Lynn Beisner insists that the tactics of Pick Up Artists and Evangelical Christians are frighteningly similar.
Before we all take sides on the Brian Presley and Melissa Stetten Twitter scandal, I feel obligated to point out that in my opinion, according to Stetten’s tweets (unbeknownst to her), Brian Presley was trying to convert her to the Evangelical faith using tried and true methods of “witnessing.” For those of us who are experienced and trained in witnessing, his attempts are very clear in the first eight tweets currently visible on her feed.
I am by no means excusing Presley. The truth is this: whether he was picking her up or trying to win her to Jesus (and likely both are true), Presley was not really interested in the young woman sitting next to him as a person. He was either interested in making her a notch on his bedpost or a “soul-winning” victory.
I believe that it felt like a pick-up to her. For one thing, her experience as a model has given her reason to assume that strange men chatting her up are rarely interested in her views on the debt crisis.
But what is unfortunately true is that being picked up by a stranger and being witnessed to by a stranger feel very similar. They are both uncomfortable, unsolicited, and objectifying. (Amy Johnson Frykholm has pointed out this rather obvious truth in her book about Rapture Culture.)
Another thing that makes being witnessed at and being picked up feel similar is the relentlessness with which you are purused. Stetton makes it clear that she was not interested in continuing the conversation with Presley. I make the same thing clear to Brother Samuel who relentlessly pursues me around the campus quad trying to win me to Jesus. Neither takes “no” as the final answer.
But what makes being witnessed to feel so much like getting picked up by a “pick-up artist” is the rehearsed and cheesy way in which the lines are delivered and the assumptions made by the person doing the witnessing or pick-up. Both assume that you are a little less smart or informed than they are, and that by manipulating you through sales techniques they can coerce people into doing deeply private and meaningful things without much forethought. If you take a pick-up artist’s manual and a witnessing manual and place them side-by side, I would doubt you would find any serious differences. Both want to get you to the close the deal: for the witnessing person, it is to commit your life to Jesus. For the person picking you up, it is getting you to agree to some form of sex.
Something else that makes them both sadly similar is that their savvy subjects get the distinct and accurate feeling that they are just a means by which the other person will get praise from peers or the powerful. The guy picking up a woman often wants to brag to other guys, and the person witnessing can’t wait to share the story of how they won you over, or if they are more heavenly minded, get accolades from God.
I have taken classes at an Evangelical college on advanced methods of witnessing, and I now interview Evangelical men for my research. What all that has taught me is that witnessing and flirting use the same social muscles, for lack of a better term. The line between them can become razor thin—so thin, in fact, that some factions of Evangelicalism have skipped to the chase and called it “missionary dating” (double entendre intended). More to the point: witnessing can easily become a vehicle for unconscious sexual desire and sometimes for overt sexual predation.
In the interviews that I have conducted for my research, I have heard many men talk about speaking to women in much the same way that Stetten reports that Presley spoke to her. Yet all seem genuinely bewildered why their attempts to bring a woman to Jesus were construed as a sexual overture.
Based on the research I have done with Evangelical men, I can speculate what Presley was likely thinking. He started by telling himself he was witnessing. Whether his penis had gotten the memo that this was for a higher purpose remains between him and his God. But when he crossed the line of lying about his wife, that was when he probably scared himself. His trip to the bathroom with the cup of beer likely involved the beer going into the toilet and Presley doing some serious praying.
But here is the thing: witnessing is the perfect cover for serious flirting. It allows the witness to ask very personal questions, to divulge parts of his or her history specifically designed to elicit trust from the person witnessed to. The person witnessing also gets to use the PUA’s best tool, “negging”. Those who are witnessing are told to point out specific ways in which the individual being witnessed to has failed to meet God’s standards of perfection.
Witnessing as a guise for flirting minimizes cognitive dissonance; the witness does not need to acknowledge his or her sexual feelings or motivations, even to themselves. But best of all: rejection is never personal: the person was rejecting God. In the case of Presley, I am fairly sure this has been cast as persecution of his faith.
Let me be very clear: I am not saying that the guise of witnessing excuses Presley. Rather, what I am saying is that these particular religions need to make their recruitment methods a little less …icky. I am also saying that religions which utilize this type of witnessing need to police their leaders and recruiters. All too often those with religious authority abuse it to get sex from people who cannot give meaningful consent, or in ways that exploit the faithful.
What do you think? Is there a chance that Brian Presley was actually trying to “witness” to Melissa Stetten?
What do you make of the similarity between Evangelical witnessing and the techniques used by Pick Up Artists?
Editor’s note: Lynn Beisner has offered an additional explanation of how Presley’s tweets indicate that he may have been attempting to witness to her:
Tweet 1: ”Brian the actor sitting next to me on this flight talking about his role with Kut Russell and his spiritual beliefs”
Translation: I am a Christian, and I am kind of cool, kind of successful in acting. So, see, Christianity actually makes it easier in Hollywood, not harder.
Tweet 2: “now talking about how he is an artist and believes everything happens for a reason; we’re brought together on this flight.”
Translation: God knew that you were going to be on this flight and that you need to be saved. So he put on this flight next to you someone who is similar, someone who understands you, so that you could find God.
Tweet 3: “Apparently Brian is a straightforward guy from Oklahoma who booked a McDonald’s commercial when he was 19 and then God took over from there.”
Translation: I will now tell you my personal testimony – the parts of my life that God has helped me with that might make you think, “Hmm, maybe God could help me in the same way.
Tweet 4: “Brian hates closed minded people but loves artists in the industry, and just called this one-sided conversation a collabo; between us.”
Translation: I feel very discriminated against by people in the industry because I am a Christian. But I love them anyway because that is what God tells us Christians to do. But you aren’t going to discriminate against me, right? We are going to collaborate on how to get you to Jesus.
Tweet 5: “Oh wow, Brian grew up on a ranch with uber conservative parents but his stance on gay marriage is ZZZZZzzzz”
Interpretation: Going back to personal testimony-mode, Brian is trying to acknowledge that many Evangelicals hold bigoted positions about things like homosexuality. In fact, he was raised with such bigoted views. But he has evolved, and the faith is evolving. And you shouldn’t dismiss Christianity just because some Christians can be raging homophobes.
Tweet 6: ”Brian just said ‘like us sitting here right now talking about we’re from it’s like divine interception.’ Right interception.”
Interpretation: Brian is trying to convince her that she shouldn’t be annoyed with his incessant talking. She should recognize that what seems like an annoying seatmate is actually a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to find God. It was God’s will that they be seated next to each other. And Brian threw in a little Evangelical pun there that no one else would get – you see God directed Melissa out of her normal daily life and into this special encounter with the person who would guide her to God – it was a divine interception… Get it? No? Eh, after a few years as an Evangelical you probably will.
Tweets 7 and 8: “Brian asked what I do for a living. I said model. He said ‘oh I love meeting other artists like myself.” and “Brian just finished working on a movie with Matthew McCaughey who inspired his “craft” immensely being a small town boy like himself. “
Interpretation: In these two tweets, Brian has gone to the realm of the desperate. All of the direct appeals have failed. So he has started trying to find some common ground with her, some way that he can build rapport with her. There is some subtle negging here. He is Jesus-bragging (giving God the glory while still tooting your own horn) about his most recent project and how close he got to a famous star.
Implicitly he is saying, “See my career is going better than you. But I understand where you are coming from.” Right after this, he is supposed to go back to telling her how God made him a semi-star and can take her even higher. God did it for the Jonas brothers and Kim Kardashian – you could be next.
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