“My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations…“‘Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. 12 When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?” ~Ezekiel 13:9-12
Appearances are everything in American culture in general, and the Christian church in America (and perhaps world-wide) is no exception. It is high-time we admit what everyone else has seen for a long while: We have an image problem. That is, most churches are very careful about how they appear to the world of believers and unbelievers alike. Now this article could delve into the way some churches try to market themselves and essentially sell Jesus (or at least their version of Him which you can learn all about from some Christian author’s latest book on the subject), but I’m going to take another route.
“Man looks at the outward appearance…” 1 Sam. 16:7
What does the Bible say “peace” looks like? Isaiah 32:1-5 describes “The Kingdom of Righteousness” saying, “See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice…Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The fearful heart will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear. No longer will the fool be called noble nor the scoundrel be highly respected.”
In other words when the righteous (note, not self-righteous) lead with justice and truth, then wisdom, peace, and understanding will also reign. (…Maybe not like that)
The Bible speaks much on freedom and how people were originally created equal. But over time elitism, and therefore oppression, entered the Church as it had for every culture before and after. Abuse, even abuse in the Church, is sadly a huge topic, but for the purposes of this article, I want to address the enablers of spiritual abuse, who, make no mistake, are every bit as abusive as their more overt counterparts.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:17-18
Recently, I had a fascinating discussion with several people on a Christian news site that I help moderate. Fascinating not because of the content, but because of the responses from some of the Christians on there. The person I was initially debating with has a reputation of being…well, not very kind, although they have a display name that proudly indicates their Christianity. Normally I try not “to cast my pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6), but I had had enough of this person’s unkindness towards others and told them so. They came back with something snarky and demeaning, and before I knew it, I had delved into a very interesting psychological experiment.
Emotional manipulation in the church for the sake of “peace”
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” Luke 17:3
Denial, anger, name-calling/demeaning, bargaining, suppressing and shunning; these are the tools of abusers, and it was fascinating to see how quickly this person riffled through each one. I was kind but firm, I (surprisingly) did not lose my cool, and let the person know that I was not afraid of them. They would not succeed in shaming me, in wearing me down, in being allowed to abuse me and others on the site verbally. They would not make me lose control and cry or get angry, they would not succeed in shutting me up. I have dealt with emotionally abusive people like him in real life, and if there are two things I can be thankful for, they are that my backbone is a bit straighter and stronger than it used to be, and my discernment is a bit sharper. To my amazement, this generally very mouthy person actually backed off. And then his buddies came.
“Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” Proverbs 25:26
Accusations went flying: I was not showing kindness, I was not showing humility, I was not being Christ-like, I needed to back down, I was setting a bad example, we were both in the wrong (for arguing, I suppose), we both needed to apologize, and my personal favorite…seeing two Christians arguing made the atheists laugh with derision. Even people who were usually my supporters came out and told me we were both in the wrong for arguing. They all knew the person with whom I was debating, to be intentionally and highly hurtful and rude to anyone who disagreed with him on anything. His sympathizers didn’t necessarily like him or his doings, but none were willing to call him out and all were afraid of me doing so.
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17
I continued to stand my ground, and reiterate that while I understood the concerns of other Christian commenters, there was no room for compromise, and there was no need for an apology on my part; I had only pointed out what was wrong and what everyone already knew. It finally ended with a sizzle rather than a bang, and I was left to ponder the situation. This was, as I have said, not the first time I have dealt with very emotionally abusive “Christian” people before, and the tricks were all the same. The people from my past situations and the people in this online case all were motivated by one thing: The preservation of image.
“The foolish man built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” ~Matt. 7:26-27
I’ve written before about churches trying desperately to “look pretty”, churches using melodramatic publicity stunts, and churches using business marketing tactics to draw people in. The preservation of image is another well-known marketing strategy, but one that can be used by individuals, families, small groups, and large groups to help convince outsiders that the practitioner of image preservation is “the best”. Enablers come into play by helping to protect (even viciously) the image of their group, be it large or small. Why are they so hung up on image when Jesus blasted the Pharisees for doing the same in Matthew 23? My guess is because they know that their facade covers up an empty shell, and they just don’t want to deal with cleaning and fixing it up.
But here’s the thing: Who do they think they are really kidding? They deceive only themselves because everyone else sees it or will come to see it for the falseness it is. The Bible tells people to strive to actually live righteously, not pretend to with airs of false piety.
“Why does Jerusalem always turn away? They cling to deceit; they refuse to return. I have listened attentively but they do not say what is right. None of them repent of their wickedness, saying, “What have I done?”…From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.* Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the Lord.”~Jeremiah 8:5-12
*My emphasis added
Related articles on this blog: The Church As a Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone