I’m not a fan of the open-letter format of social media posting or blog post. I know they’re popular–and I used to like them. But they just have so much fail built into them that I can’t often get into them or enjoy them these days. Today we look at a self-congratulatory open letter that reveals way more than its creator and fans than they really should want us to know.
Dear Facebook Friend…
If you hang around social media much, you may have seen this image that FanofNeri shared recently:
WELL. Ain’t that just a special kind of fail.
It’s a terrible message, but one that is completely characteristic of Christianity. In fact, we could even consider it a good illustration of why the religion is failing these days.
We have no idea who created it, of course. This super-duper-ultra-mega-loving “Christian friend” wasn’t brave enough to put their name to the image, and that’s probably a good thing. We just know that it’s making the rounds lately.
It appeals to a certain kind of Christian–for a reason.
A Common Tactic for the Boorish.
We’ve seen this kind of smug open letter before now, of course. Ed Stetzer wrote one around Easter last year that sounded very similar. The worst sorts of Christians are a lot like ducklings; they take their cues–and permission to misbehave–from their leaders.
Sometimes those leaders are their multi-level marketing (MLM) sponsors, as we see in the “‘that’ girl” script letter also making the rounds. As yet another sign of the near-total overlap between the worlds of MLMs and fundagelical Christianity, the letter concerns the writer’s decision to be “‘that’ girl.” After describing “‘that’ girl” as “a full-time Mom” whose dreams of easy, unalloyed wealth “will keep her up at night to the early morning mapping out goals, and planning her next steps,” the writer ends on this defiant note:
So when you are talking about “That” girl… scrolling past her posts, ignoring her, REMEMBER she’s just a girl trying to do better for herself and her family. Oh… and it’s ok if you don’t want to be “That” girl ….. I’m more than fine with being her.
This letter, along with Ed Stetzer’s open letter and the “Dear Facebook Friend” letter, exist to accomplish the same goal. They are meant to function as a permission slip for someone who wishes to behave in a very boorish and unfriendly way.
Ed Stetzer wanted to make non-fundagelicals accept glaring overreach and unwanted sales pitches from Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) members. He, like the rest of the leaders of that denomination, are trying very hard to convince those flocks to get out there and SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY. But they know that the flocks don’t want to ruin their friendships over unwanted sales pitches. So he wrote his column as an open letter to the people those flocks will be trying to recruit. But he was talking to the flocks themselves!
The hunbot1 who forwarded the “‘that’ girl” post knows that people don’t like her constant sales pitches, canned come-ons, and habit of hijacking conversations to try to score sales at their expense. She’s using this letter as a demand that her marks not hold any of these distasteful behaviors against her.
And the Christians forwarding this “Dear Facebook Friend” letter know that their constant evangelism attempts are destroying their friendships. They know that nobody wants their product, and that people are losing patience quickly with them.
This letter is their permission slip. It functions as their announcement that they will continue to be boorish, predatory, untrustworthy, and dishonest.
It also functions as a demand. See, the Christians forwarding this letter fully expect their friends to put up with this loutish behavior.
The Presumption of Ignorance.
The Christians who like this letter suffer from some uniquely-fundagelical shortcomings.
First of all, the worst-of-the-worst Christians–the ones I’ve labeled toxic Christians–always think that somehow, an American in 2018 can get to adulthood without knowing anything about Christianity.
So they’ve got to tell us all about it!
We live now in an age of extreme polarization and growing Christian desperation to reverse their decade-long decline in membership. As a consequence, it’s hard for me to imagine anybody not knowing about the basic concepts about Christianity. It’s even harder for me to imagine someone not knowing anything about fundagelicalism. To the detriment of Christianity as a whole, fundagelicals have made themselves into the very face of the religion.
The hilarious part here: Usually it’s these exact Christians who are woefully ignorant of their religion’s history–especially as touching the Bible itself. They also don’t tend to know much about the people they’re evangelizing.
The Magic Christian Strikes Again.
Second, these same Christians think that anybody who’s rejected their product simply hasn’t heard the right sort of sales pitch for that product.
These Christians fall into a self-delusion that I call The Magic Christian. It’s a riff on the movie trope of The Magical Negro. (TVTropes Walkabout Warning! Also, yes, the name is awful, but that’s seriously what the trope is called.) Sure, you might have been seriously burned by Christianity. But you just didn’t understand TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. The Magic Christian stands ready to swoop in to allay all of your concerns and answer all of your objections to their religion. Once they’ve finished explaining everything, you’ll be ready to drop to your knees, bawl out the Sinner’s Prayer, and rejoin the religion!
