I recently received an invitation to speak at a conference in the UK. The church that sent the invite asked me to speak on a theme I often address in sermons and in print. I forwarded the invitation to my wife, asking her if she thought it was legit. She did.
Later that day I looked again at the invitation. I was doubtful. How did a church in Wales know about me? Yes, I get emails and letters from readers in the U.S., but only rarely hear from someone outside the country. And when I do, it is usually an atheist trolling the internet for some Christian to debate or to ridicule.
I thought of a couple of friends who have recently been in Wales, but I could not imagine a situation in which they would bring up my name in casual conversation.
I checked out the church online. It looked like a great church: biblically sound, practically minded and oriented toward compassion ministry. It looked like a vibrant and growing church, one with whom I could enjoy fellowship.
Then I looked at the church’s email address. Something didn’t seem right. I went back to the email I had received. It appeared to be from the same church, but there were additional letters in the email address. I knew that was a common tactic among scammers, so I contacted the church to ask if the invitation was legitimate.
It was not. The church politely responded that they had never heard of me. They told me that the invitation was part of a scam that’s been going on in the UK for a while, which the police have known about and are investigating.
I googled the scam and learned that it’s been duping people for a while. The scammers promise to pay for airline tickets and offer liberal honorariums, but a month or so before the alleged conference is to begin ask for a few hundred dollars to cover the expense of a UK work visa. After the money is sent, the would-be speaker never hears from them again.
This is not the only internet scam that has come my way. I receive emails from “rich” Africans almost weekly, addressing me as “Dear Brother” and offering to support my ministry with millions of inherited dollars. This week I received an electronic invoice from Netflix for almost fifty dollars, to be paid through my I-Tunes account. It certainly looked legitimate and I might have fallen for it, except that I’ve never subscribed to Netflix.
Evil likes to work the angles. It does not fight, it seduces. It tells half-truths before introducing outright lies. It promises pleasures, possessions or power/prestige – St. John’s famous “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” It counts on finding these lusts in the hearts of its victims and exploiting them in the hearts of its perpetrators.
It is instructive to ask of any appeal, whatever the source (emails, ads, even politicians and preachers): Is there a stated or implied promise here? To what desire does it appeal? What fear does it exploit? If I was not hungry for pleasure, possessions or prestige – or worried about losing them – if I was already satisfied, would I still think this was a good thing?
Edmund Burke famously said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” His warning, taken in its context, is true and suitable to our times. But he could have said just as truly, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for average people to do the wrong thing from selfish motives.”
St. Paul warned of a coming day when people who do not love the truth will fall under a powerful delusion and believe the lie. It’s not too difficult, in the political season in which we’re currently embroiled, to believe that day has come. But the more serious problem is not that politicians or preachers or advertisers don’t tell the truth; it’s that average people don’t love it.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 10/22/2016