have a huge terror of hell because my family’s either mostly Southern Baptist or raised Southern Baptist. I also attended a very exclusive, cliquey Methodist church for most of my life and only left in tenth grade when we got a new youth pastor. I was the only physically disabled kid in that youth group and can tell anyone with absolute certainty that I felt excluded and hypocritical once I doubted my faith. I’m talking about this because I’m in a very difficult place spiritually and I’m terrified any religious leader I go to will tell me off.  Being excluded for so long left an awful taste in my mouth and I did feel like I’d been lied to when I met wonderful people who didn’t attend church.

    I was homeschooled, so we were taught that Darwin’s theories had no weight. I’m 23 and I only learned recently that Darwin lost two children, one of whom had Down’s Syndrome. It’s sort of akin to being told Santa never existed and it is terribly, terribly painful to break out of the tribe when you’ve been told certain things from the time you were small. I don’t know where to go.


  • Hi Lily.
    Thanks for writing.

    There do exist religious leaders who won’t tell you off, and there also exist other sources of support outside of religious leaders, but I’m not sure how you can find them. So I don’t have any useful advice to give here, though others might.

    But I wanted to at least let you know that someone’s listening.

    And that, yeah, breaking free of the constraints of our birth tribes can be painful, but often extremely valuable.

  • Tonio

    I’m not claiming that homophobia is solely but about male privilege. Instead, I see little practical difference between wanting to preserve the social order and wanting to preserve one’s privilege, whatever type of privilege it happens to be. The old saw that people become conservative when they have something to conserve. These parents are indeed selfishly concerned about their place in the social order. The only difference with the males is that they perceive themselves as having more to lose if the Neuter Apocalypse becomes a reality. 

  •  Hello Lily. I’m sorry for what you’ve gone through.

    There are a lot of judgmental churches and groups out there, and I can certainly understand your fear.

    Are you looking for advice on particular groups to seek out?

  • reynard61

    “You can even read some of the comics there. They’re drawn in a pseudo-manga style, feature racially diverse groups of friends and try for some sort of mainstream appeal.”

    Sorry, but all I saw was a bunch of Jack Chick tracts* with a slicker and slightly-more-up-to-date art sense.

    *Patented Jack Chick footnotes included!

  • Steve Florman

     I think you’ll find that LDS youth have pretty good luck with their LDS editions of the KJV, with footnotes and cross-references to the other LDS scriptures, a really good Topical Guide, and a half-way-decent Bible Dictionary.  (And some nice maps.)

  • Steve Florman

     There’s a certain appeal to exclusivity that leads people to want to be part of the group.  It can be used for good or for ill; you see it in bratty-girl junior high cliques or in things like recruiting.  When I joined the service, the Army was anxious to get anyone who could fog a mirror; the Marine Corps attitude was, “What makes you think you’re good enough to be one of us?”  (I joined the Marines.) 

    Some of those mega-churches, I think, get big by using the same psychology, and it feeds right into the phenomenon that Fred is talking about in his article.  They want to be confrontational and exclusionary.  The Mormons (fair disclosure:  I am one) are open about missionary work, but it takes commitment to be an active member of the church.  Nonetheless, they’re growing like crazy. 

    For good cause or for bad, there’s something about a group that requires commitment and sets itself apart that seems to attract people.