Meandering on Missionaries

Warning: This one meanders, a lot! It might be really boring, or confusing if you're not well-versed in the minutia of evangelical Christianity and their reverence for pastors. I'm sorry, I tried to make it as clear as I could, but some things you just have to be exposed to, to fully understand. I hope this blog isn't terribly rambling and boring. It's also kinda snarky, but that isn't much of a surprise, I'm sure.
So, I woke up this morning with the usual fog in my head. I'm not a morning person, much more of a night owl, and so waking up is not a strong point for me-- unless I'm waking up naturally, at which point it's probably 10ish, so my brains are much more amenable to the whole "thinking" thing that they are supposed to do.

This morning, though, and I mean Right Now, my brains are still not awake-- they just have the weirdest thoughts thinking in there. I must have dreamt about it, but I don't remember. [So, thank the digital gods for spell check!]

This morning, I'm going to meander through the minefield of missionaries. No, not that kind of missionaries; the kind I mean are the often well-meaning Americans who head out into the world to tell everyone about Jesus! They immerse themselves in the language, culture and do everything they can to "win people for Christ", while churches here in the the States give them money to live on, and everyone can feel good about it. That kind of missionary.

I've talked about my maternal grandparents being professional con-men posing as gentle missionaries who just want to help. To be frank, though, most of the people I met who did this for a living, aren't like that, at all. They honestly think they're helping people, that they're doing what they have been "called*" to do. Most of them, anyway. Some of them, well, you can tell if they're Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen missionaries just by looking at them.

Growing up in church, I met a lot of missionaries, even before my mother went all fundie. When we moved to Germany, the churches we went to were technically "missions": the pastor felt "called" to be a preacher for soldiers in Germany-- both of them. I'll get into the weirdness of missionaries in a little bit; just let that marinate around a little: these men felt their god wanted them to move 5000 miles away from home, to be pastors for soldiers, and airmen, and the random local, in Germany-- a predominately christian/Lutheran country-- because the believers there weren't sufficiently served by the Chaplains, or the local German pastors.

That's just one kind of weird that I was used to, when it comes to missionaries.

When I was really little we went to a liberal church in Otsego; I've talked about it before, in a vague way, when I referenced the night I thought I missed the rapture. What little I do remember about them was God is Love and Jesus wants us to love one another, not the fire and brimstone hatefulness that is common in fundie churches.

I remember one night when there were missionaries, and it was pretty cool! One gent was an artist, and his wife sang while he drew some chalk art on a black piece of paper, in real-time, to the music, with an overhead showing what he was doing. As she sang some song, the picture blossomed under his hands. Then he showed it to us; under a bright white light it looked one way, and then he turned on a black light, and it looked different. I don't remember what he drew, something with music notes and butterflies that morphed into Jesus or something, but I remember thinking it was really amazing. I'm still enraptured by artists doing performance pieces like that. The amount of magic they weave is pretty awesome.

Then they talked about what they did, and how they "worked with" kids in hospital. That's a common phrase, too, "worked with", meaning those children were their "mission field", or the people they felt god told them to pester until they got "saved", or converted-- of course they went after the kid's parents, too, and being it was hospital, I'm sure they talked about miracles and how great their god is, how awesomely miraculous he is, or something. I don't know, so all I can do is speculate, based on what I do know of that religion.

Some of the more liberally-minded missionaries, and this couple could have been counted there for all I know, take more of a "live and let god" approach. This means they work as doctors, nurses, aid workers, whatever, and try very hard to live a good life as a visual picture of what Jesus is for them, rather than preaching. This is becoming more and more uncommon, as I understand it, because most of the missionaries who are out there are of the fundie variety, and they are nothing without their bible-beating, hypocritical, arrogantly bombastic approach to scaring the fuck out of people to get them to convert. But, at one time, it was more common for the nuns, nurses, and so on, to just live amongst the people and do her own thing, and then if/when they converted, they converted.

