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How is the culture of MLM’s influencing the Church, impacting our relationships and shaping our faith? Stories exploring the connections between monetary strategy and making disciples. This episode is in partnership with the Truce Podcast and co-hosted by Chris Staron.

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#65: Multilevel Marketing and The Church

Note: The Love Thy Neighborhood podcast is made for the ear, and not the eye. We would encourage you to listen to the audio for the full emotional emphasis of this episode. The following transcription may contain errors. Please refer to the audio before quoting any content from this episode. 

AUDIO CLIPS: Love Thy Neighborhood… Discipleship and missions for modern times.

JESSE EUBANKS: Hey, just a note. Today’s episode is exploring a controversial topic that elicits strong opinions from people. We do not necessarily endorse or arrive at the exact same conclusions as our guest, but we do feel that he is asking really great questions that Christians need to wrestle with. So again, all opinions that our guests share are not necessarily representative of us as an organization.

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ANNA TRAN: Okay, so Jesse, in 2015, Christianity Today magazine had a cover story titled “The Divine Rise of Multilevel Marketing.”

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh, that’s interesting. Is there like a spiritual connection in multilevel marketing? 

ANNA TRAN: Yes and no. There are hundreds of companies in the U.S. that use the multilevel marketing business model, and a lot of them are actually branded as a Christian business. And so, you know, the article I referenced, it looks at the pros and cons of mixing faith with this type of business practice. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Wait, so is the idea then that, like, I should not as a Christian buy at all from multilevel marketing companies?

ANNA TRAN: Well, no, that’s the question we’re trying to think about. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Uh, I just think about, like, how I’ve seen, like, a lot of Christians, you know, on social media talking about their products and, like, what they’re really into, and, like, it is obvious that, like, they’re, they’re trying to sell me something. 

ANNA TRAN: Right. So for today’s episode, I thought it’d be super interesting to try to explore the topic of multilevel marketing and pyramid schemes and Ponzi schemes. But instead of doing an entire episode myself, I reached out to the podcast Truce because they’ve already done an entire four-part series on multilevel marketing. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh yeah, that’s great. And, like, for our listeners, just so you know, like Truce uses journalism and narrative storytelling to explore stories from the Christian church.

ANNA TRAN: Yep. And we have Chris Staron, the host and the creator of the Truce Podcast here with us to help give us more insights into MLMs. Chris, welcome to the show. 

CHRIS STARON: Hey, thanks for having me. 

ANNA TRAN: So we’ll be listening to segments from the multilevel marketing series featured on Truce as we ask the questions – what are MLMs, how has multilevel marketing made its way into the church, and how can Christians wisely examine how MLMs are influencing our relationships?

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JESSE EUBANKS: You’re listening to the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. Today’s episode – “Multilevel Marketing and The Church.” Welcome to our corner of the urban universe.

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JESSE EUBANKS: Okay. So Chris, so this series on multilevel marketing, it’s part of a broader topic on Christian influencers that you were covering. Why did you decide specifically to do a deep dive into MLMs? 

CHRIS STARON: Yeah, well, I first of all have seen it a lot in the church and, you know, experienced it. I – it takes over in my workplace and just by the, where I live out here in the West, it’s, it’s a very present thing, as a number of MLMs are stationed in Idaho or in Utah for various tax reasons. But as far as the influencer economy thing – uh, first of all, what is an influencer? That’s generally one of those terms used for somebody online, on Instagram, on Twitter, who is, who’s trying to convince you of something through this internet celebrity that they have. Multilevel marketing companies will use or look for the, you know, the popular people who have a wide influence and say like, “Oh, I should get that person to sell my vitamins or whatever.” And because this person has a lot of influence in their community, people will listen to them, they’ll trust them, and they’ll get roped into an organization that the Federal Trade Commission says multilevel marketing – 99%, actually over 99% of people who get involved will lose money. So it’s, it’s very much amongst us, and, uh, it preys on some of our natural tendencies as human beings to want to be liked, to want to be successful. And so much of what goes on in, uh, the Christian church nowadays is focused on sort of health and wealth and if you are doing God’s will, you will have a great life, which is in contrast to a lot of what we see in the Bible. And so MLM culture takes advantage of that. 

