Preying on the Weak

Yesterday I was 'blessed' to receive the following letter. Lucky for me (and you!) I opened it.

Of note on the front of the envelope:

  • Postage states this is a nonprophet organization (pun intended)

  • A 'very old church' - ooh.. must be hundreds of years old, maybe even going all the way back to Jesus' time!

  • Vague message. What does it mean to be blessed, anyway?

  • My home first! I'm so blessed!

  • Someone went super crazy with the red highlighter. Calm down and step away from the office supplies, Jesus Christ!




The back of the envelope is really trying to get my attention, if the front wasn't enough.

Of note on the back of the envelope:

  • Very smart. They give me web addresses I can go to.

  • More red underlining. Ok, Jesus. Calm the feck down.

  • Oh! the letter is blessed! Awesome!

  • Very vague




The two websites are similar. They have a lot of bible verses, text in bold, and text in red. They say if you send in your prayer to them, they will pray 5 times a day for you.

BiblicalPrayer.com offers a free gift, a Blessed Cross,  "one of the most beautiful crosses in the world" which looks cheap even in the pictures. It seems like you can get it for free. In the envelope they have for you to print out to send in your request, there's nothing in there about a donation. Even the postage is paid for you.

Apparently, this church started in 1951. That's not what I'd call "very old". They say on the one site that they used to have revivals where up to 20,000 church members would come. Now, for some reason instead of continuing with those, they are mainly by mail. The sentence sort of just ends at the bottom of the page so they don't explain.

Ok, on to the letter that came in the envelope!

Notes:

  • They ran out of red highlighter and have moved onto blue. They must have gotten a deal on blue because they went crazy with it!

  • 60 years old. Sixty is not old (I'm in my early 40s, so of course 60 isn't old!)

  • The prayer rug they are talking about.. ooh, this is so exciting... is anointed!

  • First mention of the prayer rug: a woman was blessed with almost $46,000.

  • Cold reading: "we feel that something very wonderful is trying to come to you. (underlined in blue, all caps AND bold, Jesus Christ!)

  • For some reason the magic happens when you touch the paper prayer rug to both knees at once. (No mention of what to do if you're an amputee, but we know God hates you anyway)

  • Then after you touch it to your knees and pray, it has to be placed in your bible. If you don't have one (perish the thought!) you have to stick it under your mattress overnight. Sounds very witchcrafty.

  • Then OH MY GOD, you MUST send it back the very next day! "Do not break this flow of power between us." (or else?)



Page Two, I'm so excited! Now what!? Oh, more on how to use the "important, unusual" prayer rug. You have to stare into Jesus' closed eyes and they will magically open! But wait, there's more here to read!

You have to check off your needs here on page two. Oh, I see, you need to send a "seed gift", to prime the pump of Jesus' generosity. "Give God your best seed and believe Him for His best blessing". But I'm broke. That's why I need God to give me 10 million dollars so I can buy that small island in the Caribbean (too optimistic?).

So here you'll see where you check off what you need, then tell them what your seed gift to the Lord is, and then more instructions. There sure is a lot of reading. And it's all terribly important. I can tell, it's all highlighted in blue. Gah.



Ah, finally. All that pesky reading is behind us. Now, let's stare into Jesus' loving eyes. OH MY GOD, it's a Christmas MIRACLE! It's TRUE, they DO open up! Now, I actually did this, and if you stare at the bridge of his nose after a few minutes you'll see his eyes open. (click on the image for a larger version which might work better). I bet you'll crack up laughing because when your eyes relax, it looks like Zombie Jesus is staring at you with creepy, empty eye sockets. I seriously LOL'd.

Oh, look, more directions at the bottom. We wouldn't want to use this lovely prayer rug incorrectly, now would we? Oh, and by the way, it's just paper - 10.5" W x 17" H. The tear by Jesus' nose is a nice touch.



Here is the back of the prayer rug. Here is where I found out that it is soaked with the Power of Prayer for me. It must be mailed back. They REALLY want me to mail this back! It must be because it's so "important and unusual." It couldn't have anything to do with my seed gift, could it?

By the way, on the st. matthews site of theirs, on the bottom of page 4 it says, "The power is in the faith. There is no power in the free prayer rugs or the ... handkerchiefs; they are symbols of faith, just as holy anointing oil was used in the bible, at James 5:14. That James 5:14 oil had no power. The power is in prayer and faith. ... That is all that St. Matthew's Churches' free prayer rugs are. They are simple symbols of dedicatioed holy places in a home, reminding us to set aside prayer and meditation times for our lord and savior. yadda yadda.. it goes on... and on...

Oh. so it's just a printed piece of paper. There's nothing special about it. That's why it's so freaking imperative that I send it back.



Oh, forget all that. I got Jesus to open his creepy dead empty eyes and look at me. He even spoke! He said, "BRAAAAAAAIIIIIIINNNNNNNNSSSSSS!!!!!"