Now, the reason they do this, is because Jesus purportedly told his disciples and followers to "go into all the world" and preach the gospel. This is their prime directive, "The Great Commission". Evangelicals, and Baptists especially, treat it like The One Commandment, however... even before "Love your God with all of your being, and your neighbour as yourself"-- they ignore that bit, and right after "Thou shalt not be queer, else thou goeth to hell, but eating lobster and bacon cheese-burgers is totally A-OK with the Lord".

So, if god told them to go tell everyone, they're out there, trying to tell everyone. At least some of them. That's why they act like assholes and show up at your house on Saturday or Sunday, with their cute little catch phrases like:
"If you died today, do you know that you would go to heaven?" and
"I have a message for you, from God!" or
"I'd like to talk to you about the kingdom."
[These phrases have been used on me by Evangelical/Fundie Baptist, Mormon and Jehovah's Witnesses, respectively.]

No matter how you slice it, it's annoying, but I imagine it is much, much worse to have some asshole show up in your neighbourhood and suddenly start preaching about how god's sending us all to hell for being *gasp* Anglican, or Catholic, or Seventh-Day Adventist (yes, really!), rather than the preacher's particular brand of Protestant, namely Baptist. [Very often Baptists do not like to be counted with other Protestant faiths. They believe fervently that their denomination goes in a straight line back to the Apostles, and therefore they were never part of the RCC, so they never protested. I do not know if this is a plank in the Southern Baptist convention's rules/by-laws but I do know that every Independent Fun-gelical Baptist church I attended felt that way. The closest cousin-denomination they would allow for was Calvinism, or sometimes the Anabapist faith that the Amish practice-- more on that, later.]

When my mother got fundie, at my grandparents urging, the liberal "Jesus loves the world" churches weren't enough. Lucky for me, we were moving half way across the country and wouldn't you know it, my grandparents' church was "doctrinally correct"-- or fundamentalist enough. Bye bye loving Jesus, hello Macho Jesus... it was a hellova change, lemme tell you. Just the whole "girls can't wear pants" thing was ridiculous, but everything changed about church... even, and especially, the missionaries.

There used to be these "circuit riding" preachers, who would go from place to place teaching, because there weren't enough pastors to minister to the people. Even today, this happens, albeit with a twist: the Greek and Russian Orthodox priests often do circuits, depending on where the parishes are localed. Now, however, the Baptist preachers that call themselves missionaries do circuits to drum up money for they books, and to spread the word about their work when they're on "furlough"... or vacation. They do this every couple years, usually.

When they arrive at the various Fundie churches, they're treated like fucking rock stars! Everyone wants to take them to dinner, and have them over, and listen to them talk about themselves. Being picked by the pastor, volun-told really, is a really high honour! Usually it's a deacon-only thing, to "get" to feed and house the missionary. My grandparents were always over the moon when one of those charlatans stayed with them, called them Brother and Sister, and well, it was pretty revolting.

I remember the first time I saw it, before I fell prey to it myself, a line of kids holding their bibles out to the man, asking for his autograph... I have two bibles with signatures that a lot of fundie kids would kill for! The early 90's were good to fundies, their idols were still accessible, at least more so than now.

Usually on Sunday morning, the missionary, visiting pastor, whatever, would preach a sermon on just about anything. The show was Sunday night: that's when the presentation would come out! There'd be slides and movies, anecdotes about the people they'd saved, and of course, a plea for support-- please gimme your money! Every year a lot of churches have a "missions conference" which is the same thing, but for a damned week! Every night of the week, usually from Sunday to Friday, there is a church service, with another preacher showing his wares, begging for money.

See, the reason they do that, is because they don't get paid by their own parishioners-- often they don't have any. Or if they do get a pay cheque, it isn't that much. So the churches who "sent them" foot the bill for keeping them in food, clothes, passports, visas and yellow fever vaccines, for a couple years at a time, them they have to do their little dance, sing their little song, and convince the church to renew their support. Well, unless they're missionaries to civilised nations, or places, like England or Canada, then it's more passport and work-visa and food, but you get the idea.

