I had warm and fuzzy feelings toward the Gideons International. They're an evangelical group who doesn't get all up in your bid'ness with their evangelism efforts; they just say, "Hey there! Would you like this Bible? It's GREAT!"
They recently contacted my pastor, asking him for names of some "good christian men" in his church (only lay-people are allowed in the Gideons; no pastors or other official clergymen). He gave them my name and number. They then called me up and asked me if I would like to attend a dinner meeting at a hotel where they would explain what the Gideons were all about. I was wary at first (free dinner + hotel conference room = being asked for money), but the guy on the phone promised that they would provide free food and wouldn't "even pass around an offering plate." So I accepted the invitation, thinking it would be neat to learn a bit more about the people who put Bibles in every hotel room I've ever been in. One of my favorite math professors in college was a Gideon, and he seemed like a nice guy, so I thought, "What they hey, I'll go."
I get there and listen to my former professor (I happened to be assigned to his table) talk about the Gideons while I and the rest of my table-mates ate dinner. That was fine.
Then Mr. Obnoxious McDoucheBag got up to speak.
He spent a good 30 minutes telling us how awesome the Gideons were, and how he hoped we would join the group. He even gave us time (about 30 seconds) to "prayerfully consider" becoming dues-paying members of the group.
Throughout the meeting, they used high-pressure sales techniques I haven't seen since the last time I was at a used-car dealership.
First off, the conference room doors were all closed, with Gideons standing all around. This put a stop to any thoughts I had about making a non-confrontational escape.
Second, we were told, not asked, to fill out the membership form. This included both the speaker and my former professor telling me how to fill out various parts of the form. The idea that some of us might not want to sign up right then and there wasn't considered at any point.
Third, when I ever-so-politely mentioned that this was something I would need to consider further before making a decision, my former professor told me that the annual dues that I would have to pay that night weren't "all that much money," and that I should "go ahead and sign up, and if I didn't like it, I could drop it next year."
Fourth, when the speaker was finished and we were permitted to leave, my former professor tried one last time to get me to sign up. When that didn't work, he handed me off to the speaker. The speaker tried one more time to get me to sign up, and when I politely declined, he wrote his name and number on a piece of paper and told me to contact him when I was ready to join. This is exactly the process that every encounter I have had with a used-car dealership has followed. A low-ranking salesman will try to convince me to part with my money, and when that doesn't work, I'll be handed off to a more experienced, more authoritative, more intimidating "closer."
Finally, after all that, I was allowed to leave. I say "allowed" not because they physically kept me from leaving at any point, but because the social pressure to stay there, sign up, and hand over your money was immense. Closed doors, not allowing the idea of not signing up to be openly considered, telling me that the amount of money they were asking for was inconsequential, and their incredible persistence all contributed to a heavy, palpable atmosphere of, "If you don't sign up and give us money now, and I do mean right now, you don't love Jesus nearly as much as we were led to believe."
So yeah, literally, just as promised, they never passed around an offering plate. Literally, they didn't lie to me. But the whole ordeal was still sleazy as hell.
The dinner was decent enough though. And it was free, not counting the cost of losing most of the respect I had for one of my favorite college professors.