Let's see what this other thing is in the envelope. Oh yay! Testimonials! Here's the main one, oh wow! Blessed with $46,000 after using prayer rug! A Miracle indeed!

(anecdotal, probably complete bullshit). Oh, look, the bottom of this page they say that they enclosed a donation. I bet that helps me get my prayer answered faster.



Many more testimonials about money. A few about health too. So they are saying that people have claimed that it heals them in any manner of ways. Notice they do not claim that the healing is guaranteed. It's actually pretty slickly worded. Note the healing claims are extremely vague and meaningless.

Oh and now we're onto purple bold and highlights, with orange bold and all caps! This must be really important.



Here's another paper in here. This one is sealed shut! It says I had to return my prayer rug and letter (with seed money) and only then can I open this up the next day. Oh my! a prophecy concerning me and my future! Oh I'm so excited and nervous! I'd better sit down for this.



The other side, I'm opening it now. I am holding my breath.



Oh my GOSH, this must be so IMPORTANT because it's ALL CAPS.

I actually somehow muddled my way through this vague and tedious dreck. It didn't contain anything really at all. It's a whole bunch of words, some actual sentences, and it all says nothing of import. It's not even effective cold reading. If I had sent back my prayer rug with my seed money and had waited overnight to open this "prophecy" I'd be seriously underwhelmed. They didn't even try!

 



This really isn't funny when you think about it. Many people will get this letter, they will be desperate and they will follow the directions (which I think are so specific to make them seem important) and send the seed money just because they don't know how else to turn their luck around. For those who have nothing good happen after they part with their money, that's fine. Hopefully they'll realize in the back of their mind that it came to naught and will not fall for such a scam in the future.

But if something positive happens to someone by chance after sending in their money, they will be hooked. They will use confirmation bias to connect the good event that just happened with the seed money and prayer rug. The behavioral feedback loop is set. Then this online "church" will continue to offer trinkets in exchange for more seed money. The superstition is enforced. Every little good will make it stronger. If nothing good happens, they might think they just hadn't given enough that time.

It's seedy and underhanded to prey on people. To offer them virtually nothing but hope when they are desperate.
Wikipedia had this to say: In 1999 St. Matthew Publishing (its former name) reported $26.8 million in revenue. In 2007, it reportedly earned $6 million a month.

The ministry has been accused of preying on the very low income and the elderly by using census records to target their mailings. Initial mailings often only speak of the "power of prayer"; once a recipient responds and is placed on the church mailing list, they are targeted with letters saying that monetary donations are required for their prayers to be answered.

Although for several years the ministry operated without a church building and conducted its direct mail donation operation through the Tulsa address, a physical location to hold services — a then-78-year-old Baptist church in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood  — was purchased in Houston in 2004. St. Matthew's Churches' lawyer says weekly services draw about 1,000 people.  According to the Trinity Foundation, an evangelical watchdog group, the physical churches are only associated with the mail-based ministry as a cover that allows the lucrative operation to retain tax-exempt church status.  The status was granted by the Internal Revenue Service in 2000 after a 17-year court battle.
One of their mailings consisted of a paper "prayer rug", on which recipients were encouraged to kneel and pray. This mailing, along with others, have been mentioned by the Attorney General of the State of Arkansas, among others, as not providing information about their financial and fundraising practices. The South Carolina Fraud Alert Task Force identifies the ministry as a possible mail fraud. While the ministry does hold tax exemption status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, it has been the subject of numerous complaints to the Better Business Bureau, whose evaluation conclusion was that the organization did not meet two standards for Charity Accountability.

Gene Ewing's income from claimed ministry efforts in 2010 is reported at an estimated 100 million dollars.

Here's the return envelope. Note that it's postage paid. If I were mischevious, I could mail back something other than seed money.... I've heard of people taping such envelopes to bricks and dropping them off in mailboxes in other towns. :P

8 comments:

  1. It finally made it around to you, eh? My brother received this scam back in 2005. See: My brother receives Jesus Prayer Rug scam.

    The classics never seem to die out.

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  2. Actually, Les, I've gotten them before. I just never bothered to open one before.

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  3. Curiosity got the best of you this time?

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  4. Roxane B. SalonenAugust 2, 2011 at 9:53 PM

    Neece, wow, that really is a scam; not the real deal at all. Seriously. I'm just as appalled as you. It's so hard for me to believe that some people would actually fall for something like this. I'm glad that the faith I'm part of isn't the fake one. There's no comparison.

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  5. No, lol. I thought it would be fun to blog about. That was my only incentive. Oh, and I was hoping for a miracle $46,000 to come my way. :P

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  6. It's pretty insidious, isn't it, Roxane? And yes, poor and elderly people fall for this sort of thing every day, out of desperation.

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  7. I didn't get mine. Jesus must not love me. :-(

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  8. Aww, Mike! That's so sad! Jesus is mad at you! What did you DO!?

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