Last time we met up, we were talking about the differences between ambassadors and salespeople–and making the point that Christians may think of themselves as ambassadors, but they actually behave and react a lot more like salespeople. But they keep acting like they are totally ambassadors for Jesus. There’s a reason for it–and I’ll show you why today.
The Knowing/Doing Gap.
When someone’s words and deeds don’t match up at all with their image of themselves and what they believe about themselves, some psychology types call that the knowing/doing gap. And most of us fall victim to this misalignment to at least some extent. It’s part of the human condition. We aspire to be a certain way, but we’re not always totally able to deliver on that desire–even to ourselves. It takes a lot of personal growth and humility to know what we can and cannot deliver on and to construct a self-image that’s more in keeping with our actual abilities and personalities.
The less self-awareness we have, the less our internal messaging aligns with our external behaviors. That isn’t news to most ex-Christians. Most of us noticed that our peers in church were really nowhere near as compassionate, ethical, moral, or loving as they believed they were. For a lot of us, that first realization was stunning and heartbreaking. I still remember when I finally saw for the first time just how flaky and inconsistent my church friends were, and how little I could trust them or depend on them for anything. I was probably not much better, in fairness.
That gap between self-image and reality isn’t entirely Christians’ fault. Their religion’s based on a great number of totally unworkable ideas, and it leads to a very serious disconnect between reality and the standard-issue Christian fantasy. There’s no way whatsoever that anybody can really live out this religion without suffering emotionally from that disconnect. Those requirements demand that adherents deny their real needs, put on false faces about how they really feel, pretend they don’t feel the emotions they’re feeling, and interact with others in ways that are decidedly anti-social and boundary-violating.
(Little wonder two of my very first posts on this blog–almost four years ago now, holy cow!–involved thought stopping and compartmentalizing.)
So Christians don’t even think of themselves as anything but what their party line tells them they are, and then can’t see how far short they fall of that ideal. It’s a very big knowing/doing gap!
A Most Strange Ambassador.
Some years ago, Ed Stetzer wrote rather grandiosely about how Christians are “the ‘sent’ people” for a god who uses them as “the instrument of his mission.” (He got going on his OMG fake Christians can dere-lick my balls routine pretty early, as you can see.)
Another professional Christian, David Fisher, wrote about how sad it was that Christians are “more and more consumers of religion” instead of being proper ambassadors for their master–a position that he goes on to describe at length and in the most glowing and awestruck of terms.
One hardly expects the ambassador to Swaziland (the country Mr. Fisher mentions) to be visiting some little Christian college in order to recruit people to work for a little Christian school back home in Swaziland.*
Of course, that’s actually exactly what this ambassador is doing.
It’s clear that Mr. Fisher is trying hard to draw parallels between this Earthly ambassador and the one he imagines he himself serves, and also clear that he hasn’t heard about the problems with corruption in Swaziland–or about the serious allegations of abuse and instability within the royal family there. See, the king of Swaziland has over a dozen wives, who are not actually very well-treated. This same king is accused of living in luxury while his people languish in malnourishment and poverty. And this very king has been accused by United States ambassadors of being “imbalanced” and suffering from “a lack of wisdom.”
But Mr. Fisher neither knows nor, apparently, would care about any of that–he’s just so star-struck and dazzled by the ambassador’s “sense of dignity” and “dignified confidence.” Because obviously nobody could be like that except for it being genuine, and that person be the emissary of a truly wondrous ruler.
This is how Christians should be acting, he is telling his audience, even though they cannot do what the story’s ambassador does (they cannot actually physically talk to their “king,” nor do they have any idea what their “king” actually wants them to do at any given time). By Mr. Fisher’s own admission he’d never met an ambassador before, so he really had no idea what ambassadors do or how they should behave–except from the context of his own religious indoctrination, which tells him that ambassadors totally are there to recruit people for their king.
But we have a word for people who consider their life work to be persuading others to do what they do and to take up the beliefs they (pretend to) live by. We call them salespeople, maybe even recruiters, but certainly not ambassadors.
The title of “salesperson” isn’t quite as glamorous as that of “ambassador,” of course, but that’s really what we’re talking about here. Christians are not out to just “declare” what their “king” demands. They’re out to make mini-mes. They want compliance and authority over others. They want a world where their religion is the only available option, and they want to be able to make everyone else at least pretend to play along with them at their Adult Pretendy Funtime Games.
That’s what they’ve been doing all along.
They’ve never done anything else.
It’s never been about anything but dominance.
Christians develop certain expectations of other people as a result of that mislabeling.
Don’t Worry, They Got This.
Like Ed Stetzer, Preston Sprinkle, and pretty much every other leader in Christianity, Mr. Fisher is convinced that “the root of the problem is theological.” Yes, the big problem here is that Christians lack enough knowledge and confidence in their doctrinal teachings to be pushy and loud enough. He laments that they “preach as if asking permission for a hearing.” That’s not what ambassadors do, after all! They don’t ask for consent before trampling over people and taking up their time to manipulate them and demand they make big personal changes for absolutely no good reason! Gyah, they’re appointed by a king and don’t need to ask permission, duh!
But this sermon was written in 1996, and you can see how well it worked in the intervening 20 years. The points Mr. Fisher harped on then are the points that his peers harp on today, to no apparent greater success. Christians are getting pushier and more demanding by the month and their leaders are getting more bellicose and mouthy along with them, and of course it goes without saying that they are tooooooootally on fleek with their doctrines, but somehow all that doctrinal rigor is not translating into an increase in members. In fact, since 1996 Christianity has been ripping itself apart–and that trend seems very unlikely to reverse anytime soon.
That’s because of a truth that its author couldn’t embrace in 1996 any more than Ed Stetzer can in 2017: the authority that Christians are claiming for themselves isn’t recognized anywhere except by those who already belong to their religion, and people are getting less and less patient with Christian boundary-trampling by the day. Nothing is more pathetic or more laughable than a super-pushy salesperson trying to sell a product nobody wants.
Definitely we’re not under any obligation to accept these salespeople as ambassadors when it’s clear that they’re actually salespeople. It reminds me powerfully of that awesome Ancient Rome scene in History of the World: Part I where Comicus is trying to collect unemployment insurance:
Comicus: Stand-up philosopher.
Comicus: Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a viable and meaningful comprehension.
Clerk: Oh, a bullshit artist!
And it steams his clams that the clerk doesn’t even pretend to buy into his glorious self-description. All she cares about is whether or not he bullshitted anyone last week!
Reality’s never been kind to the vainglorious. It doesn’t take much to see why Christians adore the idea of being ambassadors–the power involved, the perceived immunity from many laws, the way such agents can move at will and do as they please, the authority they seem to wield.
But it also doesn’t take much to see why Christians are not and never will be ambassadors.
First: Real ambassadors must be approved and qualified in some way for their role.
In Reality-Land, ambassadors are appointed by a governing body or ruler. The position may well be a sinecure or an expression of thanks from the government involved, but the person chosen has to be worthy of the power and legal immunity they’ll be given. In the United States, at least, the President can appoint them for any reason they like (or they can work their way up the ranks in the diplomacy world). Ambassadors don’t need any foreign policy experience or even any background whatsoever in diplomacy in order to be set forth as an appointee for the role, but they do need to at least pass muster with the Senate and then approved by them in a vote.
In Christian-Land, any jackass who brays loudly enough can announce himself to be an “ambassador” and then expect deference for it.
Second: We can actually see and communicate with the governing bodies that appoint real ambassadors. We actually know their boss exists.
There’s no way to communicate with the deity that David Fisher thinks appointed Christians to be his ambassadors. There’s no way to find out what this deity really wants them to say or do. There’s no way to recall them or to discipline them if they’re misbehaving. No, Christians want a heavenly authority, and it’s not too hard to figure out that they like their authority figures on the non-existent and non-communicative side for a reason.
Moreover, if a foreign power sent an ambassador to America and that person claimed that they’d been told to make way for that foreign power’s takeover of Americans, you can bet we’d be asking a few questions about it.
