12/24/2008

How Melissa Fell

SANTA MONICA, CA - JANUARY 12:  Musician Melis...Image by Getty Images via Daylife In order to expand on my earlier thoughts about Rick Warren and his cultish technique for manipulating Melissa Etheridge, I thought a point by point psychological dissection of her statement might prove helpful.

There are three main steps in cult recruitment:
  1. Immediate Importance - the prospect is affirmed to the extent that they are made to feel essential and important to the success of cause they are confronted with - since it is how those needs and their fulfillment will be met
  2. Instant Intimacy - the prospect is provided with a high degree of almost instantaneous caring and sharing with other group members who unhesitatingly make themselves available for the development of deep, close relationships
  3. Interactive Introduction - the prospect is brought into (and caught up with) a community of people who have a vibrant social life totally centered around their collective involvement with the revelation or philosophy that the group holds is the "truth" that will save the world
Etheridge: "On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher."

We can see that Warren immediately plays to Etheridge's ego by claiming to be a fan. This remark would disarm her by making her feel important in relation to his importance as a newsmaker and the mastermind of Prop 8 that she fought so hard against. In other words, by purposely playing to her ego and shattering her notions of what a "preacher" should be he put her in a position that short circuited her critical thinking skills. As we will see in a later statement, it is likely that Warren told Etheridge that her involvement in diffusing the situation around the Inauguration would be essential. I wouldn't be surprised if the words "as a leader" didn't get mentioned at some point. We know that Etheridge was a major supporter of Obama and like most of us probably wants to believe that he is all he said he was and more. Warren has given her an opportunity with the meeting to feel she is now essential to Obama's success since Obama has linked himself to Warren.

Etheridge: "He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife's struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.

When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future."

Point two is instant intimacy. Here we see that Warren relates a very traumatic time in Etheridge's life, her battle with breast cancer, to his own life. This builds a bond that further deflates her skepticism of his message. He then suggests that she attend his church as a "guest" further stroking her ego since she knows, or should know, that LGBT people are not welcome to join Rev. Warren's church. She's special and as his good friend she will be welcomed with her family when others might not. Then to seal the deal he gets her to call him "Pastor Rick" establishing what amounts to a nickname between them and finally through physical contact breaks down social barriers by literally drawing her into his arms.

Etheridge: "They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world."

Point three requires an interactive introduction to the community where the subject becomes completely surrounded by others sharing a common goal. In this case, Etheridge not only wants to attend his church passively but has or seems to have accepted an invitation to work actively with social causes linked to this group whose goals she shares. Furthermore, she now proselytizes that others should follow her lead and abandon their criticism and instead join in the work to be done.

Rick Warren did a beautiful job with Melissa Etheridge. He knew enough about her before the meeting to probe her weaknesses and disarm her incisive mind.

I don't know a great deal about Melissa Etheridge's psyche but I do know having gone through a major illness that often there is a desire to "reach out" or "make peace" long after the event. To this day I find myself shying away from direct conflict. I might be able to write a beautiful rebuttal here, but in person those skills have been blunted by my own brush with death. Could I withstand Warren's charisma? I'd hope so, but honestly I couldn't be 100% sure in person. I might well walk away from such a meeting with the same conversion experience as Melissa.


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