Wait, you say, missionaries to Canada and England?
Yep, and not even to the hinterlands of Canada-- they go to Montreal, or Vancouver. One man I met when he was finishing high school-- he's five years older than I am-- was one of the "Preacher boys" in Alamogordo, that fundie church I was talking about above. A preacher boy is just what it sounds like, some kid who believes, or is told so often that he agrees, that god wants him to be a minister. This man's first name is Vernon, and he was a very funny guy, he shoulda done stand up! Yes, Vernon, this is New Mexico, remember? My sister went to school with two guys, both named Billy Ray-- and no they weren't related.

Now, Vernon was a nice guy, a gawky kid of 17 and 18, sure, but he wanted to go to Bible College! [always spoken of with capitol letters, and always, always that exclamation point!] His parents weren't active in church, and so everyone said they probably weren't really Christian, [we have to pray for them, said with all the sanctimony you can muster], but they were cool with him doing whatever he wanted with his life [proof that god listened to these pious Baptists, even though Vernon's parents had always been supportive of him, but you know, facts!] I remember he would sing Amazing Grace, to the tune of Gilligan's Island. He was a funny looking guy, very awkward, but that didn't stop the church women from throwing us girls at him! Preacher boy! Marry him! It was pretty embarrassing for all of us involved; I for one, had no desire to marry a preacher boy. Besides, he pinged like a motherfucker on my gaydar... even as nascent as it was then... I just knew he wasn't interested in girls.

He went away to college, and of course, we moved to Germany. Many years later my grandmother sent me a little "prayer card"-- that's a 3x5 or 3x7 card with the missionaries photo, their names, their kids, birthdays and a little bit about where they are, and what they're doing. Vernon had married a woman as gawky looking as he (they could have been siblings!), and they were missionaries to England. Sadly they had "fertility problems", and I was sad for them, as I knew he'd wanted a litter! [That's often a whispered phrase that means marital problems because he can't get it up. Why phrase it like that, I don't know, probably because of the cult of macho that fun-gelical churches promote. Real men fuck their wives, so real men can fertilise her!] The tag line on the card, often their mission statement, or something like that was, "Shining the Light of Jesus into the Dark of the Church of England." --Yeah, the random capitols is a normal thing for these prayer cards.

Isn't that insulting?! I remember it very clearly because I was outraged! By that time, I was in my 20's, so I'd been a Pagan for some time. I also knew damned well Anglicans are as much christian as Baptists, Presbyterians and Catholics, so that irritated me. But that's par for the course in evangelical christianity-- and if anyone tries to tell you differently, call them a liar to their faces. They honestly truly believe that only members of their brand are Real Christians (TM). Everyone else will be going straight to hell, period. It's pretty shitty.

After my ex and I split up there was a missions conference at the church my mother attended-- it was, and is, very cult-like in their IFB-ness. My mother told me I should go this one night, Wednesday maybe, because the visiting pastor's wife was supposed to sing, and she had done opera for awhile. I remember I didn't have class, so I put on a suit-- knowing it'd piss off that self-righteous fundie running the place [she had a pastor that was "real women can't wear pants, you'll tempt men to sin, and it's all your fault if you get raped, but would ogle women's legs. I wore pants every chance I could there, mostly because he made my really uncomfortable, drooling over my legs like that-- ew!]-- and went. Sure enough, she sang one of the most beautiful renditions of Amazing Grace and Come Thou Font, that I have ever heard. Brought tears to my eyes, I'm not ashamed to say. I clearly remember her face, she did look an awful lot like a Diva, closed her eyes, lifted her chin, arms out slightly, it was lovely to see!

Then, her husband stood to talk. I didn't have a program [they call them bulletins] so I had no idea where their "mission field" was. He opened his mouth and started praying, thanking god for his lovely wife, which was kinda cute, and then launched into what I call sermon-prayers. They go a little something like this:

"Oh Heavenly Father, I beseech you to speak to the hearts of the listeners tonight. Keep their hearts soft so they can hear Your Will. Help me to be your mouth-piece, to only say what you want me to say, to teach what you want me to teach. Help these listeners hear, for you said Let those who have ears, hear! We are your children, and we seek to know and understand what you want us to know-- and help me be a good witness for you, to them. Help me tell them about our trials, and troubles, and the ways Satan has attacked us as we do your work. Let me not be boasting, and proud, but only use your words." [Italicised words are slightly stressed; bold are stressed almost to the point of shouting.]