And OH, most fundagelicals already think they’re Magic Christians. They’ve studied popular apologetics–and are usually fairly well-read, at least in the works of their favorite authors. They think those authors’ apologetics tactics are excellent–and foolproof, when executed perfectly. Thus, they tend to have a very low opinion of people who hear out their favorite arguments and reject them. When you run into a particularly insulting or condescending Christian, especially online (their favorite mission fields are all digital), chances are they think you’re just missing some galactically-huge point they’re trying to make.
That Entitlement Complex Though.
Third, these same Christians believe that their sense of urgency and their desire to score a sale takes precedence far above their marks’ boundaries.
The “Dear Facebook Friend” creator–and those forwarding the letter–think that it’s perfectly acceptable to overstep people’s boundaries for a good cause. And by definition, whatever their own cause is, that’s a good cause. So if the Christian thinks that a sales attempt needs to be made, then that’s what’s going to happen–no matter what the mark has expressed about wanting to hear one.
This mindset is exactly why Christians have such a deep-seated hatred for the idea of consent. They can’t make sales pitches to willing audiences because there really aren’t any, these days. So they must make their sales pitches to unwilling audiences. They need to do some mental acrobatics to make that behavior okay. This letter is their acrobatics routine.
Often you see Christians using imagery like crashing planes or oncoming out-of-control buses to express their sense of extreme urgency. In this way, they act like they’re simply trying to be kind to people who are in huge amounts of danger and don’t even realize it.
When their sales efforts are rebuffed, the magic of these acrobatics means that they then get to act all hurt, petulant, and put out about their “niceness” tokens having failed to bring about the results they craved, which neatly sends us to the next point.
Their Love is Toxic.
Fourth and worst of all, the “Dear Facebook Friend” letter illustrates something truly toxic at the heart of Christianity as a whole: its one-sided–and deeply repugnant–conceptualization of love.
A long time ago, I wrote about how toxic Christians have completely redefined love. At this point, I don’t think any of them understand what the word really means, nor have any idea how to express it in a healthy, mature way.
To the Christians who love the “Dear Facebook Friend” letter, love means trampling people’s boundaries. It means annoying them and pestering them with unwanted sales pitches. Most of all, it means trying to force other people to change, and it means deciding for those people what is best for them. It thus becomes the opposite of empathy and compassion, becoming the enemy of consent.
Ultimately, this oh-so-Christian form of love is about domination and control–not about compassion, partnership, empathy, cooperation, and shared passion. This debased form of love cannot admit those better qualities into itself.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who left Christianity, only to discover that I hadn’t had the faintest idea what love really was while I was a member of that blighted religion. And I’m also sure I wasn’t the only person who had to un-learn all the love rules I’d learned while there. (Feel free to sound off in comments if you know this feel.)
Love Is Not Control.
Terry Crews recently dropped some serious truth-bombshells on the subject of love and control. Readers of this blog will find his ideas very familiar.
He grew up as “a card carrying member of the toxic masculinity group,” he said. But he found out what most of these men find out eventually: that the performance art that is toxic masculinity alienates others. Instead of drilling down on those performances and blaming the world for not playing along with his scripts, he rejected the entire ideology.
In doing so, he learned what most of us ex-Christians learn in the process: that love and control-lust cannot exist together. Love isn’t about control. It’s not about changing people. It’s about loving people where they are, how they are. Love accepts.
Fixing Others, Always.
Control-lust can’t do any of that. It doesn’t even want to. Christians caught up in this redefinition of love would be sheerly horrified at the mere idea of accepting others. They aren’t allowed to cherish people on their own terms. A lot of them refer to this acceptance as condoning sin, and it’s one of the worst accusations you can fling at a fundagelical.
Its opposite, loving the sinner while hating the sin, doesn’t fool anybody anymore except for the Christians who use the phrase as a permission slip to behave cruelly and hatefully toward others. These catchphrases and many others (like their weird definition of accountability, or parroted phrases like “iron sharpening iron“) are how they rationalize their constant attempts to hijack other people’s lives and decisions.
When I was Christian, we regarded domination and control as the visible evidence of our debased form of love. Most of us regarded the desire to change others–to “fix” them, even without permission–as an expression of love. Even more, though, we had to accept other people’s attempts to “fix” us, even without permission, as expressions of their love for us.
That’s where the folks who like “Dear Facebook Friend” stand. They want to control others, and they know those others won’t like these control-grabs. They’re sure as hell not going to stop with the control-grabs. This letter is their declaration of intent in that regard.
The Party of Personal Accountability Strikes Again.
The situation gets way murkier when we consider that this letter is not only meant to pre-emptively inform these various Christians’ remaining friends of ongoing control-grabs and continuing unwanted sales pitches.
The letter is also an attempt to evade the natural consequences of these behaviors.
