We’ve been talking this year about Christians’ push for increased evangelism. In that vein, today I present Ed Stetzer’s advice to his followers about how to handle the holiday season. See, obviously he’s panicking about Christianity’s continued decline. This Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leader needs his followers to pick up the pace of their recruitment. And he thinks he’s found a way to do it. Let’s see how effective it is! Today, Lord Snow Presides over the dishonest tactics Christians use to sell their religion.
Everyone, Meet Ed Stetzer’s Uber Driver.
Even for evangelicals, today’s topic represents a new low.
In his November 14 post over at Christianity Today, “Reaching Out to Non-Believers this Holiday Season,” Ed Stetzer presents an encounter he had with his Uber driver.
For those not in the know, Uber is a ride-sharing service that works through a mobile app. People wishing to drive others around sign up for the service, and then use it to locate customers needing rides. These drivers ferry their customers to their destinations, exactly like cabs and taxis do, and get paid through the app.
Some people make good money with Uber (and similar services, like Lyft), but most are only scraping by. They absolutely scrabble to make their money.
Further, customers rate their drivers and the ride experience itself on the app. These ratings can have an impact on the driver’s ability to earn income.
And Ed Stetzer here thinks that it’s a real shame to waste a captive, completely helpless audience like this!
How Emotional Labor Works.
Like most other service workers unfortunately must, Uber drivers perform a certain amount of emotional labor along with their official job responsibilities.
We use the term “emotional labor“ to describe the coddling, hand-holding, sweet-talking, and emotional-temperature-taking that lower-status people perform for those in positions of power over them to maintain peace.
At its heart, demands for emotional labor, for terrible people, function as a reminder that they still have a place of prominence in our culture, that their voices still carry loudest, that they can still stop and reroute discussions to their liking, and that they can freely ignore the usual rules of society whenever they please. A demand for emotional labor represents a request to pretend, for a brief while, that their decline never happened.
As their dominance declines, Christians receive less and less emotional labor from the rest of us. And some of them feel really challenged by that paring-away of unwarranted privilege.
So they act out in ways that traditionally have resulted in instant attention for themselves–and affirmation of their status.
Stuff Terrible People Like: Abusing Service Workers.
In previous posts, we’ve discussed the liberties toxic Christians take around service workers. When someone’s beholden to decent human beings, like service workers often unfairly are, we know very well not to impose unduly upon them. Their lives are hard enough as it is. They can’t even respond naturally to those mistreating them–their employers will fire them for being rude to even jerks abusing them.
Ultimately, we’re not the kind of jerks who need affirmation and attention from people who are literally forced to be nice to people in order to keep their jobs. Nor are we so desperate for anything that we would prey upon people who are under those sorts of constraints.
But not Ed Stetzer! He is exactly that kind of desperate jerk!
He writes in his post:
Recently, I was having a conversation with my Uber driver about her experience in church. As we spoke, she shared that at one point she had been attending pretty frequently but has since found herself less engaged. During the course of our time together, as a pastor of course, I couldn’t help but suggest that she might reconsider her decision.
The driver had very obviously not requested his opinion or advice. From the way she drops right out of his post afterward, it sounds like she didn’t exactly welcome it, either. Wait till she sees his tip–if he’s like his pals in fundagelicalism, that’ll settle her forever on the matter, no doubt! (Also: He’s a pastor now? Who thought that was a great idea?)
Christian Opportunism in Action.
Ed Stetzer feels deep concern for his religion’s decline. His post aims squarely at the tribe’s rank-and-file, since he sees that group as being best-equipped to solve the decline. He seeks to give them enough motivation to try to make some sales this season, when families traditionally come together and are feeling more generous than usual toward each other. And he seeks to give them a permission slip to prey upon people they ordinarily would leave alone out of respect.
Authoritarians don’t understand respect, or boundaries, or consent, or kindness. They only understand power. If someone in their control refuses to flex power for their benefit, then they pull out the stops to get that person to get with the program.
See, power-based authoritarian groups are, at heart, a numbers game. Their sales pitches only resonate with authoritarian people–either followers or leaders, but authoritarians all the same. These pitches alienate and repel everyone else. Thus, the group’s best chance of recruitment success rests in sales techniques that put their message in front of as many people as possible. And it’s really best if the message gets conveyed one-on-one, so the full authoritarian blast can penetrate.
This truth is why fundagelicals often get compared to pickup artists (PUAs, who are also POSs). They know that to find the one person out of however many who responds to their come-ons, they need to present their lines to a certain number of people. It’s just a numbers game–and the POSs won’t know who that one is until they’re in front of them with a pickup line.
Always Be Closing.
The leaders lack the time to do a lot of this selling themselves, so while they have the opportunistic bent and the amorality to prey on even service workers, they just can’t do much of it. They depend upon the flocks for that.
But the flocks of these greedy opportunists tend to be way more moral and compassionate than their leaders are. They value their social connections too much to damage them with unwanted sales pitches. And they tend to respect firmly-drawn boundaries. Many even rightly flinch at the idea of preying upon service workers.
Plus, evangelism sounds like work, and fundagelical authoritarian followers don’t tend to get into the religion because they just really look forward to working hard for the denomination. Worse, evangelism sounds like a lot of rejection, and fundagelicals don’t tend to respond well to rejection in their everyday lives either.
