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Hi and welcome back! Last week, we had a good time snarking Greg Stier, an aspiring evangelist. In a recent post he wrote for Christianity Today, he offered a short list of surefire ways to win teenagers to his flavor of evangelicalism. Today, we’ll cover his second suggestion: emotionally manipulating teenagers with reframing. I’ll show you how reframing works (or doesn’t), and then we’ll see how successful his use of it has been for him.

many reframing attempts
(Markus Spiske.)

(Note: I myself often reframe evangelicals’ recruitment efforts as sales pitches. Their product is not Jesus, though often they try to spark belief in their various claims about Jesus as a prerequisite to the product they really want to sell. In truth, Christian evangelists simply sell active membership in their own groups.)

Reframing, the Heart of His Current Plan.

We’ll talk later about some of Greg Stier’s worst moments of hucksterism, but this post he wrote recently for Ed Stetzer’s nook on Christianity Today is definitely on that long list. We discussed his first suggestion on Saturday, which was to “start taking teenagers seriously as a spiritual force for change.” And in turn, that was absolute gibberish that nobody could actually put into action.

His second suggestion involves pure emotional manipulation of vulnerable people:

Reframe the Great Commission as the greatest cause.

And amazingly enough, he’s got more concrete instructions for this one:

Ask the average Christian teen what they think the term “Great Commission” means and you’ll get mostly blank stares in response. But present this great commission as the greatest cause any human could ever participate in and, suddenly, you have their attention. After all, that’s exactly what it is.

Indeed, Stier waxes eloquent about this imagery:

When our teenagers share the Gospel they are entering into an epic struggle with the Devil himself over the lives, souls and eternities of their unreached friends. They are sharing the cure to the pandemic of sin that has infected all of humanity. They are rescuing their classmates, teammates and friends from the hell they are headed to and the hell they are going through apart from Jesus Christ.

No cause is greater or more compelling.

I mean sure, he’s graciously willing to concede dismissively that climate change (which evangelicals live in denial about) and helping girls get educations in theocratic cultures (exactly like the one evangelicals want for America) are “other good causes.” But first and foremost, everyone needs to consider evangelism their #1 most important cause ever.

And thanks to his reframing game, this lie becomes truth — just like magic!

How Reframing Works.

Reframing is a venerable manipulation technique. That doesn’t make it a bad thing in and of itself. It’s just taking a situation or attitude and rephrasing it from a whole other perspective.

In that sense, it can be used for good, as we see in this 2009 paper about how nurses can utilize the technique to deal with difficult patients. Parents often utilize it for their children, too, when they’re being difficult. Reframing can help that difficult person — or one entrenched in bad habits or maladaptive thinking — perceive matters very differently and maybe find a more productive way to approach their problems.

To do it, you just take a situation and view it from a whole other perspective. Ideally, that perspective will correctly place locus of control and accurately assess the target’s own responsibilities and abilities in that situation. Management Help offers some nice examples:

Shift from passive to active
For example, if the other person said, “I really doubt that I can do anything about this,” you might respond, “What is one small step that you might take?”

Shift from negative feeling to positive feeling
For example, if the other person said, “I don’t want to work on that now because it makes me feel sad,” you might respond, “What small part of that might you work on for now, that might even leave you feeling a bit more happy?”

But like all such manipulation techniques, reframing can easily be turned toward abuse.

The Misuse of Reframing.

Reframing can be misused in a number of ways:

  • excusing the reframer’s own misdeeds
  • rationalizing regressive or unkind opinions
  • dismissing and negating valid criticisms
  • hiding control-grabs

The example that always springs to my mind on this topic comes from a 2002 episode of South Park. In “Red Hot Catholic Love,” the kids’ parents decide to become atheists. After a bizarre series of events, the parents decide to become Catholic again. At the end, Stan asks his dad:

“Does this mean we have to go to church on Sundays again?”

Randy replies:

“No. It means we get to, son. It means… we get to.”

However, Randy uses reframing dishonestly and unethically here. Yes, absolutely Randy plans to compel Stan to go to church on Sundays again. Stan never gets a choice about attending. But his dad wants to soften that compulsory demand by making it sound like their return to church will be completely voluntary thing they do because they really want to be there.

If Stan disagrees, leaning instead on the actually-completely-obligatory nature of his attendance, then (Randy hints) that’s Stan’s error and ultimately his own problem.

The creators of this show have always presented Stan as perceptive and bright. So I doubt he somehow doesn’t notice this dishonest reframing attempt.  

Reframing In Evangelicalism.

My ex-husband Biff misused reframing constantly, as well. I think he learned the technique from his church pals, like almost all of his very worst behavior.

For instance, it was okay for him to have a “testimony” that was lies from top to bottom if it saved people’s souls. Exposing that testimony as a fabrication, as I threatened to do, became the real wickedness in his reframed equation. Thus, he and his pals criticized me for making that threat. Meanwhile, Biff, as the actual liar in that equation, enjoyed their universal approval as a soulwinner.

We’ve also seen countless evangelical culture warriors try to reframe their cruel antics as love, or act like they’re waging these wars purely out of concern for children or families, or that their laser focus on white male supremacism derives entirely from their faithful obedience to their god’s direct orders.

Malevolent reframing can even qualify as gaslighting because it shifts reality in a way that isn’t valid to get the victim to question their own perceptions, feelings, and memories.

Reframing to Manipulate Children.

When the reframer misuses reframing against people who aren’t capable of giving informed consent to manipulation, things get especially dark.

second glance movie poster
(Roll to Disbelieve’s Second Glance Mega-Review!)

That’s exactly what we saw repeatedly in that Second Glance movie from 1992.