ANNA TRAN: Mmm. Yeah, so I think it’s important for listeners just to get an idea of what an MLM actually is. So here’s a clip to give listeners just a clear definition of that. 

CHRIS STARON CLIP: We’re talking about multilevel marketing companies, or MLMs. They’re also known as direct sales companies. First, we need to explain what is an MLM. Let’s say that your friend Earl needs some soap. 

“I need soap.” 

Earl hops in the car and goes to the store. 

“Actually, I prefer to ride my bike.” 

Earl is eco-friendly, so he pedals to the store. 

“I’ll take your finest soap.” 

They ring it up. Earl pays for it. Done. Now he’s got the soap he needs. That’s how most of us buy things. The MLM model, or direct sales, is different. Instead of Earl going to a brick and mortar store and purchasing what he needs when he needs it, the store comes to him. 

“I threw this party today so you could try out all the most exciting soaps on the market.” 

Sometimes in parties, maybe through a work acquaintance who gives you a catalog. Your friends become the store, the salesperson who is trying to sell you soap, candles, essential oils, purses, whatever. That is direct sales in a nutshell. 

“Ah, I like this one the best. It smells like success.”

In this model you give your money to your friend Earl, he sells you soap, and Earl gets a little cut of the profits. 

“I’m saving up for a soap dish to hold all my soap.” 

Earl has a quote unquote “business,” and you’ve got a product. That’s it. That’s direct sales. There’s another element to this. Not only is your friend selling you soap – 

“This kind smells like fresh cut grass.” 

– Earl can also recruit you to sell soap too. 

“Are you ready to make the best decision of your life?” 

That’s right. You too can get in on this exciting business deal. You can host parties in your home and drum up business and give catalogs to people in your workplace or your church, and they can buy soap from you. So Earl gets his friend Kelly to sign up and start selling. 

“I invited you all here today so you could try out the most exciting soaps on the market.” 

The business is spreading. Now when Kelly makes a sale – 

“One lavender-scented soap for you.” 

– She makes a little money, maybe, if she can cover her costs. 

“Thank you.” 

And Earl gets a cut as well. 

“And thank you.” 

As does whoever recruited Earl and whoever recruited them all the way up to the top, to the MLM itself. Proponents of this business model say that it works well for the consumer because you can buy these unique products. It’s good for the distributor – 

“That’s me.”

– because now Earl can make some cash and start a business as an independent contractor and the direct sales companies don’t have the overhead of a brick and mortar store. Now Earl is not just motivated to sell you soap, but he’s got an incentive to get you to sell soap yourself because he gets a cut of the sales you make and the sales of people you recruit. If Earl is playing the game right –

“I play to win.”

– then he knows the big money is in recruiting, not in selling. That is how direct sales work, pretty much. Someone at the top recruits two people below them, who in turn each recruit two more people, who then recruit more people, and so on. If you draw it out, it makes the shape of a triangle, the first distributor at the top with all those other salespeople below them funneling money up. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, I like that, uh, that audio image using the piano chords. You know, you get the image of like a, a more crowded – like, it gets more and more dense and crowded, you know, as that triangle goes downward.

CHRIS STARON: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a lot of fun. (laughs)

JESSE EUBANKS: Mm-hmm. I, I think that one of the, the most important things that I just heard in that clip was the, the comment that there’s more financial takeaway for somebody to find people that are going to sell the products under them, rather than just selling the products themselves. And I feel like that is such a, a huge distinction because if I sell you soap, I know that soap is going to benefit you a hundred percent. Like, you know, it’s – you use the soap, it’s gonna be good for you. But if I, you know, get you to become someone who sells, that does not necessarily always mean it’s gonna financially work out for you, but it will only work out for me.

CHRIS STARON: Perhaps. (laughs)

JESSE EUBANKS: How so? Am I, am I wrong? 

CHRIS STARON: Well, no, I mean, you’re right. I mean, part of the thing is that a lot of the money for MLMs comes from the dues that people pay to be in the MLM and, and the supplies that they buy to try to have samples on hand to be able to give out to people. You know, if you have a party over at your house, you know, with soap or essential oils or something, the, the company does not provide those things. You have to buy them, so you have samples on hand.

JESSE EUBANKS: Mmm. 