Then they go into the various endings, "In Jesus' precious name I pray," or "In the name of Jesus" or "thank you for your blessings, Jesus," or whatever. Always in Jesus' name, though, have to have that bit. And the sermon-prayers are supposed to make the congregation more open to writing cheques-- there is always a "love offering", which is in addition to the usual offering, and is special for the visitors only. Yes, in a conference week, they pass that plate for every single person visiting... it could be 15 times! Yes, it's a money grab, and I don't know how much is skimmed off the top-- I'd like to hope none-- It's a cute passive-aggressive way of getting cash, and unfortunately a lot of people fall for it, seeking to be that good, soft-hearted christian, listening to the voice of god. Well, the voice of the preacher pretending to channel god, but you get the idea.

Anyway, after praying us nice and willing to give money, he launched into his sales pitch with the strangest phrase I'd heard uttered, and the one that's been bouncing around in my head all morning. "Hi, I'm so-and-so. My wife, 'Mrs So-and-So', and out children 'kid', 'kid', and 'kid'. We're missionaries to the Amish in Pennsylvania."

Wait, what?! Missionaries to the Amish?!

Yeah, these people, were trying to save the Amish... from their Amishness, and their Anabaptist separatism, and their I have no idea... They didn't try to make them leave their life-- so they could be Real Christians (TM) without having to live with electricity and flush toilets, but they were trying to get them to give up their faith. Being Anabaptist wasn't good enough for these missionaries-- they must be Independent Fundamental Baptist, and IF Baptist alone! [For the record, the Anabaptist faith is thought to have splintered into what we now consider Southern Baptist and Independent Baptist faiths. Therefore, these IBF's aren't even real baptists, the Amish they were trying to save, are! Crazy, huh? See more below.]

My little brother was the sound-guy at that church for a long time. He made sure the mics worked, that the sermons were taped, and dubbed to anyone who asked for them, and all that. That night, afterwards, he asked me "Weren't Amish already Christians?" and I replied, "Umm, yeah."

I'll never forget his face, he was genuinely confused, as he said, "Then why are we sending missionaries to them!? They don't need them." I shrugged, not my church, I didn't know; I also didn't know what to say, I was pretty surprised myself having sat through that whole thing. I went to hear the lady sing. My mother launched into a "Baptists are better" cheer, and how the Amish were following false doctrine, and all that. I just waited for her to take a breath and said, "Trail of Blood, Mum." She didn't start up again.

The Trail of Blood, as I've said before, is a little booklet/tract that purports to trace the lineage of the various christian denominations. Anabaptists supposedly grew into the Baptists of today, and weirdly enough, the brand of christianity that Amish and Mennonites practice. I don't know how true it is, because I never checked it out, but according to that booklet the Amish merely "fellowship" with the Lutheran church, that's like being friends and having dinner, they're really Real Christians, just like the Fundamental Baptists! Isn't that awesome! *rolling eyes* I do believe some Amish, and Mennonites are Lutheran, too, but I'm not positive.

Yes, people actually teach this as if it's fact; no, I didn't care enough after doing some real digging into the history of christianity itself and being thoroughly disgusted, to fact check that heap of propaganda. I still don't; I'm sure someone has, if you're interested, though. It was written for one reason, and one reason only: to deceive impressionable believers who were seeking The One True Version Of The Faith! Given what I know about the faithful, the writer probably lied to himself, and was deceived... they tend to want so badly to know, instead of think or hope that they're willing to believe anything given to them as a "church fact". They mean it as if God told them, when they use the phrase "Pastor said..."

The only other thing I remember about that conference was that the Opera-singing wife actually talked-- from the pulpit. That's not normal, really, in a fundie church. Women are honestly, truly kept quiet; if they speak to the congregation, often it's from the side, or off the dais completely-- they don't want wimmins in their pulpit! So when he called his wife up to the pulpit to talk about some of the women she "worked" with, the place went deadly silent.

