When Evangelists Play Deceptive Games

When Evangelists Play Deceptive Games December 15, 2018

Last time we met up, we covered a vintage book about evangelism called Soul-Winning Made Easy by C.S. Lovett. Like most of these sorts of guides, this one asks its readers to deceive their evangelism targets. In fact, a lot of Christian evangelism tactics commit that same kind of deception. Using Lovett’s patent-pending X-Ray Approach Technique, let’s see how would-be evangelists trick and deceive people to try to score sales!

(Yuriy Rzhemovskiy.) This is Christians’ focus group, for comparison.

The Social Contract.

When two people begin an interaction together, often they both give each other cues about what kind of interaction it’s going to be. Is it going to be friendly? Aggressive or hostile? Neutral-but-civil?

But sometimes one of those people wants to have an interaction they know the target doesn’t want. This desired interaction, if conducted honestly, will result in rejection or even retaliation. Maybe a salesperson wants to have a sales-oriented interaction in a setting that severely frowns on such behavior–or with someone they know won’t welcome a sales interaction.

Openly initiating an unwanted sales interaction will often short-circuit the entire game. The other person will simply refuse to engage, or will reject or even retaliate against the salesperson.

What to do, what to do…

So to avoid outright rejection, a deceptive person begins a dishonest interaction. This interaction contains all kinds of under-the-surface attempts to draw the interaction around to what the deceiver really wants.

It’s a tricky game to play, though, and most deceivers play it very poorly.

Christian (Not So) Fun And Games.

I’m hard-pressed to think of any deceptive interaction Christians haven’t tried in their efforts to sell people their religion. We’ve reviewed so many of them over the years.

  • Friendship evangelism has them pretending to offer friendship to lonely victims, but their real goal all along is to sell the religion. Once the victim accepts or fully rejects the sales pitch, the “friend” vanishes into the mist.
  • Endless “coffee dates” involve Christian bigots inviting LGBT people and their allies to drink coffee at shops together, sometimes combined with a false offer of understanding. In truth, the Christians doing it simply don’t want to openly state that they’re bigots.
  • I’ve lost track of Christians simpering at me that they just want to ask me some questions. Without fail, every single time, they actually want to Just Ask Questions to open an evangelism or silencing attempt.
  • For that matter, pretenses of wanting to “build common ground” or “open dialogue” with people outside their bubble. Sometimes they call these interactions “listening sessions.” In reality, the Christians doing this want a captive audience.
  • Christian churches often sponsor free childcare, after-school groups, and “Vacation Bible School” events that function primarily as indoctrination aids for churches.
  • We can’t possibly forget the countless attempts fundagelicals have made to sneak their authoritarian Creationism pseudoscience into public-school classrooms.

And now we add cattle chute/courtroom-style evangelism to our list.

The Evangelism Cattle Chute.

This is C.S. Lovett’s X-Ray Approach Technique.

  1. Provoke a question or comment.
  2. Ask, “Are you interested in spiritual things?”
  3. Then, whatever the answer is, ask, “Have you ever thought of becoming a Christian?”
  4. And then, whatever the answer is, ask, “If someone were to ask you what a Christian is, what would you say?” (This is where the hard sell begins.)

The first thing you’ll notice about C.S. Lovett’s technique is that it has victims barreling down a very carefully-bounded cattle chute. They emerge at a completely predetermined destination that the soulwinner has set for them.

Lovett knows perfectly well that most people don’t want to be roped into a one-sided sales pitch about a fundie’s favorite Pretendy Fun Time Game. So he doesn’t ask openly for such an interaction. Instead, he does something attention-getting that he hopes will soon become a sales pitch.

If the victim’s own sense of contractual “niceness” keeps them there throughout the engagement, maybe it’ll result in a sale. Even if it doesn’t, however, the evangelist gets something far more important out of the engagement–a feeling of dominance over the victim.

The Script, Rejected.

Like a lot of apologists, especially on the Low Christianity/High Control side of the graph, C.S. Lovett offers a script-based evangelism technique.

Lovett presents this technique as being essentially foolproof, like anybody who memorizes his steps and enacts them faithfully will achieve his promised results. But like a lot of script-based apologetics, his script suffers from one major, major, MAJOR dealbreaker:

People don’t really respond like this, ever, anywhere, and I don’t think they ever did.

The cattle chute relies upon certain responses to keep the cattle moving forward in the chute. If victims don’t cooperate, then the tactic can’t get off the ground.

Let’s Begin!