CHRIS STARON: And so when you buy those things, a little bit of the money you spend goes to the person who recruited you, and so that is kind of how the money jumps from person to person. In one of the episodes, the guy who kind of explains everything is, uh, Robert FitzPatrick from Pyramid Scheme Alert, and as he says, the, the product is actually kind of irrelevant because you don’t really need a product in order to get this done. Most of the money comes from those dues that people pay and from buying things that they don’t need in order to stay inside the scheme because you have sales quotas that you need to meet in order to stay inside the scheme, if they actually make a real sale to somebody. Oftentimes they are buying something because they want to support their friend or they feel obligated to support a family member or something like that. Part of the, what’s so damaging about it – it’s not just the financial aspect, but it’s also the, the toll that it puts on relationships. 

ANNA TRAN: Mm-hmm. 

CHRIS STARON: Because you’re asking your family and your friends to always be supporting you in this thing when of course they don’t need, they don’t need to buy soap from you. They can buy it at the grocery store for more convenience and for a better price and with more variety. 

ANNA TRAN: Right. Yeah, so Chris, you mentioned Robert FitzPatrick, and I wanted to play a clip of Robert’s personal story. 

CHRIS STARON: Yeah. 

ANNA TRAN: So he’s the expert that takes us through the episodes, and he talked about, you know, how similar marketing schemes like MLMs – they almost have this, like, spiritual framing to them.

ROBERT FITZPATRICK CLIP: This was, uh, again, in the late eighties, and I was lured into this, uh, by friends – with friends – and so on. And when it collapsed, I, I was dumbfounded as to why I did not see it at the start and why so many people I knew fell into it and how it was able to seduce us all and sort of short circuit our basic values and take us into this realm of fraud, uh, so willingly. So that led me into a period of research, which eventually led to writing a book.

CHRIS STARON CLIP: Which is called False Prophets.

ROBERT FITZPATRICK CLIP: That summarized my experience and, and offered some of the outlines of, of how pyramid schemes are disguised as spiritual quests, which it was the scheme that I was in, was really disguised not as a Christian quest, but more as a new age or new thought, a prosperity thinking, uh, metaphysical quest for fulfillment, happiness, prosperity, and so on.

CHRIS STARON CLIP: So his experience was not with a Christian company. 

ROBERT FITZPATRICK CLIP: Well, it was quite appealing, uh, particularly in that era, and, and to me and to many people like me it’s a, it, it is ostensibly secular. That is, it’s not really, uh, pitched as a particular religion, but it in fact is a form of religion. In this religion, prosperity and happiness are sort of the destiny, uh, that are intended by the quote “universe” for everyone and that people can achieve this by correct thinking, by aligning their thoughts and their intentions in a positive direction. And if they will do that, the universe will sort of cooperate and, and answer that, uh, by good fortune. 

CHRIS STARON CLIP: So even though his experience was with a secular model, you can kind of hear the prosperity gospel in there, can’t you? “If I live well, if I follow this plan, I’ll be rewarded.”

JESSE EUBANKS: Chris, could you talk a little bit more about how you’ve seen the characteristics of the prosperity gospel and MLMs overlap? 

CHRIS STARON: Yeah, well, I mean, prosperity gospel – what we’re talking about a lot of times is that idea that if you live a good, clean life and, you know, depending on how you go with it – if you pray enough, if you give enough money to your ministry, or whatever – that God must reward you for that and you will live a, you know, a great and peaceful and wonderful life. And of course the other sort of dark end of that is that if you are experiencing some kind of negative, negative thing in your life, some kind of trials, that’s because maybe you aren’t praying hard enough or you aren’t giving enough money to this televangelist or whatever. So it does have kind of a, a, a very dark bent to it, you know. But as Robert said, there are secular versions of that. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So I guess that leaves the question of, like, how people get involved in MLMs. 

ANNA TRAN: The next clip talks about how your friend, you know, got involved and caught up in an MLM. 

CHRIS STARON: Yeah. 

ANNA TRAN: Um, so here’s a clip of him talking about the product that he sold.

CHRIS STARON CLIP: He was basically a middleman for energy. He got into it as a teenager.