At present, it looks less like Christians are the exalted heralds of some almighty foreign “king” and more like some weirdo demanding free groceries of the local Wal-Mart because they’re the official representatives of Queen Gretchen of Zoonobia. At risk of being painfully obvious, someone isn’t a diplomat just because they claim to be one (NSFW but OMG).
Third: Ambassadors are expected to behave themselves decorously or they’ll get recalled.
That’s not just something new, either. Way back in the 16th century, people were griping about ambassadors who behaved in skeevy, dishonest, or disrespectful ways. People in those roles represent their home country and their governments, and if they cause scandal or can’t behave themselves honorably that reflects very poorly on both their country and government.
Here, by the way, is one official list of the expectations of the American government for their diplomats. Feel free to check it out and compare it to how fundagelicals typically behave and what their skillsets usually involve. (I gave ’em 0/10, but admittedly I’m pretty hard on fundagelicals.)
Fourth: Ambassadors do enjoy some immunity from laws, but they don’t have the authority to order citizens in their host countries around.
There are a lot of questions about just how much authority ambassadors have, over whom, when, and how it looks. Some folks think they have a certain amount of power over military people in some situations, but that’s extremely unclear and probably very dependent on the situation at hand.
I’ll tell you this, though, me ducks: if I’m going about my business and a fundagelical version of Gérard Araud, the ambassador from France, shows up at my door and tells me to give him all my money, I don’t have to do it. If he then demands, in a fit of pique over being denied my tree fiddy, that I do a funny little dance for his amusement, or profess belief in the Great Invisible Fromage God, or blame everything on the English, or whatever the fuck else a fundagelical-style French ambassador would do to throw his weight around, I can feel perfectly free to tell him to faire un saut de vol and sortir de mon visage**.
I sure won’t end up in trouble for doing it, either.
Qui aurait pensé?
Christians sure don’t like the idea of having to work to persuade others of their beliefs. They ache for the power and authority, deference and respect that comes with ambassador positions, but aren’t worthy of any of it.
What they really want is to waft through society with their Jesus Auras shining brightly, to gently and wisely (and with some sorrowful urgency) tell everyone in sight about their god’s demands and then walk them through their Sinners’ Prayers, and finally enjoy the awe of the crowds for being so very godly and divinely-appointed. It’s not enough to have their little Mutual Admiration Clubs every Sunday; they want everyone else to play along with the charades they stage, or it’s no fun.
The reality–that they are competing harder and harder with a growing number of philosophies and worldviews that represent a product far more palatable and humane than their own, and no longer have the ability to simply force compliance with their demands through the law or cultural dominance–is about as welcome here as a slap to the face. The reality–that modern culture has figured out that unilateral arrangements of power, as in “kings” and super-powerful ambassadors who rule over society–doesn’t sit very well. The reality–that if they were actually ambassadors, that’d be all the reason we needed not to allow them a single drop of temporal power over anybody–gets rejected out of hand.
The cold hard truth of the matter is that salespeople are the inferiors in a sales transaction, and Christians cannot handle that truth. A salesperson can be rejected for any reason at all and doesn’t get to make demands of a potential customer.
Rather, Christians want to be superior, and pretending to be ambassadors gives them that illusion. They want to tell, not ask. They want to cloak themselves in authority, but not for anyone to ask to verify that authority or hold them accountable for their behavior.
This horseshit sure as hell ain’t loving, but that ship sailed so long ago nobody can even remember the color of its sails. Instead we are left with legions of salespeople. We’re going to be talking more about salesmanship next–see you then!
* In point of fact, this ambassador may not actually exist at all. I could find no references to such an ambassador named Nelson Malinga anywhere except in Mr. Fisher’s writings. There’s a Nelson Malinga Ocheger, so mostly of the same name, but he’s not involved with Swaziland. He’s Ugandan. I know this will come as a shock to fundagelicals, but African countries aren’t interchangeable. BTW, that American ambassador to Burkina Faso that he’s talking about later on in the post is very likely Donald J. McConnell, who was an assistant pastor before taking the post in 1993. Quelle suprise!
** Blame Google Translate. I never learned the really valuable stuff in French class. But I’m good for asking where the library is at least, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.