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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.