FRIEND CLIP: As I understood it as a naive teenager, was the reason it was cheaper is ’cause they didn’t spend money on advertising. And as a kid you’re like, “Oh, that makes so much sense. They just don’t spend money on advertising. That clearly is the reason my bill is half what it should be.” 

CHRIS STARON CLIP: He became the advertising, knocking on doors, talking to parents of friends. At their meetings, he saw people with fancy cars, nice clothes, people at the top of this thing who looked pretty successful. 

FRIEND CLIP: The pitch is, “Hey, you’re gonna have this for life. This is a some – this is a company, a business, a whatever that you’re building for your family, blah, blah, blah.”

CHRIS STARON CLIP: They made it sound so easy – “Just go sell the product. Anyone with good sense is gonna want this thing.” 

FRIEND CLIP: The first time I called someone to ask, “Hey, can you switch your power over to ACN and let me sign you up as a customer of mine?” and they’re like, “I’m not gonna talk to a teenager about utilities,” and it was like, “Wow.” That – you know, when you’re in a meeting and people are, in a way, indoctrinating you of, ‘Here’s an easy way to make money, people are waiting for you to call them and save them money,’ and then someone’s, like, not interested, it shatters that veil of easy money, as it were. And that’s, I mean, that’s how it’s pitched. They might say, “No, you, you know, you get out what you put in.” That’s the common mantra I would say, but it’s all a bunch of hogwash unfortunately. And I, I think it’s similar to – I don’t wanna go on any tangent or down some rabbit hole – but it’s similar to the evangelicals that you see on late night TV. It’s similar to the, the psychics that you would see – that, you know, like Ms. Cleo. Like it’s preying on the emotionally vulnerable, the financially destitute folks that are just looking for that “help me get outta my situation quick” answer.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, you know, at the end of the clip he mentioned Christian TV shows, you know, the kind where, like, they ask you to send them some amount of money and then in return they will send you some blessed item that’s going to solve your problems. 

CHRIS STARON: Oh yeah, and you get that in the multilevel marketing world – “And if you spend this money on the starter kit, you will get money back. And if you don’t get money back, it’s because you don’t believe hard enough. You’re not fully invested in this thing.” And so it kind of – you hear that, that language sometimes – you know, say when Christians are trying to counsel those who have addictions – “If you just believed enough, you wouldn’t feel the temptation to do drugs or, you know, think about sex or whatever.” And, and, and that kind of language can be kind of damaging, especially when it’s repackaged to sell a product. And, you know, you’ll see with people who get caught up in these things that sometimes they’ll have trust issues, especially, you know, when you’re talking about Jesus and it’s like, “Oh, well, the last person who told me about Jesus suckered me into a financial scam, so how can I trust you?” And we do that all the time with politics and business opportunities, those kinds of things, other, other things that we tie Jesus to.

ANNA TRAN: Right.

CHRIS STARON: When people find out that other thing doesn’t work, it hurts their faith, and then they have a hard time trusting other believers. 

ANNA TRAN: Okay, so in the third episode, you highlight a MLO company called Amway. Side note, I almost got roped into recruiting for Amway, so that’s another story for another time. So the next couple clips I thought were super, super interesting ’cause you start to see, you know, how businesses like MLMs start to trickle over into things like government and that, you know, eventually impacts people on a broader scale. So here’s the next couple clips. It’s about the Amway Decision. 

CHRIS STARON CLIP: Then came a very important case. It’s known as the Amway Decision. Amway, for anyone who isn’t aware, is maybe the best known MLM in the United States, maybe the world. It was founded in 1959 by two guys, Richard DeVos and Jay Van Andel. Of the two Amway founders, the DeVos name is probably more familiar to you. Richard DeVos belonged to the Dutch Reform Church, which is a strongly Calvinistic Christian denomination. The DeVos’s had ties to Pat Robertson, the guy who founded The 700 Club – a very popular TV ministry – and who was the chairman of CBN. Richard was friends with Jerry Falwell, the man who founded the Moral Majority political movement and Liberty University. He was also involved with the National Rifle Association, or the NRA. There is a special breed of wealthy Christians who use their power to promote quote unquote “Christian ideas” in government and society, and the DeVos’s were and are those kind of people. Whether that’s a healthy thing or not, that’s a whole other story. Richard DeVos’s daughter-in-law Betsy made national news when she was appointed Secretary of Education by President Donald Trump. Her brother Erik Prince founded the global security firm Blackwater. You may remember Blackwater for their involvement in abuse scandals in the Middle East, including the 2007 shooting of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad. The DeVos family advocates for the end of campaign finance reform caps. In other words, this family wants people and corporations to be able to contribute as much to political candidates as they choose. This is one of the families behind Amway, perhaps the best known multilevel marketing company in the world and a frequent sponsor of all things quote unquote “Christian.” Amway and the DeVos family played a key role in the legal battle that defined the MLM industry. Let’s hear again from Robert FitzPatrick of Pyramid Scheme Alert. Okay, the Amway Decision. 

