So I got lectured and blocked by @JesusNeedsNewPR today…

Jesus Needs New PR is a blog that I’ve been following for years. I really enjoy what the author, Matthew Paul Turner, has to say about a lot of things, and probably most importantly, his satirical approach to Christian fundamentalism has brought sanity to a very frustrating season of life.

Of particular interest to me has been the story of Amy and her experience at Mars Hill (Seattle), and the outpouring of stories like hers since this went public.

The picture that is painted of Mark Driscoll and his leadership style through Amy’s story, and the stories of seemingly countless others, is that of spiritual abuse, where the big men on top give orders, expect to be followed, and dismiss anyone and anything to the contrary.

It makes Mars Hill look more like a corporation than a church… sort of how I expect to be treated when I call the customer service line of my mobile carrier, my internet provider, or my bank.

I say that to say this.

Today, I got a strange email from Matthew Paul Turner. I was viewing it on my phone, which blocks pictures and ads by default. Given that it came from what I thought was a trusted source, I pressed the button to allow pictures, and I got a giant picture of xfinity. Here it is:

My first thought was, “Oh crap, looks like Matthew’s email has been hijacked to send spam in at attempt at phishing.”

Given that I was on my mobile, though, I scrolled down, figuring that my Android device and its security settings would flag any suspect links.

Turns out, I was wrong. This was Matthew’s inaugural newsletter, and the xfinity picture, along with its cheesy slogan, allowed him to make a point in the newsie.

Quick Aside:

A quick note about me: I’m very conscious of security, especially online. I’ve had my identity compromised in the past, so I’m very, very sensitive to online scams, phishing, etc. Because of that, I’m always wary of unsolicited email – especially from people and organizations I trust.

If some kingpin from overseas wants to give me a million dollars for helping him get his family into the United States, well obvious scam is obvious. But if a trusted source sends you something out of the blue that looks fishy, well, it’s okay to be suspicious. That’s how spammers work.

/Quick Aside.

It turns out that this email is legit. But, I think it’s unsolicited, and it feels very spammy. I’ve been on the email lists of all kinds of nonprofits and faith-based groups, and my experience has been that these groups are the worst offenders of respecting privacy. For example, I sent at least 20 emails to Sojourners asking them to unsubscribe me from their newsletter. It took months and months before I finally was. That experience was so frustrating to me that I ultimately stopped following their blogs, their Twitter, etc.

I can still be involved in and support the causes I care about without being spammed. It’s not like I stopped caring about the poor because I don’t follow them on Twitter, ya know?

Because I don’t like newsies clogging up my inbox – and especially newsies I never signed up for, like Matthew’s (or, at least so I thought) – I quickly unsubscribed.

And because the newsie arrived as addressed from Matthew’s email, I sent a quick reply as well, indicating that I find unsolicited emails offensive. I was responding from my mobile, like I said, so it was hasty and admittedly poorly worded. “Offensive” is really the wrong word and doesn’t communicate anything useful. I tried to lead with a complement, which was sincere, but that got lost.

Exact words:

I really enjoy reading your blog, but I never signed up for this email. I find it rather offensive that you would send me a newsletter unsolicited.

I didn’t expect a response at all. I figured the newsletter was sent from a dummy account and made to look like it came Matthew personally, which I don’t mean critically. Everybody who’s ever sent a newsletter knows how those systems work.

But I did get a response, almost immediately.

Exact words:

Offended really? Thats sort of sad. Because this email list is from NoiseTrade, those who downloaded my book Churched for free. Unsubscribe if you must, but don’t write and tell me that you’re offended over an email. Kids are starving all over the world. You can handle one more email.

So as is obvious by the tone of the first two emails, we’re off on the wrong foot. I didn’t mean to come across as abrasive, but I certainly did. I wasn’t angry at the time, but I responded in haste from my cell phone, which isn’t conducive to good communication, and it came across that way. So I can understand why Matthew would be taken aback. And apparently, I did give him the right to send me email by downloading his audio book, which I’ve learned after a very brief Google search. The good ol’ Facebook model. Should have read the TOS better, and that’s on me.

But the “kids are starving all over the world” line?

That peeved me, so I responded, and this time, I wrote more, hoping that I wouldn’t come across like a jack ass.

I won’t copy it all here, but I basically said this: Matthew initiated the conversation, which I didn’t want in the first place. I told him it felt tacky, and that at first I thought it was a phishing scam. I also pushed back on his “lecture,” indicating that I’ve been supporting programs that aide the hungry since I was a kid, and that I’ve devoted my career to social profit work. That’s condescending. My issue isn’t the email; it’s the practice. I don’t want a bait and switch. If I knew that downloading a free audio book gave him free reign to my email, I wouldn’t have downloaded it (I’ve since deleted the book, which I had forgot about and had never listened to).

I pointed to Matthew 18, indicating that I felt he was in the wrong, and I was letting him know one-on-one. I concluded by telling him I’d let it go, because I didn’t want to blow it out of proportion, but I felt the need to communicate where I was coming from.

(Maybe I should have just quoted it! I am so long-winded)

To which he responded,

Oh Ben. This is really pathetic.

Ouch. That stung, if I’m being honest. Matthew is an author I’ve admired for a couple years, like I said. I mean this sincerely – his blog has been a lifesaver for me at times, as I’ve grappled with all sorts of things related to my faith.

So I told him so, saying,

I am sort of at a loss here. Being told you’re pathetic by a writer you have admired feels pretty shitty.

I could have handled it better, so sorry for that. Just fired off a quick response from my phone.

