Hi and welcome back! Out of everywhere evangelicals seek to make sales, Japan might be one of their most resistant evangelism markets. But three dishonest evangelical couples have recently decided to use some beloved Japanese art forms to lure in unsuspecting marks: cosplay, fake collectibles, and a manga-style comic book called Manga Messiah. Today, let’s check out the new way these missionaries are using an old Christian deception to make sales for their increasingly-desperate denomination, and then let’s wonder together if they have a chance of success.
(When I talk about evangelism as a sales process, the product isn’t Jesus or even belief in Jesus. It’s active membership in the evangelist’s own group.)
Bait and Switch Evangelism: An Old Tradition.
This story comes to us from Baptist Press, which is the official mouthpiece of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It describes three missionary couples who’ve hit upon a variation of a popular evangelism technique: the bait and switch.
In bait and switch evangelism, evangelical salespeople act like they’re offering one thing to marks, when really they’re looking to recruit those marks to their religious group. The marks might actually want the thing being offered, but the salespeople hope that they’ll become intrigued by the real product being pushed and purchase it despite having been deceived.
One classic and egregious example of this style of evangelism is the “Flirty Fishing” (link is NSFW) of a Christian sect called the Children of God. Women in this sect performed sex work with their marks, then tried to recruit them or get more money from them. At least they seemed to be pretty straightforward with what they were doing. In most bait and switch operations, the mark has no idea what the salesperson’s ultimate goal really is — until the switch occurs.
Friendship evangelism is the bait and switch most of us are familiar with. The salesperson makes overtures of friendship to us, and might even do friend-like things with us for a long time. When they feel like we’ll put up with an unwanted sales pitch, they spring their trap. When we refuse to purchase their product, they ghost us forever more — or retaliate against us for rejecting their pitch. (Multilevel marketing scheme (MLM) sellers often use this technique as well.)
However, a wealth of other baits exist in evangelical evangelism. And evangelicals take advantage of all of them.
How Evangelicals Justify Bait and Switch Evangelism.
I know of no reputable business sources that advocate this method of salesmanship. All consider it “morally suspect,” as Investopedia puts it, if not outright illegal. And all discourage their readers, followers, and students from using it. I found not one source that even considered it a viable sales technique. Instead, they refer to it in unflattering ways like “fraud” and “scam.”
As I mentioned during our Beach Reach training recently, I don’t even think this technique works as well as it used to. It produces hurt feelings and rejections way more often than it produces sales.
However, evangelicals love bait and switch evangelism. And just as they do with every other morally suspect thing they want to do, they’ve come up with a wealth of hand-waving to excuse their desire to lie to people to get them to sit still long enough to endure a sales pitch.
First and foremost, they all think it’s okay to lie to marks if lying is what is needed to score a sale. Years ago, I objected to Biff’s 100% fabricated testimony. I threatened to reveal the truth if he ever trotted it out around me ever again. And as you’d expect, I’m the one who got yelled at by our friends — because they felt that his lies worked to score sales.
That’s how it works for the fans of bait and switch evangelism as well. When confronted, they start babbling about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, oncoming but invisible buses, and the moral necessity of lying to Nazis about all those Jews hidden in the attic.
So understand that the evangelicals at the heart of today’s story have no trouble whatsoever using bait and switch techniques to score sales. And neither will any evangelicals encountering this story.
How the Bait and Switch Works This Time.
This time around, our deceivers are a trio of missionary couples working in Japan. They work for the International Mission Board (IMB), a subgroup within the SBC. Incidentally, that means that the IMB is likely aware of what they’re doing and approves of it.
As most of us know, Japan is hosting the Olympics this year in Tokyo. However, the pandemic has surged there. As a result, the country is closed to foreigners. So, only people who are already in Japan can attend the Olympics.
When they realized what the country’s closure meant, I bet these missionaries’ eyes lit up like kids seeing a Christmas tree for the first time.
They smelled an opportunity.
Here, then, is what they’re doing to sell the SBC’s unwanted product:
- Dressing in cosplay costumes and hanging around Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing, one of the busiest crosswalks in the world, so they can attract attention and try to score sales that way from busy pedestrians.
- Handing out a hilarious manga comic book called Manga Messiah, which we’ll discuss in a moment here because OMG. They hope that it will spark interest in evangelicalism in Japanese readers.
- Offering fake Olympics trading pins with Christian imagery to people who want to trade legitimate Olympics collectible pins, in hopes of catching someone’s eye with pins and then evangelizing them.
I’ve been writing this post today with my jaw just hanging open at times. It’s just that shocking to me, even knowing how dishonest evangelicals can be and how desperate the SBC is for sales.
Manga Messiah: The New Chick Tract, Apparently.
I must stop now to say a few words about Manga Messiah. It is the most amazing thing evangelicals have wrought in decades. I have no idea how I’m only just now encountering it.
First printed in 2006, it’s the first of a six-volume series of Bible-themed comic books done in the anime/manga style. As you might guess, this first one covers the life of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels. I found a DeviantArt account that helpfully uploaded a ton of the comic’s pages, so I was able to read almost all of it. (Don’t miss their angel scenes. I’ll set out some links at the very end of the post if you can’t find them.)
And it’s all done from a hamfisted evangelical point of view, meaning there’s absolutely no nuance at all presented. Worse, it either glosses over the many contradictions in the Gospels or tries to reconcile them in the most hilariously unbiblical manner imaginable. Here’s how they handle the multiple contradictions in just the “empty tomb” stories:
It should embarrass Christians when a comic book makes more narrative sense than the supposed “Word of God” it’s brute-force mangling into semi-coherence.
Oh, and naturally this comic includes the laughable “sinner’s prayer” at the end, just in case the obviously-mythic story persuaded anybody to join evangelicalism:
Weirdly, I don’t think I’ve ever once seen anybody claim to have “gotten saved” through a tract, much less an evangelical comic book. But here we are all the same: wandering loose in a world that somehow contains Manga Messiah.
Today’s Chick Tracts.
As I read this comic book, I kept thinking about Chick tracts. Remember those? They were — or rather are, I suppose, since the company Jack Chick founded still exists after his death — a printing company that made little bitty comic-book style tracts.
(Chick tracts share a lineage, length, simplicity, and general shape/size with Tijuana bibles. Here’s a large digital collection of some of the classic booklets. That link is, of course, wildly NSFW.)
However, Jack Chick also produced a few different lines of comic books. These were much more extensive than his simplistic little tracts, often pursuing his many conspiracy-theory-fueled culture-war delusions. They’re like little time capsules of evangelical wingnuttery. One depicted its creator’s bizarre beliefs about the Catholic Church. Others told stories about evangelism in Communist Russia, the evils of Wicca, or Chick’s favorite fantasies about the Rapture and the global genocide of the Great Flood.
Compared to Jack Chick’s oeuvre, Manga Messiah is pretty small potatoes. It’s just an evangelical’s notion of what a manga-inspired children’s Bible would look like. Some evangelicals made it in hopes that it would sell their product a little more easily to a society that isn’t as familiar with Christian mythology as Americans are.
And oh, yes: I loved it. It’s just such a perfect example of evangelical desperation.
The Likelihood of Success of These Evangelism Tactics.
As mentioned above, I don’t remember a single soul converted through what evangelicals call tract ministry. A lot of people found these tracts to be fun reading, but they didn’t persuade anybody in my own experience. Their apologetics arguments are simplistic, their insults and smears off-putting, and their emotional manipulation blatant. They simply are not an effective use of any Christian’s time and money.
And that’s in Freedom Land. In Japan, I would guess these tactics are even less effective.
About 1-1.5% of Japan’s overall population claims to be Christian, according to La Wiki. That translates into about 3 million people, tops. And they’re spread all throughout the length and breadth of Christian flavors.
