Guns for God

The blog Stuff Fundies Like has been running a series of posts from a regular commenter named Don who attended the annual Sword of the Lord conference. This is a national conference for Independent Fundamentalist Baptists.

This has been really odd for me. The conference takes place at Gospel Light Baptist Church in Walkertown, NC, which is a suburb of Winston-Salem. I spent about a decade living just across the street from there. Every summer, when the conference would start up, my father would joke about the “Guns for God” conference next door. My friends and I would laugh at the formal wear that the teenagers were sporting.

We never actually visited, of course. We were Episcopalians, and probably about as welcome as a family of Muslims would have been. So I never knew what was going on in there. Preaching, I could guess, but what kind of preaching? Don describes it like this:

In Americanized preaching there is, in fact, an information overload that is produced by a rhetorical manipulation storm. Remember in our example we said all that information was taken in. There are things we actively focused on and things that were taken in without actively thinking about them. I submit that this is what happens in the lecture series found in most pulpits in America and especially in the IFB movement. This style of preaching does not allow for any questioning, or dissent. It is easily recognizable. It is often found in a rapid-fire rant. “Your heart is full of wickedness and sin so long as you don’t agree with what your man of god preaches amen? So long as you harbor sin in your heart, so long as you cling to your pride and so long as you are stubbornly hold to your rebellion, so long as you men will not get a hair cut, so long a you ladies will not submit to your husbands, so long as you rob god each week by withholding you tithes and offerings, and so long as you hinder the work of the spirit in our lives then the price of peanut butter will cause you to listen to rock and roll the devil’s music, will lead you to have sex and do drugs and vote for democrats.”

If that is said in less than five seconds, then you have a rhetorical manipulation storm. If it is hollered at you from the pulpit in less than five seconds and the next salvo is then unleashed, an interesting phenomenon occurs. For those who already want to believe they passively let all of that flow past their normal filters and the brain processes the whole sermon as truth. There are some who will try to filter what is said but only catch one or two things but the rest is automatically taken in and the brain will process the bulk of what is said as acceptable. Preachers count on this. The ability to overwhelm your natural defenses with tons of sound bites and religious sounding phrases, in order to push and agenda and persuade their listeners that what they are preaching is truth.

Apparently there’s also a lot of merchandise. In his first post, Don, mentions that the first booth he sees is a tie salesman. But the thing that’s gained the most attention is the Witness Stick:

I’m pissed now. If I’d known that the attendees would shell out money for crap like this, I would have been painting “witness sticks” back when I was living next door. And I probably would have spent the cash on AD&D books, so it would have been doubly delicious.

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  • TrickQuestion

    I hear the witness sticks have a +5 versus logic, and deal double damage to those without a chosen deity.

  • Len

    Witless stick?

    • trj

      Witness shtick.

  • LRA

    The Sword of the Lord and now the Witness Stick???

    Someone’s obsessed with shafty stuff….

    • TrickQuestion

      You damn right…
      You see this cat Shaft is a bad motha….

      • LRA


    • UrsaMinor

      It’s a guy thing.

      • LRA

        Methinks you are correct, sir.

  • FO

    I definitely choose the wrong profession….

  • mikespeir

    If I’d had a witness stick, I’d probably still be a Christian today. An eternity of fricasseeing for want of a witness stick. It’s always the little things. *sigh*

  • blotonthelandscape

    I’m not sure christians want spare rods lying around… I mean, think of the children!

  • Sajanas

    Christianity, a great way to make people pay $25 for a spray painted stick. I feel bad for the people that buy these things and then never have anyone ask about them.

  • thread_of_fire

    is that papyrus font?

    • Schaden Freud

      It is.

  • vasaroti

    I would say “Bozo stick,” except that it does have a certain bronze age-I-just-traded-my-daughter-for-a-goat vibe.

  • Bill Macomber

    I went to an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist school. It’s scary..

  • Ebon Badger

    Sword of the Lord? Did anybody else see that and think “porn film”?

    • LRA

      Did you not see my “shafty stuff” comment???


  • Teleprompter

    The idea of “rhetorical manipulation” is intriguing to me. I think it’s a lot more common in modern life than most people would immediately suspect. Start with religion if you like, but I feel it’s more ubiquitous than that even…politicians certainly come to mind. With the success of the Internet as a means to more widely, quickly spread information, people have the ability to learn more about their world — but it is also easier to spread lies and distortions with greater influence.

    I don’t know if many of you follow the YouTube user “GrapplingIgnorance”, but he had a great video the other day about what the phrase “critical thinking” really means. I hope that more people can be trained in methods to combat rhetorical manipulation – and identify it when it happens so that it can be exposed for the deceit it is. It doesn’t require a vast amount of knowledge to be skeptical, but it does require patience and a willingness to seek other answers. It can be difficult to foster patience in such a fast-paced world that is in many ways built upon immediate gratification – and this urge to be satisfied now undercuts skepticism and advances manipulation even faster – it is a feedback cycle that becomes increasingly dangerous.

    Skepticism isn’t about religion only – it’s a way of finding how to live in a complicated and unknown world – and if we harness our voices to share how skepticism makes our lives better, we can decrease not only the dangers from religion, but the dangers from a variety of other ills which arise through an excess of manipulation and a lack of critical thinking.

  • slantrhyme

    I imagine that every year there is some confusion between the “Sword of the Lord” bible-beater conference and the “Lord of the Sword” RPG annual picnic. You know, geeks accidentally getting saved at one wrong location while halfway across town there is a family of Christians standing in line to meet Oral Roberts only to find out that they’ve been waiting 4 1/2 hours to meet Dr. Spock. That sort of thing…..

    • Len

      I hope you mean Mr Spock ;-)

      • slantrhyme

        Agh…..I just got schooled! I need a beating with a Witness Stick.