The letter’s fans know that their behavior is unwanted. They’re going to keep doing this stuff. They just don’t want to pay the social penalties for acting this way. The letter–and its fans–demand that these friends not hold against them their transgressions, and to put up with them.
Sooner or later, the Facebook forwarders are sure, they will find the magical sales pitch that will work on someone. They’ll “plant enough roofies–er, seeds,” as the Christianese goes, and one of those seeds will sprout. At some point. Somehow.
And when those roofies–er, seeds don’t result in conversions, then the Christian acting this way will take comfort in thinking that some equally-predatory Christian in the future will be able to take advantage of those fields of wheat, ripe for the harvest that they have prepared. That, literally, is how these Christians view their prospects.
(That whole “people as wheat to harvest” imagery squicks me out so bad. Does being shorn from one’s roots to be used for another person’s benefit, losing one’s life and future in the process, seriously sound loving?)
A Further Problem With One-Sided Love.
This kind of ersatz love carries with it another seriously terrible problem.
Once a Christian has decided what you need most, which is coincidentally going to be allowing them to jam their product down your throat, nothing you might have to say about their plan matters anymore.
In defining your needs for you, this Christian also simultaneously strips away their need to listen to your feedback.
You, you see, are a loonie to them. You have no idea what you want! Everything you think you want is wrong. You just don’t understand what love really is. Locked as you are in a reprobate lifestyle and deeply-mired in sin, by their lights at least, you can’t actually know what’s best for you.
In this conceptualization, the Christian thinks you ought to count yourself lucky that you have such a loving, caring friend as them to fix you and get you set on the correct path–alongside themselves.
And there is nothing at all that you can say that will do anything but make this Christian more convinced that they are totally correct in thinking this way. They have manufactured for themselves a one-sided worldview that cannot admit through its bubble-walls any kind of criticism. Your pushback and your grudging acquiescence mean exactly the same things to them.
If you understand nothing else about fundagelicals that I have ever talked about, understand this. They can do the most monstrous, obscene things imaginable to others because they have created a world in which only they are allowed to decide what is right and wrong about their own behavior. The foxes guard the henhouse, and the foxes see nothing amiss about this weird situation, nor any way for anything to go hideously wrong.
Color Me Unimpressed.
So let’s go back to this stupid letter and examine it from the point of view of how it enforces fundagelicalism’s hatred of consent and desire for a permission slip to mistreat others.
Dear Facebook Friend,
Read: “I’m annoying so many people that I can’t actually name them one by one. Nor will I do them the courtesy of offering them a private message that they are free to respond to more naturally. I’m broadcasting this one!”
Someday, you will see that I posted all of my “annoying” and “religious” Facebook posts because I care about you.
This “friend” doesn’t care enough about anybody to find out what they really would need to consider Christianity a valid worldview for them to adopt. Instead, this “friend” just broadcasts stupid memes, glurge, lame popular-apologetics arguments they mistakenly think sound impressive, and attempted zingers in hopes of stoking interest in their product. These posts do much more for the “friend” than for anybody else, but that’s pretty much why apologetics exists in the first place anyway.
Your soul matters to God and to me.
This Christian hopes nobody asks them to demonstrate that souls exist or that their god exists. It’d really suck if they cared sooooooooooooooo much about something that doesn’t even exist.
Again, they don’t care about it enough to figure out a truly convincing demonstration of their claims. They just want a plausible excuse to hammer at other people. Again, also note that the Christian puts their concern about this possibly-nonexistent quality in you above caring about your boundaries. Their sense of urgency overrides your consent. Always.
Someone Needs To Get Down Off That Cross.
I would rather you hate me for telling you the truth, then have me lie to you or keep silent to gain your acceptance.
Here they’re imagining that anybody has asked them to “lie,” or that anybody hates someone “for telling the truth.” In reality, the people who talk like this are simply really obnoxious people. I’ve never in my life met someone who says they “just tell it the way they see it” who was any different. They just want permission to be obnoxious, and then they want exemption from the social penalties of being that way. You know, like would-be Christian soulwinners tend to be.
Another big problem for Christians is that they’ve confused their firm opinions with reality. If Hell actually existed, and they had evidence for its existence, they wouldn’t need to harangue their friends and stomp on their boundaries. Nobody reputable is arguing about the existence of the State of Wyoming, or of Bitcoin, or even of love itself. You’ll never see an apologist for the moon’s existence! When something exists, we have some kind of evidence that it exists.
When we’re friends with people, we naturally want to maintain harmony with them. Part of being a friend is making peace with aspects of them that aren’t perfect. If those aspects are too out-of-bounds for us, we stop being friends with them. But as ex-Christians go along in life free from our old religion, we discover that we can put up with a lot of quirks out of people that we wouldn’t ever tolerate as Christians. That mindset is completely alien to this letter’s fans. To them, accepting those quirks would be absolutely unconscionable.
