Predators Go Where the Prey Grazes.

(CN: Elder abuse, religious abuse, and emotional manipulation.)

If you needed a good mad for the day, here’s all you’ll require to get it: a story about how young evangelists have been recently spotted happily preying upon vulnerable elderly people in nursing homes.

Armed with zeal and canned proselytization scripts (which not even all the nursing home residents can actually follow along with, according to the story’s link there, but that’s as if lack of comprehension bothers or stops zealots because magic spells are magical even if the targets don’t understand them), these young people troop from home to home, exhorting old people who are about to die to get saved so they’ll go to Heaven. They intrude upon these residents, take up their time, and proselytize at them whether they can understand the language or not or can actually even hear them or not, all in hopes of making some last-second conversions for Jesus. And then they leave like a swarm of locusts and high-five each other for doing such wonderful, valuable work for DA LAWD and share war stories about the miracles they think they’ve seen and unleashed.

And the nursing homes let them do this vile work.

You can’t see me right now, but rest assured I am absolutely livid and spluttering. I’m trying to even find words for my reaction to this news and all I can do is curse. This blog post represents the most civil response I can muster to this story.

The news isn’t all bad. Critics even include ministers, one of whom was quoted for the story and who characterizes these evangelists’ efforts as “disrespectful.”

la tieta │la tía soltera │the old maid

la tieta │la tía soltera │the old maid (Photo credit: jesuscm). A toxic Christian would see this woman as a big bullseye target.

I can see why. There’s no mention whatsoever of these young people going to the nursing homes for any reason other than to evangelize. They aren’t visiting with them just to be loving and friendly. They’re not bringing nice things to eat or new bathrobes or slippers or whatever nursing-home residents would like to have. They’re not putting on little shows or playing music or even just playing cards and listening to their elders. And they’re certainly not reserving a main room to allow interested people to come to them first to hear their message if they want to hear it. I wouldn’t even mind if they were doing it that way. That’d be totally fine. When I was in my teens, there was a story going around that the US Navy was setting up kiosks at theaters playing Top Gun to entice young people into looking into joining, and my sister ended up in JROTC as a result of one of these, apparently (I seem to recall her saying something like that and it was at about the right time, but don’t quote me on this). People got mad about what the Navy was doing, but I didn’t see the problem; they were capitalizing on people’s nationalistic fervor after seeing a movie that (if they joined) they’d quickly enough discover had next to nothing to do with real Navy service. But they weren’t forcing anybody to join or even to listen to them. Voluntary things like that are fine with me. But that is not what is happening now.

Oh no. Instead, they’re going from room to room with their scripts to interrupt and bother these vulnerable people, reciting their scripts at captive audiences who are probably not at their sharpest or most perceptive or most capable, and then gleefully scribbling down tallies to keep track of who accepted the sales pitch and recited the canned magic incantation–er, Sinner’s Prayer at the end. They have websites devoted to teaching folks how to find nursing homes on Google and how to go about this “evangelism.” It is hard to imagine someone being more opportunistic than this.

One of these scumbags (and I apologize to tender ears for use of such a loaded word but I think it is the correct word for this type of person) earnestly recounts how she blatantly and very deliberately preys upon these people’s fears of death to manipulate them:

“Do you know, for sure, that you will spend eternity in heaven?” Rowe would ask a typical resident . . . “There’s no more ‘I’ll do it next year,’” said Rowe, who has traveled with Howard-Browne’s ministry to nursing homes as far as California. “There’s no more ‘I’ll decide about this in 10 years.’ This is it.”

Did your jaw just hit the floor? Mine did. Scared the cat. (He’s a bit on the nervous side anyway, but still.)

I cannot even imagine a more purposeful attempt to frighten and threaten someone who has done his or her time and deserves only rest and good treatment for the remainder of a rapidly-dwindling life.

This is obscene.

I’d even call it evil.

And it is a terrible thing done in the name of good, which makes it even more obscene and evil. It takes a lot to surprise me when it comes to Christianity, but this story managed to do it.

The worst indictment of these predators’ behavior comes from their own mouths, as usual. From one of the leaders of these absolutely sickening hunting trips we hear this rationalization:

To those who question their mission, [Pastor Eric] Gonyon said the ministry answers to a higher power. “We have no response to those who are critics other than obeying Jesus and the Great Commission to preach the gospel regardless of the physical condition of the hearer,” he said. “Eternity will answer their questions!”

Oh no, make no mistake at all here, friends: these are the words of a bullshit artist trying to wiggle out of criticism and deflect scrutiny. Of course he must point to “eternity” to “answer their questions.” He certainly cannot do it himself, because if there isn’t a god or heaven at all, then his actions become inexcusable and he knows it.