ROBERT FITZPATRICK CLIP: It was – it happened in 1979, so, you know, quite a long time ago now, almost 40 years.

CHRIS STARON CLIP: The U.S. government was on a roll prosecuting companies. However, this decision went differently. 

ROBERT FITZPATRICK CLIP: The, uh, FTC had prosecuted Amway as an illegal pyramid scheme. It had previously prosecuted several others in, in about the same period successfully and closed them down. In this case though, the, uh, administrative law judge ruled that Amway was not a pyramid scheme, and the FTC went along with it. And what happened is that – from my reading of the history of this – Amway at that time was not like the other two pyramid schemes that had been closed down. Economically, it was identical. They used the same type of pay plan, the same pitch. They were all multilevel marketing. They were all based on the same model. They all produced the same loss rates. They all made the same promises. All of that was the same. But Amway’s two founders –

CHRIS STARON CLIP: Richard DeVos and Jay Van Andel.

ROBERT FITZPATRICK CLIP: – were very powerfully connected. One was the chairman of the United States Chamber of Commerce. The other was the Finance Chairman of the National Republican Party.

CHRIS STARON CLIP: That was Richard DeVos. 

ROBERT FITZPATRICK CLIP: He became the chief fund raiser for Ronald Reagan, who became president the next year. Jay Van Andel, who was the other founder, was the chairman of the National Chamber of Commerce. 

CHRIS STARON CLIP: So Amway had two powerful advocates, one who helped elect President Reagan and the other who ran the largest lobbying organization in the country. 

ROBERT FITZPATRICK CLIP: It is very unlikely that these two were really going to be shut down by the FTC because of their connections.

JESSE EUBANKS: There’s, like, a couple of thoughts that are, like, swirling around in my head. Let me just ask this – you know, why do you think that it’s important to call out these connections between MLM business leaders and government organizations? 

CHRIS STARON: Well, I think especially in, in democracies we have a responsibility as citizens to know what’s going on and to understand how our government operates and what our elected officials are doing and what they’re involved in. And, uh, even like the, the, the Trump network was a multilevel marketing company that sold, uh, vitamins and health products. Or even, um, Kamala Harris’s husband represented – I can’t remember which one. It was Nutrilite or Herbalife. It was an MLM – in California, he was a lawyer for them. So there are just lots of connections all over the place. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, I think it’s fascinating just to see those connections and, I mean, just as Christians be wise about, you know, what we consume and be wise about what’s going on in government.

CHRIS STARON: Well, and also we have to be wise about who, who we’re inviting to speak at our events, um, and, and how they’re prospering because, uh, it’s gotten very popular to invite just business leaders to speak at Christian events – you know, at pastors’ conferences and those things – but never really asking – “How, how do these people make their money? Are we sure that they made their money in godly ways that are ethical? Are they paying their taxes?” There are a lot of questions that we ought to be asking. You know, Jesus told us we are to give Caesar what is Caesar’s. Is that person actually doing that? Or are they – are we inviting them to these events because we’re hoping that they will lend an air of, you know, responsibility or of respectability, or do we want them to finance our ministries? I actually think it would be really interesting if, if some of these big events brought in people who are actually low income to speak in front of thousands of people. I, I wonder how that would change our narrative. 

ANNA TRAN: Right. Well, after the break, we are going to take a look at how some of the principles of multilevel marketing overlap with Christianity. Stay with us.

COMMERCIAL

JESSE EUBANKS: Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. Jesse Eubanks. 