They’re making a perfectly normal part of maintaining a friendship sound like an onerous burden that they simply can’t function under while maintaining their own internal authenticity.
I’m Not Sure I’d Want to Broadcast This Next Part.
Someone was kind enough to share the Gospel with me and God has opened my eyes to the truth.
If I was this kind of gullible, and had this low of a threshold for evidence for outlandish, wackadoodle claims, I sure wouldn’t want to broadcast it like this. But maybe that’s just me.
I’ve never met someone who converted as a result of seeing credible, objective evidence for Christianity’s claims. Never. By contrast, I’ve sure met a lot of Christians who converted as a result of “doing the research,” as my ex Biff did. When we examine this “research,” we often discover that it was done extremely poorly. The person doing it was, often, too young and inexperienced to really know how to critically assess claims.
More often, the Christian was simply bowled over emotionally. Christian evangelists have had two thousand years to hone their threats and come-ons. They’re fiendishly effective against people who aren’t ready for them. A very effective evangelist understands hard sales very well. They can easily detect which of two main avenues to take with a prospect. Shall they appeal to the rube’s fear? Or shall they entice a desperate person with their fondest desires? With children, the tactics get even more simplistic and obvious.
As far as this letter’s casual misuse of the word “truth,” saying something repeatedly doesn’t make it so.
Actually It’s Not.
It’s now my responsibility to do the same for you. That’s what the love of Jesus Christ is about. Sincerely, Your Christian Friend
What this letter-writer wants to happen is for those reading the letter to go Oh, well, it’s this person’s responsibility; I can’t get in the way of that.
We’re also supposed to be totally in awe of this person’s Jesus Aura. They’re willing to trample everyone’s boundaries because they lurrrrrrrrrrrrve others so much!
They’re very much hoping that nobody remembers that their “responsibility” ends with other people’s boundaries. If someone tells them that a sales pitch is unwanted, or responds in any way but with enthusiastic consent, then that’s where the pitching needs to end.
And you’ll figure out very quickly if a Christian really cares about you for you, or if you’re simply wheat-to-be-harvested to them. You see, once you lay down that firm boundary, chances are your super-duper-lovey-dovey “Your Christian Friend” will vanish like morning mist. If you finally convince them that you won’t ever purchase their product, and that was the only reason they associated with you, then there’s no reason to further associate with you. They’ll flit on to the next prospect.
A Secondary Motivation: Guilt.
We should mention as well that a great many Christians try to sell their religion to others out of guilt. Remember, we’ve been talking about how the SBC’s leaders have been ramping up their demands that members evangelize their friends. It’s entirely possible that in coming days you’ll notice that your Southern Baptist friends are getting a little antsy trying to find an “in” to try to convert you.
I almost feel sorry for them. I know how that kind of guilt can really wrap someone around themselves. It makes people do all kinds of terrible things. My sorrow for them doesn’t extend to being okay with overreach, but it does at least allow me to understand where it’s coming from. (So much for the yoke being easy, the burden light, eh?)
But the chances are that these guilt-ridden Christians aren’t going to be sending this kind of image around. This open letter is the product of a smug Christian git who thinks what they’re doing is great, and sees no reason to stop. But it’s also the product of a smug Christian git who doesn’t want to be criticized or avoided as a result of their behavior. This isn’t someone who is consumed with guilt over not evangelizing enough. This is someone who just resents the constant pushback and loss of credibility that comes with doing it.
Love is Love is Love.
Ultimately, it comes down to love. A genuine friend who cares about you for you will respect your boundaries completely. The hints will end and so will the constant invitations to this or that event you don’t wish to attend. You’ll be able to talk to this person without worrying that they’ll use what you say as a stepping-board to a sales pitch. They’ll see your time together as a joy on its own terms, rather than watching constantly for an opportunity to convert you.
And that’s a kind of love that toxic Christians will never understand, much less enjoy. Their friendships are fraught with judgmentalism and jockeying for power within their little cliques and claques.
I was one of them, once. The experience makes me eternally happy to be out of that mindset forever.
NEXT UP: We’re looking at the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. See you soon!
1A “hunbot” is someone caught up in a predatory MLM scheme. The name is a play on their habit of using false endearments like “hun” (a very common misspelling of “hon”) to seem chummy and friendly with their marks, and the fact that these folks do seem quite robotic, having been reprogrammed in many cases. I didn’t come up with it, but I think it’s perfect as a description of the people who’ve fallen into these scams.
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Abby’s response to this glurge is absolutely perfect:
Mark in Ohio had a funny one too, drawing upon the Outsider Test for Faith: