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(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?

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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,...