I was applauding internally, myself, at least until she started talking. I figured they had one of those rare two-pastor Baptist families, and that kind of equality is good. She talked about the women, though, and how hard it was for them, and really let loose with the sob stories of the life of an observant Amish woman. She made it sound like they were complete slaves, forced into marriage, and never given a choice about anything. Now, I knew that was bullshit, but I kept my peace and listened.

"One very young woman we know got married last year and just recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy. She wanted to name him Stephen, after the first martyr. Her husband wasn't certain, and so contacted the Bishop, who told her to change his name. Stephen wasn't allowed; it was too "English" or from the outside-- too worldly.** This poor woman couldn't even name her own child!"

Rubbish I say!

She continued the lament, but I tuned her out. I knew about rumspringa, that the Amish parishioners actively chose to stay in their community or to leave; I knew they courted, on purpose, and chose their spouses-- often for love, same as anyone else. So I knew she was full of the stereotypical "Our Baptist is better than your Baptist" bullshit. Just it really irritated me to see the Amish being blasted like that. I don't agree with their way of life, I think it's silly to close yourself off like that-- but they pay taxes, and are really good neighbours, and actually live the way they believe their god would be pleased with them... so, they're pretty much some of the only people I would call "Real Christians" in this entire world.

Which brings me to the point of this whole blog, I think... missionaries suck! I know there are some who honestly believe they are helping. But it seems to me that they're just making shit worse. Christianity is so pervasive, shit, the entire continent of Europe is "Christendom" for crying out loud! Russia is in the hands of a Putin-supporting Orthodox Church, and the government there is working hand-in-glove with the church to punish dissenters [Google Pussy Riot]. Africa is also very christian, as continents go; so is South America. These millions and millions of people know the name of Jesus... and they consider themselves to be christian... so why sent someone to convert them?

That's the rub, isn't it? For Baptists to feel like they're doing something for god, the lot of them send a very few people to attempt to convert the rest of the world-- while the majority sit home and feel righteous as they have yet another pot-luck. This kind of mentality is what I spent years drowning in, the idea that only IFB's were really christian churches, and therefore everyone else, even those who thought they were christian, would go to hell. If these Baptists really feel that way, then good on them for going and trying to save people-- but I don't think the majority of them do.

I think they send missionaries because they're too fucking lazy to go out there, themselves; too afraid of giving up their cable television, too. They can send the missionaries a few bucks a month and feel like they have bought in, without actually doing anything. Then they can plaster prayer cards all over their fridges and ignore them. They can collect signatures in their bibles, and feel like they've groupied all over, but not actually do anything that would cause them discomfort. Some times, they'll even go "soul winning" on the weekends-- that's when they show up and pester you about going to their church.

As I've said before, if you have a deeply help religious belief: good on you. Keep it deeply held. Keep it out of my life, my body and my government. Don't try to inflict it on my children, or my city. Keep it to yourself. Some of these missionaries really do have these beliefs, really do... some of them are in it for the money, and yes, you can make pretty good money in the Baptist church circuit peddling your books about gawd, and good wives, and how to have perfect children, and whatever.

I don't know that I ever met a missionary that I respected after I came of age, and knew the religion better. It is romanticised so much that when you're in the faith part of you wants to head out, to some electricity forsaken place and Help! Well, I didn't, even though I would nod along when my friends talked about it, in rapturous, almost orgasmic tones. I never wanted to live in Africa, and fight off mosquitoes the size of small dogs; never was interested in learning Arabic and trying to smuggle bibles anywhere; never wanted to be a martyr for Gawd in some awful asshole-end of the world. I'm perfectly content camping out when I want to get away from civilisation, then coming home to a hot shower and flush toilets, thanks.

To me, being a missionary is a grown up version of a talent show. "Lookit me! god loves me, see! So you have to clap and give me money, because I Have Been Called!" It's kinda hard to respect an adult who does that. It's harder to respect a man who drags his ill wife to the asshole-end of Brazil and then complains when her liver shuts down, and she has to come back to the States for medical care (yep, happened, I heard the "woe is me, Satan is attacking us, my poor wife is draining out finances dry with her Hepatitis that I probably gave her" speech one year when I was a kid. I was appalled!)