Otherwise, Japan is pretty darned secular. Their official religion is more a set of very old customs and practices, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. They liked it just fine, and they weren’t interested in anything different.
And if someone wants to dress up in cosplay costumes to sell stuff, they need to be doing something way cooler than evangelism.
Like trash collection would be SO SO SO much better than further clogging a super-busy intersection.
A Quaint American Eccentricity.
When I briefly lived in Sapporo in the mid-1990s, I learned of exactly one (1) Pentecostal church in the whole city. It contained fewer than 50 members, which sounds like the normal size of a Japanese Christian church. They all seemed quite fervent, and they were very nice to me and Biff, though the service we attended wasn’t nearly as rowdy as we were used to seeing.
Biff had taken us there amid big dreams (fed by Jesus Christ himself of course!) that we’d be big-time missionaries. Obviously, these dreams of his never came true.
It turns out that the Japanese drive iron chariots. They were happy to listen to Biff’s bombastic tales of miracles and resurrected man-godlings, but when it came down to making a purchase they pulled away and promised to think about it.
Maybe. We’ll see. How interesting.
His inability to get a reaction out of his marks frustrated and confused him.
And I’m laughing right now as I imagine him trying the tactics these IMB missionaries tried. Oh, I’m sure they are indeed getting some conversations started — at least till those Japanese people realize they’re being evangelized and that those supposed Olympics trading pins aren’t actually official at all.
But Wait! They’ve Almost Sorta Made a Semi-Sale, Kinda!
The story from Baptist Press tells us that in the entire time that they’ve been at this, our six missionaries have almost had ONE (1) sorta-kinda pre-sale chat with ONE (1) person:
Donn met a man named K-San who approached him to ask what their group was doing. The men had a conversation about Donn’s faith.
“He is interested in meeting again and would like to learn more about the Bible. He said he has had some interest, so he was very glad to meet me,” Donn said.
“Please pray for K-San, that he would read and understand the evangelistic materials that included the book of John. Pray that his heart would be open and that very soon we would be able to meet again and that I would have a chance to share more. God is working.”
OH WOW. Hold on!
STOP THE PRESSES, Y’ALL.
Out of everyone they’ve tricked into talking to them, ONE PERSON didn’t flat-out reject or ignore them.
That is the one person they could point to as a success.
How Missionaries Lie to Their Fellow Christians.
Y’all, I’m going to laugh if “K-San” is actually another American or from some similarly Christianity-dominated country. See, I noticed that these missionaries somehow avoided mentioning if he’s Japanese at all. They provide only a name that sounds somewhat Japanese. For all we know, this could be the weeaboo nickname of some American blogger or YouTuber living in Japan.
If they are indeed misrepresenting this single sorta-success, then that dishonesty, too, is perfectly normal in evangelism. Missionaries, especially those working for big groups like IMB, feel tremendous pressure to give their many sponsors a feeling of return on investment (ROI). So they often feel the need to vastly inflate their success. (You can get a good feel for how this form of dishonesty works from this classic post: “Rice Christians and Fake Conversions.”)
And even with that impulse running rampant in evangelicalism, our Tokyo-based liars-for-Jesus couldn’t point to more than one very tepid sorta-success.
If this semi-sorta-kinda success is a sign that their god is actually doing anything, then I think we’re all safe from a sudden surge of Christian conversions in Japan.
But I’m all for them making more manga Bible stories. Those are hilarious. We need more of these awesome angels and ripped Jesuses.
NEXT UP: 1st-century Friday! We’re checking out Seneca the Younger — see you tomorrow!
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Angel Scenes: Hailing the Shepherds; Knocking Up Mary; Ordering Joseph to Marry Her Anyway; Ordering Mary to Visit Elizabeth; Bonus Shirtless and Ripped AF Jesus. I’m now positive that someone, somewhere has written erotic fanfic around Mary falling for the angel.
Also: I’m considering running a free-chat post on Saturday just to chat in comments about Manga Messiah. Let me know if that’s of interest.