So, here’s a mulligan:

I think sending (what felt like to me) unsolicited emails is bad business practice, and it feels overly intrusive … and isn’t welcome. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels that way, and I thought you might want to know that not all of your audience wants this.

Hopefully, that comes across as respectful and honest, not pathetic.

At which point, I got blocked on Twitter, received a response via email that told me he didn’t care if it felt shitty because his response was “honest.”

After I realized he blocked me on Twitter, I sent a sarcastic email, saying that he was acting “mature” and “Christ like.”

His response,

Goodbye, Ben.

Honestly, I feel badly about this. It’s not the first time someone I admire has written me off, but sheesh, that was fast. One conversation, and I’m no longer worth engaging.

Maybe it’s just the emotion of the moment – and for whatever reason, this really is bugging me – but it does make me question whether or not I judged Matthew correctly. It also makes me question his motivation for many of the things he’s blogged about, like the article linked above, things that have driven a ridiculous amount of traffic to his blog. I hope it’s not the case, at the moment, his blog seems like it’s essentially farming personal information from people so he can make money.

And I don’t care if this sounds bad, because it’s honest, it makes Matthew look like an enormous hypocrite.

If you’re going to lambast church leaders for being arrogant and dismissive to anyone who questions them, it behooves you to act differently.

Maybe I’ll regret making this all public when I wake up in the morning. There’s a good chance I’m overreacting. I tend to react emotionally, and to wear those emotions on my sleeve. This is just so frustrating to me – two guys who are Christians and who share way more in common than otherwise can’t even have a respectable email exchange about newsletters.

But, I wanted to put it out there, for my sake, and anyone who might care to offer something constructive to me.

If I’m wrong, please do let me know. I welcome correction here, because I’m sure I have a pretty big blind spot at the moment.


For what it’s worth, there was a brief Twitter exchange, which you can find if you look for it. I can’t find a way to post his tweets, because, well, I’m blocked from seeing them.

Also, I think it’s worth noting that this newsletter was an explicit attempt at making money off me. Which in and of itself is fine with me. Marketing is part of our culture, and authors gotta make a living. I have no issue with that. My problem was with the unsolicited part, as explained above, especially from someone saying he’s a Christian. Here’s a screenshot of the marketing part:

And for the record, I don’t make any money off this blog, and that’s not my intention for a second.


11 thoughts on “So I got lectured and blocked by @JesusNeedsNewPR today…

  1. For the record, this guy sounds like a complete ass. That said, since you’ve retweeted several of his tweets or shared blog posts, I’ve seen a lot of his writing over the years, and I’ve always found what you shared to be beneficial in one way or another. It’s shameful he didn’t even give you the chance to explain before completely writing you off, especially considering the years of communication.

    I feel the problem lies in our digital communication – it’s ridiculously easy to shoot a quick email or text in a rush that you think is fine, but the recipient may find abrasive and rude on their end. I do this WAY too much. I’m a busy girl, I have a lot of clients to deal with, not to mention just managing a real estate business, so do you think I have time for phone calls?! Of course not. So I text, and then people call anyway to find out if I’m mad at them or something because my text sounded angry. I try to remind myself of this when I’m feeling to rushed to actually make a phone call, but it’s hard.

    Anyway, this was not meant to be a comment all about me, but rather to at least defend the communication issue a bit – it really is difficult, I find, to be serious or stern in an email or text without sounding angry or defensive, depending on context. I feel like this will continue to be a major issue for younger generations as they enter the workforce and deal with people who didn’t grow up with a phone in their hand at all times. And AGAIN, trying to force myself back to my point, we are such a fast-paced society, the normal thing now is to quickly write back if something seems urgent or pressing. It’s not just you – he responded quickly too, then blocked you almost as soon. Talk about emotional reactions.

  2. I agree with Christina- I too have had trouble with people saying my tone was “harsh”, when I never intended it to be. And also have had to ask friends (via text- I’m a genius!!), “are you mad?” or “are you in a bad mood?” lol You’d think I’d learn that it is so easy to misconstrue tone and inflection when simply reading written text, but I don’t. But yes, definitely a very hypocritical and hasty reaction on his part. That’s too bad, Ben. I tend to be overly emotional and react emotionally, before thinking logically, so I can certainly relate.

  3. I was banned from a Facebook page called The Christian Left because I questioned some mean spirited humor they posted. I’ve noticed several Facebook pages with large followings that seem to be run by rather arrogant people who act childish when people dare to question them.

  4. I quit following him on twitter because he was using really offensive language and when I asked him about it he was extremely rude and mocking. People’s actions speak louder than their words.

  5. Late to the party here, but this isn’t unusual for him. He’s a complete jerk on Twitter. I’ve been blocked for merely disagreeing with him. What’s so funny about Matthew Paul Turner is that all he’s doing is perpetuating the fundamentalism he purports to be so against. Sure he’s on the left, but his approach is no different than a blathering right wing fundamentalist nutbag. He’s the Pat Robertson of young Christian hipsters–angry, spiteful, and only wants to hear from people who agree with him. He really does a disservice to those of us who are more liberal Christians, but not jackasses.

  6. Although it’s an old post, this caught my attention due to some poor communication on my own part over the weekend. It’s a tough realization that anyone–left, right, fundamentalist, progressive, liberal, conservative–can be incredibly arrogant. And that includes us. About all you can do is take the experience and learn from it (which you probably have by this point). Quite often it is not worth it to hit “send”, and often when we do we are better off using as few words as possible.

  7. Come hang out on my FB page, blog or Twitter feed any time. I’ve never blocked anyone, and I never will. But I have been tempted! (just google my name and “Hellbound” to find me.

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