When someone believes, truly believes that he is acting at the command of an unimpeachable, unquestionable, absolute authority, any overreach at all becomes totally acceptable. The ends justify the means. And when eyes get squinted at this pastor, all he has to do is point to someone who cannot even be discerned, let alone questioned. He’s certainly not the only one using that rationalization; scan the comments on that link, and you’ll see dozens of Christians all happily chirping the same song.

Even the most deluded of bubble-dwelling toxic Christians know at this point that happy, well-adjusted, stable, financially-secure healthy people don’t go into a bibble-babble religion like fundagelical Christianity. They have to find the frightened, the lonely, the sick, the vulnerable, the mentally vague, the poor, and the weak. A nursing home must look like a barrel full of fish to them.

One baffling element to all of this is that elderly people are already, by and large, Christian. Studies consistently tell us that older people skew religious at the moment (though this might change dramatically as our current crop of young people age). It’s hard to imagine someone heading into a nursing home expecting to find a bunch of atheists and pagans. These elderly folks have grown up in a Christian-dominated society and have heard this message many times. “The Good News” is not going to be news at all to them.

So if they’re not new to the message and they’re probably not actually terribly hostile toward it, why aren’t these missionaries going somewhere really challenging and bothering people who are more than capable of fending off their emotional blandishments and manipulation? I leave that question to you, since I think we all probably have some ideas about what the answer to it would look like.

And can I just say this? It’d really suck if this pastor and his crowd of bright-eyed hunters ever discovered that the Great Commission they rely on so heavily to excuse and rationalize their evildoing is a much-disputed later addition to the Gospels in the first place, and was very likely not part of the original writings. I must wonder if a similar hunter, seeking to excuse his behavior, stuck that idea in there long ago. It certainly became popular very quickly, and it holds up even today because it is the ultimate get-out-of-criticism-free card. “Sorry! We just can’t help ourselves! The boss told us to do it!” is an excuse that’s been valued by zealots for many years. I’m sure you can think of a few other times it’s been deployed to excuse evildoing. The more evil the deed, the more fervently this excuse gets trotted out. It wasn’t my idea. It was all his fault. I can’t be a bad person if I’m just doing what I was told. Blame him if you want to blame somebody. Don’t blame me. I’m a good person and didn’t realize these orders were evil and terrible. And it’s all a coincidence that I totally don’t mind carrying out orders that allow me to strong-arm, needlessly frighten, and shamelessly manipulate others.

That’s about all I’ve got to say right now on this subject. I don’t want to even think about it. But I must, because–you see–I have the liberty and the good luck of relative health and relative youth not to be stuck as a captive audience for these sharks. For those of us not affected by this story, we have the luxury of moving past our anger. The people who are stuck there having to put up with these evangelists’ shit do not have any of those graces, and clearly no advocates among the staff in their homes who will stop this abuse from happening. It’s entirely possible the staff haven’t even considered what these people are really doing; many people just see “Christians want to come talk to people” and assume it’ll all be fine. They may not know that these young zealots (and if I go by what I’m seeing in photos, the people doing the evangelism itself are all pretty young) are threatening these elderly residents and baldly playing upon their fear of death to terrorize them into joining their religion.

I will tell you one thing though: I will never, ever, ever allow one of my relatives to be housed somewhere that would allow such an opportunistic hunting of them at their most vulnerable time. That’s going to be a hard question I will be asking of the staff if I have any input at all into the decision. I’ll also be looking closely at situations that may likewise look like captive audiences to fundagelicals. I’m sure there are many of them that we just don’t notice in everyday life–people who maybe don’t ping our radar but who represent fertile fields to toxic Christians just like prisoners, homeless people, children, the terminally ill, and the elderly do.

Ultimately I’m glad I found out about this story, because now I know something new to guard against. I wish the list of “things I must guard against around Christians” wasn’t so goddamned long, but the comfort here is that this new wave of evangelism marks another desperate last gasp of Christianity. Many of these young people will be “nones” before too long (remember, something like 60% of them will pull away from overt expressions of faith by the time they finish growing up), and their youthful days of harassing and frightening senior citizens will be part of “ex-timonies” that they’ll recount with a grimace of distaste and lingering shame, just as I recount much of mine.

It cannot happen soon enough. I wish there were a god to pray to, so I could help make it happen faster. If gods can’t help the most vulnerable among us, then what the hell use are they?

About Captain Cassidy

I blog over at rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com about religion, heresy, and tabletop RPGs.
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8 Responses to Predators Go Where the Prey Grazes.

  1. Glandu says:

    Ah, would’nt happen in France. Most houses for elders are owned by doctors, and most french doctors are unpleasant “bouffeurs de curés”(priests eaters, i.e. active anticlerical militants). Those evangelists would be kicked out, probably even with a lawsuit from the house on their back.