Consequently, the leaders spend a lot of time whipping the flocks into enough of a frenzy to make some half-hearted stabs at recruitment. They have to get the flocks over that hump of boundree-respectin’ so they can start playing the numbers game.
That’s what this Christian’s entire post is all about.
The Field of Dreams.
First, Stetzer needs his followers to think that their predation isn’t really all that unwelcome. He needs them to think that why gosh, tons of people would gladly accept invitations to church around the holidays! All TRUE CHRISTIANS™ need to do is ask! You guys, the fields are white unto harvest! You just have to go out and harvest it all!
And wow! He even presents a sub-par, outdated, small-sample-size, mis-applied, non-rigorous study produced by the SBC’s very own propaganda arm (LifeWay) as PROOF YES PROOF that non-SBC members, who he classifies as “non-believers” for no reason that I could discern, would totally accept invitations to church around the holidays. (From there, unfettered already by the humdrum concerns of reality, he implies that an invitation, once accepted, would result in a new member for the church involved.)Christian leaders have utilized similar rhetoric for years. The reality, however, is that fewer and fewer people seem interested in either visiting or joining Christian churches.
We see this reality in the post itself, incidentally. Besides the Uber driver, who clearly did not materialize into a new convert, Stetzer describes inviting all his neighbors to church. But he does not mention a single one of them taking him up on the invitation. (He hand-waves away his failure with that creepy, boundary-trampling Christianese phrase planting a seed, of course.)
All the same, Stetzer needs to convince his followers that there’s some magical way they can impose upon others, even service workers, in a way that is “pressure-free,” as he puts it. Nothing described in his suggestions sounds remotely pressure-free to me, including the excruciating-sounding lunch date suggested after an invited guest has attended the offered church service. It sounded way too close to Preston Sprinkle’s endless “coffee dates.”
Modeling and Concrete Instructions.
Stetzer’s presentation of the Uber driver so early in the post was no accident, by the way. He needs his readers to think that it is totally okay and normal to initiate these sorts of conversations. Clearly, he hopes that his readers will do the same to the service workers they encounter. Authoritarian leaders often model desired behavior for followers. They must, because those followers freeze like deer in the headlights at the idea of moving an inch outside their comfort zones.
That’s why the reprehensible Lee Strobel talked recently about eating at restaurants whose food he doesn’t even like, all in hopes of eventually evangelizing the owners. He wasn’t so much humble-bragging as he was implicitly teaching his followers to do this same thing.
Similarly, Stetzer offers a list containing concrete suggestions. Often, Christian groups in particular have no idea how to accomplish a goal–or they don’t care enough to accomplish it and just wanted to have made the suggestion. So they offer only vague exhortations and rah-rah meant to motivate, but the motivation fails because followers have no idea how to channel that energy.
This exact truth is how you can spot a go-nowhere, do-nothing exhortation in authoritarian groups, by the way. If it doesn’t include exact modeling just like Stetzer presents with the Uber driver, then the leaders are simply posturing. In this case, they really care about recruitment, so recruitment gets exact modeling and concrete suggestions.
“Be a Friend” – Yes, Because Evangelicals Are Known Everywhere For Being Such Awesome Friends.
That’s why Ed Stetzer does not describe the process involved in the suggestion to “be a friend,” though he positions it as a vitally-important step to the process of evangelizing everyone in sight. That part isn’t as important to him as getting his tribe’s recruitment pitch in front of enough people. If he’s assuming that his tribe’s members already know how to “be a friend,” then maybe he needs to talk to those of us who have experience with being in close quarters with them.
He writes toward the end of his essay,
You can’t save them, but you can love them, care for them, and most importantly, you can also pray for them.
But we already know the weird way his tribe redefines common words like “love” and “care for,” to the point where their definitions don’t match ours at all. They know we disagree with their self-serving redefinitions–and they don’t care. They think we’re the ones using the wrong definitions of words.
On that note, if thinking very hard at the ceiling did anything in the real world, Ed Stetzer wouldn’t need to tell Christians to do anything else. But he knows it doesn’t (just as every Christian soon discovers). He gives prayer lip service as being super-important, but what really matters is making lots of sales pitches.
Be Ready for the Sales Pitches This Season.
We’ve seen a great many of these sorts of exhortations this year. After all, a platform of MORE SALES PITCHES is what got J.D. Greear elected president of Stetzer’s idolized denomination. However, I don’t think it’s worked so far. I haven’t heard of any great turnarounds in any churches’ attendance numbers, nor any big climbs in any churches’ recruitment rates.
If you work or live around any SBC members, or you are related to any, be ready. Thanks to their unscrupulous leaders, they might mistakenly think you’re part of their weird “harvest” and thus that you’re just weeping alone at home while pining away for a church invitation or something.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over the predatory sales tactics of a declining Christian denomination that refuses to accept what its real problems are.
NEXT UP: Finding meaning in a culture full people who insist that there’s only one way to do that–and their way doesn’t really exist. On Turkey Day, an OT Wonderland and Super Special! See you soon!
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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. I’ve started us off on a topic, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. Pet pictures especially welcome! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.