Early on in it, the son (played by an impossibly young and hilariously self-pitying David A.R. White) whines that he’s missing all the fun his friends are having because he has to Jesus super-hard.

Immediately, his father barks back, “ALL THE SIN!”

The dad clearly expects the son to adopt this reframing of his losses in the social life of high school. And the son very reluctantly and sullenly does exactly that.

But what else could the son have done there? Defy his father, in an authoritarian household like the ones evangelicals cherish? Hardly.

That’s where we find Greg Stier and his reframing game.

His problem is that it’s not 1992 anymore. These days, Gen Z and Alpha kids and teens are even less likely to accept malevolent reframing than Gen X teens were then.

Teaching Teens to Mischaracterize Their Own Behavior.

Greg Stier seriously thinks he’s going to successfully convince today’s teens to completely mischaracterize their own behavior. He does it in the most laughably self-serving ways possible, too. I’ve often theorized over the years that evangelicals’ favored sales tactics are always the ones that’d work best on themselves. And nowhere do I see that idea validated more than I do right here in Greg Stier’s own frantic efforts to promote his business to Boomer-aged evangelicals.

No no, he’s not urging teens to destroy their most precious relationships for no real return whatsoever. He’s really telling them to engage in SPEERCHUL WARFARE with literal demons! Really, he’s just revving them up so they can plunge into the fires of hell itself to rescue their loved ones and friends! That’s what evangelism really is! It’s rescuing people from burning buildings! 

(We’ll just ignore the fact that in this scenario, his imaginary friend Jesus set the fire and allows people to face that danger without helping them himself, even though he could very easily fix everything.)

Similarly, Greg Stier is not pushing anyone to do anything so crass as sell evangelicals’ only real product! No no, he just wants young Jesus-followers to help those unreached souls learn to Jesus correctly so all their problems will disappear — just like evangelical teens’ problems always do!

a puppet looks away shiftily
Yeah, about that…

And if those teens will reframe their perceptions like he suggests, they won’t have any problems at all with getting out there to SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY!

That’s all it takes! Just a slight shift of perspective!

The Reality of Teenage Evangelism.

It’s weird that Greg Stier doesn’t remember being a teenager himself. That’s the only way I can comprehend his stunning skill at mischaracterizing the teen experience even in the 1990s when he was probably a teen himself.

I remember those years pretty well, though, and I remember talking to my evangelical friends at that age too.

We all struggled with the reframing we’d absorbed about evangelism. It jostled very unfavorably against reality.

In reality, we were all very careful about who got our sales pitches, when, and how. We were mortified to realize we were delivering an unwanted sales pitch. Often, such pitches resulted in frayed relationship bonds and everlasting distrust of our motives and sincerity. So we walked on eggshells to balance the utter urgency of soulwinning with our terror of losing the few friends we had.

But the situation gets worse than that, even.

The Mantle of Responsibility, Misused.

Those using reframing must be very careful not to assign more responsibility and power to the target than the situation warrants.

In the case of Greg Stier’s exhortation to teenagers, it is beyond inappropriate of him to assign children the roles of rescuers and protectors.

It is outrageous, shocking, and grotesque that he assigns these roles to teens. They are children. But that is exactly what he does here. Check out that one paragraph again from his Christianity Today post:

When our teenagers share the Gospel they are entering into an epic struggle with the Devil himself over the lives, souls and eternities of their unreached friends. They are sharing the cure to the pandemic of sin that has infected all of humanity. They are rescuing their classmates, teammates and friends from the hell they are headed to and the hell they are going through apart from Jesus Christ.

I read that and got furious with Greg Stier.

The unspeakable gall of this gormless, wide-eyed liar-for-Jesus!

We’ll talk more soon about his use of fear to motivate teenagers to SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY. For now, I’ll just note this particular manipulation tactic as part of malevolent reframing attempts. It’s part of their calling-card. If the victim feels very uncomfortable about being assigned that role in the new framing of the situation, the abuser implies (or directly states) that everything’s perfectly aboveboard.

Often, the abusers using malevolent reframing hold authority over their victims, as Greg Stier desperately wants to do. That just makes it harder for those victims to reject the reframing.

The Titanic’s Deck Chairs Need Rearranging Again.

If nothing else, I suppose Greg Stier is reasonably good at promoting himself within that undemanding network of gullible sheep.

But I’ve noticed that he focuses on the older sheep in his herd.

In his social media, I’ve seen precious few actual teens interacting with him. None use the hashtags he keeps pushing forth like he’s trying to make fetch happen. None talk to him. He doesn’t seem to guest, ever, on any teen-facing podcasts or YouTube channels that I’ve seen. He doesn’t really interact with teens at all, outside of preaching-at-a-bullshit-teen-seminar context. I’ve never even encountered any 20-somethings who mention having gotten saved at one of his bullshit seminars, or even knowing who Greg Stier is.

So the people who buy Greg Stier’s evangelism products end up always being adults. They are the parents of teens, planning to enroll their kids in his bullshit seminars, or they are pastors (or youth pastors) buying licenses to stream those seminars for the teens in their youth groups.

All in all, the best thing I can say about Greg Stier’s reframing attempts is that very few evangelical teens seem to have accepted it.

NEXT UP: The most cynical attempt I’ve ever seen to mobilize teens to sell more product. Breathtaking, really. See you tomorrow!

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(Last note: In addition to being an aspiring big-name evangelist, Greg Stier’s aggression has made him an unironic fan of the villainous Cobra Kai karate school. In fact, he’s been a fan of those bad guys since well before the current miniseries “Cobra Kai.” Words: I have none! None!)

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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