ANNA TRAN: Anna Tran. We’ve been hearing from Chris Staron of the Truce Podcast. Before the break, we heard about the Amway Decision and how the government ruled that Amway, one of the largest multilevel marketing companies in the United States, was ruled as a viable business. So, in addition to connecting MLMs to different parts of government – Chris, in the last episode of the series, there’s a really helpful section where you directly compare and contrast MLMs and Christianity. So I wanted to play just a portion of that section. 

CHRIS STARON CLIP: Sometimes it seems like the multilevel marketing model was designed to hook Christians. Imagine we’re at a dry erase board. We’ve got a long list of words that we have to place in two columns, one marked “Christianity” and the other “MLMs.” The first word we have to categorize is “leadership.” What column does that belong in? Well, leadership is taught in both churches and MLMs. We could put it in both columns. Next up – “discipleship.” Well, discipleship is just taking new recruits under our wing to show them the ropes. I’m gonna say both columns? “Evangelism” should probably go in both columns because we both have a message that we think is important. We call it evangelism. They call it networking. What about “marketing”? In both cases, people are told that they have to build platforms from which to speak. If your pastor wants to evangelize the world via the internet, he has to get on social media and sell himself. And if you want to recruit more people in your downline for your MLM, you better get busy tweeting. So both columns. Strangely, we’ve got a lot in common with MLMs. So the internet abounds with voices trying to mix the two together, like in this video by Josh Clark, an MLM distributor slash Christian influencer. His videos don’t have a lot of hits, but he pretty well demonstrates how this thing goes. 

JOSH CLARK CLIP: And then if you do that effectively and you’re patient long enough, you’ll be able to multiply your efforts many, many times. And that is how Jesus – the gospel spread all over the world and he became the number one bestselling author of all time. This business forces you – if you’ll stick it out and you’ll be patient – to learn to earn the influence, the ability to influence others. 

CHRIS STARON CLIP: That is Christianity linked into a business model, one that is inherently flawed. They’re doing something that is really common in the church – tying something they like into the faith. People do this with politics, dress codes, music styles, even diets. Think about somebody in your church may be falling in love with CrossFit and then attempting to endorse their workouts with the Bible. Is there anything wrong with doing CrossFit? Probably not. But why see the need to back it up with the Bible? Our instinct is to try to justify our choices, hobbies, and preferences by cramming them into our faith.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, this makes me think of, uh, that phrase that Christians will sometimes talk about – you know, how we take good things and we make them ultimate things. And a lot of times, like, those good things are the things that we prioritize, like we over-prioritize them at the expense of other things, you know, and I notice that with MLMs there’s a lot of emphasis on success, on being your own boss, making it with your own hard work. Like those are all good qualities, but I have to admit, like, that can get twisted when Christians sometimes frame those qualities as ultimate qualities, you know, things that will make or break your worth.

CHRIS STARON: Yeah. We only ever hear from the people who succeeded. We never hear from the people who failed. You know, like we don’t – the part of the thing is that we are obsessed with leadership right now, but it’s, uh, we can’t all be leaders. We’re not all meant to be leaders. Some of us are just meant to quietly fill the communion cups or to quietly teach a small group or, you know, Sunday School or clean up after people. We’re not all leaders, but we’ve built this whole complex around leadership. And so that means that we then go find people who have succeeded and we invite them to all of our conferences and we read their books and things and we never stop to think, “Okay, what about all the other people who didn’t succeed – quote unquote ‘succeed’?” We want people who we see as successful financially or who are good looking or who can point us to the five point steps that – you know, the five steps that will make us all good looking and successful and have amazing marriages and things – but the, the fact of the matter is that that’s just not how life works and we aren’t, we aren’t promised those things by the Bible.

ANNA TRAN: Mmm. Yeah, and in the last episode, you talked to your friend – whose coincidentally also name is Jesse – who is pro-MLM, and he talks about some of, like, the celebrities and other influential people that have come to speak at his MLM events. So here’s just a couple clips of the other Jesse talking about that.

JESSE CLIP: Uh, I mean, we’ve had, uh, Coach K from Duke University, Mike Krzyzewski, speak at our events. Uh, we’ve had Colin Powell, and even, uh, we’ve had big time – do I wanna use the word missionary or evangelists? We’ve, we’ve had big Christian speakers and authors come in and speak as well. Who’s the, uh, uh – McDowell. Josh McDowell, author of More Than a Carpenter – Right? Do I have that right? – Yeah. Um, he’s been at our events to speak.