Right out of the gate, I realized that Lovett’s X-Ray Approach Technique fails at step one. Lovett says he wears a weird pin because it provokes people into asking him what its question mark means, at which point he can launch into his three questions. But I’m betting millions of Christians wear similar objects every day–and end their day disappointed that nobody asked about any of their 37 pieces of flair.

People largely already know what a provocation looks like in terms of sales pitches. We already largely ignore them or scroll past them. In recent years, if anything, people have only grown more wary of potential sales pitches. I don’t know about you, but I got tired of that kind of dishonest provocation in high school–if not earlier.

I asked Mr. Captain what he’d do if he saw a guy walking around with a big bright Jesus Smile on his face and a pin on his lapel with nothing on it but a question mark.

In response, Mr. Captain said, “I’d think immediately of the Captain Mal ‘Trap!’ gif and keep walking. This is either a drug dealer or an evangelist and either way I don’t want what they want to sell me.”

This one.

That’s good life advice generally, I reckon.

Pressing the Point.

Lovett himself doesn’t even provide for the possibility that someone won’t respond to the provocation. But some aspiring evangelists can’t take a hint. If someone just doesn’t give them an “in,” they’ll create one. In this case, the soulwinner flat-out asks the first question: “Are you interested in spiritual things?”

I’m straightforward at that point:

I don’t want to have this discussion. I’ll let you know if that ever changes in the future.

Then I keep repeating the answer over and over again till the Christian starts feeling too awkward to continue. (Make sure to use the exact same tone of voice each time. Alternately, start responding using the same words but expressed in an array of progressively-sillier voices.)

I asked Mr. Captain what he’d say if our question-mark-pinned soulwinner asked him that question, without him first cooperating by asking about the pin. He replied:

Hold on a second. Clearly, I’ve made a mistake and I want to apologize. Somewhere along the line, I’ve given you the impression that I ever wanted to have this conversation with you. Let me be clear: that’s absolutely not the case, not now or ever. If I gave you the impression that your opinion on this topic was going to be important to me, I’m terribly sorry that I so thoroughly miscommunicated my complete lack of interest in your religious beliefs or ideology. So. [Changing topic.]

It always surprises me to discover that I’m the nice one in the family.

And Pressing It Harder.

Though I’ve never had a Christian ask me these questions in particular, I’ve certainly encountered Christians who could not let go of their desire to press home a sales pitch. Evangelicals in particular suffer from a serious willful ignorance regarding consent. What they think they know of it, they hate; what they don’t know, they do everything possible to avoid learning. I can see why they dread and hate consent so much. If they embraced it, their entire social system would collapse.

So let’s say that even after being rebuffed, our soulwinner asks the second question: “Have you ever thought about becoming a Christian?”

My answer, as above, is simple. Before, I left the door open to a possible conversation in the future. Now, I close that door as well:

I’m not having this conversation with you, now or ever. Please leave me alone.

IMPORTANT: Don’t ever offer coercive people any excuses or reasons for your rejection. Just reject the attempt. If they ask “Why not?” then remember that you don’t need to answer. “No” is a complete sentence all by itself. So is not answering them at all. You do not owe them explanations, much less ones that will satisfy King Them.

I asked Mr. Captain what he’d say to that second question.

Dude. What the actual [f-bomb]? What did I just say to you? Can you repeat it back to me, what I just said to you? Did I use any words that didn’t make sense?

<3 <3 <3

Strikeout!

What’s weird is that this third question shows up a lot, particularly from non-evangelicals who know they’re fighting against a massive whack to their credibility thanks to evangelicals. Sometimes they word it like, “Are you open to hearing about a new perspective on Christianity?”

Lovett’s equally-dishonest riff on the question is “Suppose someone were to ask you, ‘What is a Christian?’ What would you say?” When a Christian asks me anything like this, I reply:

I’m not going to perform free labor for you. If you have a claim, it’s on you to demonstrate support for it. If you can’t do that, then we’re done here.

Mr. Captain, as always, was more to the point:

Depends on who’s asking. With a Christian asking, I’d say, “A salesman. A bad one. Please refer to my earlier comment.” [Here he pointed his index finger to the ceiling and jabbed it upwards a couple of times.]

BAD TOUCHING.

A number of commenters last time rightly zeroed in on Lovett’s suggestion that soulwinners touch prospects without permission.

If you remember, Lovett suggested that male soulwinners firmly tap male prospects “just above the heart.” Male soulwinners should touch female prospects on the arm. Even though obviously Jesus doesn’t like men to touch women at all, Lovett insists that “physical contact” is essential for his evangelism strategy to work. But Christians shouldn’t worry: “the Holy Spirit will bless this action.” (Annnnd just like that, an entry materializes on our dance card.)