    That being said, I remember singing “and theyll knoooow we are christiansby our love, by our looooooove” at the english-speaking church. According to this criterion, those predators are not christians.

    Another point : as you pointed out, they deliver their script, and then go away. What an unefficient way of marketing. Convincing people – of whatever – requires time & dedication. If they’d do what you said : giving little presents, sharing time, giving love – they could have some impact. No, they just basically say “repent or go to hell” and leave. That’s utterly inefficient. They are not even competent in properly bullying people.

    Finally, your locust analogy reminded me the english-speaking church taking part of a few projects for http://www.habitat.org/ . Those good christians did locate someone poor and alone, arrived in swarms, built a house without any skill or knowledge in the domain, pray that they are awesome, and leave as they came. Those people helped were living in a shack(and that specific one in Poland was blind), suddenly saw a swarm of people building a house, making a lot of trouble in their life, and finally leaving as they came. And be more alone than ever. With a barely-usable, unsellable house they did not choose.

    Yeah, locusts. And proud to be. Helping people is a job, a full-time job. 15 years a go, a couple of young people(no religious or political affiliation) did decide to help the 62-years old neighbour that was living in misery next to them. This former prostitute was so ill that her mattress was full of urine, her flat was horribly dark. Within 2 weeks, they replaced everything, made a beutiful bright painting, gave a brand new high-quality mattress, adn generally made the flat better. 3 weeks after, the old lady died.

    At least, they learned the lesson. they went on with helping homeless people, reminding everyone that you can’t help people against their will. It’s a professional skill you have to work on, improve and improve again. But, as for every other topic, Christians(and muslims, I’ve seen a few in the same trap) take the easy part : they genuinely believe whatever fantasy comes to their mind. And act as if it was the truth. The road to hell is paved with good intent.

    • That brought a tear to my eye, about those two young people helping that old lady. How beautiful. I’m glad she got to die in dignity and grace, knowing someone gave a shit about her. And that’s more than these Christian kids do for the old people they breeze in and away from. I know what love is and when I see it, and when I don’t. You are so right about the road to hell.

  2. Matt says:

    It’s interesting how people are held captive by “well meaning” religious people at two stages in their life. Children who are subject to the will of their parents, and older people who simply don’t have the ability to get away.

    Those of us in the middle can make our own choices. I do remember vividly what it was like to have ONLY my own internal thoughts free from scrutiny. When the only privacy you have is inside your own mind, it’s very easy to just shut down and wait.
    I spent 5 or so years spending all the time I had at home alone in my tiny bedroom. It was a prison cell of my own choosing, because it was better than being with the family. Even then I was subject to being dragged out and preached to for hours on end whenever my step father felt I needed it.

    When we have our health and freedom we take our independence for granted. We know that we can get up and walk away any time we get truly fed up with a situation. It’s only at the two extremes of our life that was lose this freedom (unless you’re in prison or otherwise have had your freedom taken away).

    • I knew someone who kept a 20-sider in her pocket for when she had to visit her partner’s mother, who tended to prattle on and use people’s senses of politeness to keep them nearby. She kept saying she was going to use that die and one day she did. She rolled the die on the table, got a good roll, said “Sorry, but I’ve made my escape roll,” and left the room. The guy’s mother stayed in there talking to the thin air, not even having noticed the escape roll or the escape itself.

      Wish you’d had that ability as a kid. It’s good at least you had a space in which to escape.

      • Matt says:

        Ha! That would be fun to do.

        The good side of spending all that time in my room is I spent a lot of time drawing.

        • I wish I’d cultivated a RL skill like that. I tended to stay alone in my room too but the only thing I can really say for sure I learned how to do was figure out the button/movement sequences for various Atari video games. “Pitfall” navigation has proven to be even more useless of a skill than knowing the quadratic equation. For all that awfulness you endured, you did come out of it with something tangible like drawing. And wow you are good at drawing.

  3. Dave says:

    Now that I have walked away from religion I can see how truly superstitious it all is. Do these people really believe that a demented person muttering a magic phrase now is on the way to heaven? This is like the Mormons who do after death baptisms to secure that person’s place in the afterlife. Can you imagine if there really was a god he would be so stupid. I also wonder how the daughter of an evangelical Christian woman would feel if she found out that just before her death her mother, in a nursing home for her dementia, had been visited by a Muslim cleric and had renounced her faith and converted to Islam. Think there would be any repercussions with that?

    • Or even just say a Catholic priest had converted her to Catholicism. Or Mormonism. The possibilities are totally endless. I can’t imagine why nursing homes even let this happen.

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