It's equally hard to listen to a woman who is being subjugated by a faith-system and her husband belittle women who are being subjugated by a different faith. Or not being subjugated and objectified at all-- that really sets fun-gelical women's hair on fire! How dare these uppity women not bow down to their men! How dare they have opinions, and worship in a church that promotes equality! Those Quakers and Seventh-Days, they need to convert! That doesn't even get into the vitriol reserved for women like me who have walked away, or Jewish women-- there's a special condescending tone reserved for women like us.

I don't tend to be very polite to missionaries coming to my door-- usually I'm curt, cold and short. I thank the JW ladies and send them on their way-- they tend to be the nicest ones, really, so they get the most polite conversation in return.

Mormons, though, they can be really pushy. I tell the Mormons that "I don't need saving, and they need to get their house in order before I'd even let them in mine. Discrimination against LGBT people is evil, and so is hiding behind religious freedom to do it!" I've also asked them why women were excommunicated in the 90's and early 2000's for talking about their Heavenly Mother. I ask them about the Mountain Meadow Massacre, and why they aren't fighting for their church to apologise and make it right. I ask them where the money goes, all those millions of tithes-- and only 1-5% goes to actual charity. They don't dig that much, and some times, it confuses the fuck out of them.

I have a special kind of venom for fun-gelicals who show up, though, depending on the day. Most often I tell him, honestly, "I know your book better than you do. You can't save me, or convince me; I left those beliefs behind after studying that book of yours. Your book is bloody, evil and full of vengeance. It's hateful and you use it to harm people who don't agree with you. Your faith is, by extension, also evil. Get away from my house, and don't come back until you're ready to really talk about what your book says... then we can talk, but you won't like it." They usually sputter about Jesus loves you! At which point I say, "If Jesus lived, he was a Jewish Rabbi, and would be disgusted to learn of the evil perpetuated in his name. Maybe you should study some more before you try to come here and make me change my mind, huh?"

One time I even offered to go through the "Romans Road" for them. They didn't like that idea, not one bit! The "Roman's Road" is a series of verses in the Epistle to the Romans, wherein Paul tells the way to be "saved". It's a short cut for Christians who are trying to get you to convert, and can be taught in about 15 minutes; it's also kinda convincing if you're 1- a kid, or 2- never looked at Paul's writings to see he was a vicious, nasty, women-hating man who made shit up about this Jesus he supposedly loved so much. It starts out telling you how awful and sinful and evil you are, and ends several verses later with a "believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!" Then the christian looks at the listener with big, loving eyes, and says something like, "Jesus is waiting for you, would you like to pray and ask him into your heart today?"

It's hogwash, I tell you.

I have this thing about ignorance. If one person had said, "Oh, I read the Bible, and that's why I'm not a christian," to me, when I was trying to so hard to save souls, I would have been stopped short. I would have thought long and hard about that, and probably left the church even sooner! So, the least I can do is let these fundies know that I know what they're going to say to me, I've said it before, and it means nothing.

See, they like to think they believe that book, because they read it. I left that faith because I read it. I don't know anyone who really read it, who stayed! We ran like hell when we realised this god we were supposed to be worshipping was so evil, and jealous, and nasty! We ran like our asses were on fire when we realised the plagiarism, the toady-ism, the lies and misrepresentations that went into making that version of the book "official".

Anyway, those are observations for another day... today I meandered about missionaries.

*I realise that "called" is a loaded word here. Protestants use it as a nebulous way of explaining why they want to be pastors, ministers or missionaries: God called them, in their heads, and whispered that they have to go out into the world, or what have you. LDS use it as a nebulous way of explaining why the church-men tell each other what to do, including "you get to be the bishop now". It's also used as a generic name their own mission, a two year period of time where they go out into the world and pester us on their bikes.

**Too worldly is a catch-phrase that means "something we'd probably really dig, but everyone knows christians can't have too much fun, because those unsaved heathen masses have fun, and we have to show how we're better than them because Jesus! So, it's not allowed, sorry, get some other fun, a lesser kind, please, so we don't get the vapours. Thank you."


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