P. 71, Soul-Winning Made Easy. Even Lovett’s friend looks annoyed af here.

One wonders why Lovett’s god didn’t simply inspire him to come up with a persuasion tactic that doesn’t require his followers to touch people without permission, but I guess that’s too hard for even an omnimax deity. I mean, you’d at least think an omnimax deity wouldn’t “bless” an action that most people find uniformly aggressive and creepy.

Some people just hate being touched, man. (h/t Otto)

Plenty of Christian leaders like John Piper place great emphasis on the idea of Christians getting touchy-feely with each other. Sometimes they discuss getting consent first, but not always. Their followers quickly adopt the same mentality.

I still remember those booming-voiced women in my first Pentecostal church who declared loudly, “This is a hugging church!” and then basically roundhouse-hugged people without asking.

Firm Responses, And Possibly Joint Locks.

Less sales-oriented Christians care about consent a great deal–but the ones who care about sales can’t. If they did, they’d lose a lot of their self-granted permission to bother people who obviously don’t want to be bothered.

Consequently, quite a few of our responses to Lovett’s “blessed” action proposal involved firm reactions in turn. They ranged from simply walking away to variously-targeted slaps all the way up to Mr. Captain’s hilariously creative suggestions about joint locks. (Being somewhat unversed in the more vigorous examples of Steven Seagal’s cinematic efforts, I had no idea that you can make someone do pretty much anything you want once you’ve got complete control of one of their elbows. It must be hard for Christians to feel “blessed” by “the Holy Spirit” when someone’s gently but insistently made them lay face-down on the ground for getting physical without first gaining consent.)

It’s little wonder that most Christians don’t try to touch people during their evangelistic efforts. Whatever patience we might have had at one time for such antics, Christians themselves long ago eroded it to nothing. It’s hard to imagine the level of Christian privilege C.S. Lovett inhabited that he thought non-consensual touching was a great idea to suggest even in 1981, but that was one strategy that’s largely faded since then for all but the worst toxic Christians.

(Obviously, I do not advocate violence. Please use your best judgment in determining the best response to anybody touching you or anybody else without permission.)

Citations Needed.

More than anything, though, this book reminds us of all the other evangelism and apologetics nonsense Christians produce and buy and thrust at others. It shares one very important feature in common with all of them: its author offers up this surefire, no-fail, foolproof tactic that he spewed out without any idea if it really works or not.

I guarantee you that literally no apologists and evangelists test any of their ideas for effectiveness. They don’t organize focus groups to ensure that a proposed strategy works better than some other one. Nor do any survey houses ask prospective targets what they think of any strategy before the books and videos and sermons about it get made.

Christian leaders operate like this because they know very well that their flocks will buy their output and accept their suggestions without question. Those flocks have been carefully taught for decades not to ask discerning questions about any of it. As long as a notion can be shoehorned into cohesion with some Bible verses, they will think it’s totally inspired by their god. And they’ll happily open their wallets for it.

The Game’s (Not) Afoot.

This simplistic, script-like approach still exists–Ray Comfort wouldn’t have a career without it! But you only find the most authoritarian Christians going that route. It’s their ANGLE. It’s the tactic they cling to as effective, the thing they’ve learned that they think gives them a leg up on all the other evangelism-minded Christians out there. They know that honest interaction won’t make them sales, so they hope dishonest ones will.

When you find a Christian using this tactic on you, recognize it as a deliberate deception. It’s an interaction that the Christian initiates in hopes that you’ll stick around for its conclusion–even after you discover that the promised conversation is really just a sales attempt. You don’t owe a salesperson anything–not your time, not an explanation for your rejection, and not your tolerance of being touched without permission.

Know that salespeople like this demonstrate more effectively than anything else ever could that their form of Christianity is based upon the very natural forces of coercion and deceit. Now that evangelism-minded Christians are losing tacit cultural approval of using those forces to market themselves, they clearly feel simply lost without them.

And my heart just bleeds peanut butter for ’em!

NEXT UP: More bad news for Christianity. Out of every Christian group in the country, the SBC’s leaders have the greatest reason to panic of just about all of them (except maybe Catholics). The SBC’s limited number-crunching reveals a decline that began well before the religion’s as a whole. And yet they still aren’t taking recovery seriously. Speaking of dishonesty, I’ll show you the lies their leaders still tell–see you next time!


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. You can read more about the author here.
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