When I decided to write an article for On Line Opinion, I wasn't really sure what the topic should be. But then, I remembered someone who once had the same problem. He was a preacher, a “pastor”, getting on in years but energetic. He was addressing a crowd of many hundreds of people in a big converted warehouse in Sydney's inner south, one Sunday morning a number of years back.
“When I woke up this morning, I had no idea what I should talk about in church today,” he began. “So I prayed to God about it. Then God spoke to me very clearly, and He told me to tell everyone who is wearing an item of green clothing to come up to the front.”
So he did that. A smallish group approached the stage, a little bewildered. I was one of those people.
I had been invited along to the church service by a couple of people who went there often, and I accepted their invitation. The pastor started to pick people at random from the small green-clothing-item mob in front of him. One by one, he told them things like “Your (such and such medical problem) will be healed soon”, or “Today God will lift the burden from your heart”.
His bony finger pointed down my direction, and I felt a thousand eyes upon me. “When is your birthday?” he asked.
I told him. “Ah yes, I knew it was recently. Well, God has a special message for you - before your next birthday you will have a major spiritual breakthrough.”
Members of the congregation murmured praise to God and babbled in “tongues”.
On another occasion a few years later, this time not with Pentacostals but with a certain group of Baptists, I came across another strange shepherd. He and the mob believed that Adam and Eve were two actual people, and that the world was only 9,000 years old, since you could trace it back through the generations using the Old Testament. Noah and his boat with all the animals was considered a factual story. So was the story about Jonah who lived inside a whale for a few days.
All apparently true because the Bible is “God's Word”. Absurd, do you think? Well, groups like these are highly active around some of the country's best schools and universities, and have large followings. They are highly dedicated to enlisting new converts, and trained in marketing techniques that can be used to get new people in.
The Baptist “team leader” approached me one evening during a public barbeque the group had put on for the locals in one town during a summer mission. I had been speaking with a few local kids my age, when the team leader came up and eagerly whispered to me, “Sales propositioning, sales propositioning”.
Sales propositioning is a marketing technique where a customer is strongly encouraged to make a decision one way or the other in as short a time as possible. Buy or not buy. Apparently potential buyers tend to say “yes” more often in that situation. This leader's attitude was: “Why not apply marketing techniques to selling God's Word, too? After all, it's saving souls from eternal punishment we're talking about here. Why not use every method available?”
Especially troublesome is that those people who don't want to be part of the group any more are often harassed and warned of terrible consequences if they should leave. Often members of the group express genuine pity towards the leaver, since they genuinely believe that person (or at least their soul) will suffer forever after they die.
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