CHRIS STARON CLIP: Josh McDowell. In the world of popular Christian culture, Josh McDowell is a big name. He’s mainstream, pretty non-controversial. He wrote a popular tract called More Than a Carpenter, which I gave to my high school Sunday School class when they all graduated. His book Evidence That Demands a Verdict is one of the best resources available for historic evidence of Christ. And according to Jesse, Josh McDowell has spoken at some of these training seminars. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So Chris, is there a way for someone to be a part of a multilevel marketing business arrangement and to do it in a way that is ethical, in a way that is true to the Christian faith?

CHRIS STARON: That’s a good question. I – it’s worth noting that not everybody who’s involved in a multilevel marketing organization understands how they’re set up or how they work, so I don’t wanna just go, like, pointing fingers. The main reality of the situation is that the model itself is set up for people to fail. It doesn’t mean that all the people within the scheme are, you know, out to, you know, suck your blood like vampires. They, they may not even know how it works. But the honest reality is that the model itself is, is a scam. It is meant to defraud people and pull money out of them. And one of the reasons you don’t hear that often is that, uh, we don’t like to brag about our failures and it’s not popular to say, “Oh, I got sucked into this email scam.” You know, and, and we don’t wanna sound foolish, so a lot of people hide their, their failures in getting involved in these things. So I’d say, as a Christian, it, it doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian if you’ve been involved in one of these things. It, it’s just a matter of at some point you have to face the reality that this is not a good way to make money. It is a financial trap, and it will hurt people. It doesn’t mean that you’re bad for participating, but it, it, there should be this understanding that it is basically guaranteed to trap somebody. And if you’re involved in entrapping others, you are gonna be complicit for that. And at some point we all have to stand before God and answer for the things that we’ve done in this world.

JESSE EUBANKS: You know, for me personally, the jury is still out on how ready I feel to unilaterally say that all MLMs are wrong, but I will say that the stats are not supportive. 99% of people fail economically. That means that 1% of people are succeeding and that that it’s often on the shoulders of those other 99%. And I think that that draws to mind this thought from Tim Keller when he summarizes the book of Proverbs. He says that the book of Proverbs talks about how the righteous are those who are willing to disadvantage themselves for the community while the wicked choose to put their own personal, social, and economic needs ahead of their community. You know, if you’re somebody that’s been a part of MLMs before or is now, as Chris has said, we’re not here to pass judgment on your faith, but to ask the questions – “How are your business practices helping the people around you? Are your friendships and relationships free from transactional expectations? And for all of us, at the end of the day, how are we living in a way that loves others despite their success or their failure?”

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JESSE EUBANKS: If you benefited at all from this podcast, please help us out by leaving a review wherever it is that you listen to podcasts. Your review will help other people discover our show.

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JESSE EUBANKS: Special thanks to our interviewee for this episode – Chris Staron. Listen, check out Chris’s podcast, Truce, wherever you listen to podcasts. It’s a wonderful, fascinating series where Chris is exploring the intersection of history and Christian faith, reminding us all that all of our stuff that we’re living through, all of these theological things we’re exploring – they all have context that came from somewhere. So go check out that show wherever you listen to podcasts or head over to TrucePodcast.com. 

ANNA TRAN: Our senior producer and host is Jesse Eubanks. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Anna Tran is our producer and director and who the other day confessed that she loves going to Beanie Baby Conventions. 

ROBERT FITZPATRICK CLIP: I was lured into this by friends – with friends. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Our theme music and commercial music is by Murphy DX.

ANNA TRAN: If you want a hands-on experience of missions in our modern times, come serve with Love Thy Neighborhood. We offer internships for young adults ages 18 to 30 through the areas of service, community, and discipleship. You’ll grow in your faith and your life skills. Learn more at lovethyneighborhood.org. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Which of these was a neighbor to the man in need? The one who showed mercy. Jesus tells us, “Go, and do likewise.”

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CREDITS

This episode is in partnership with the Truce Podcast.

Hosted by Jesse Eubanks and Chris Staron.

Truce Podcast: trucepodcast.com
IG: @trucepodcast

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