Friday, October 2, 2009

Religious Manipulation . . . What Can We Learn From the Extreme

Elizabeth Smart testified for the first time in public yesterday, at least in the graphic details of her captivity. She, rightly so, described her abductor (Brian David Mitchell) as an evil, dirty, slimy hypocrite, who used religion to get alcohol, drugs and sex. She described how her day after day brutal rapes had the prelude of a “Christian lecture” of how God wanted this for her. Her abductor had to be dismissed from the court room during her testimony today because he would not stop singing hymns so loudly.

Of course he is a nut case and is an evil man. But he is the extreme example of us all. In the wonder of Jesus we can see the dim reflection of ourselves—man/woman—as we were intended to be (in perfection). Likewise, in the most evil people, I think that we can see a dim reflection of ourselves. So are we like Mitchell? How do we manipulate others, often using our Christian faith, to get our own, deeply selfish ways? I bet it is far more common than we realize. All of us want respect (elevation of our sense of worth), physical pleasure (sex, chocolate etc) and power (money) and we are willing to use people for that end—at least to some degree. I won't even talk about my eternal whipping boys, the TV evangelists because they are so obvious. But how do we do it on a more mundane level?

I could name many specific times during my Evangelical days where I did it, but I often use that past life as examples. I was thinking today, what is it that I do now? I know that I am capable of pushing my wife down, in order to push myself up. I have complex psychological techniques for that—some which I’ve mastered. They are subtle but effective for my end. I think most of my manipulative techniques fall outside of my Christian endeavors because it is hard to use spiritual scheming, when most Evangelicals don't see me as possessing a lot of spiritual clout anymore.

But it should not surprise us when common (verses the wackos like Mr. Mitchell) use things like this in Church. Usually it goes like this, “Would you please bake two dozen cupcakes for the Church coffee . . . this would really be God-honoring.” To deconstruct that a bit is that person A was assigned to have the coffee for the church and her reputation is resting on having good food and lots of it. So how do you get your friends to bring things to keep your reputation looking good? You manipulate them by telling this is “for God.”

But I was thinking of another true example that a (uniquely candid) missionary friend, Ken, was telling me about. I will describe that story the best I can remember it.

Setting: It was a hotel or retreat center where about ten missionary leaders were meeting to plan their strategy for the coming year. One man in attendance, I will call Jake, was a very confident leader type . . . a real type A. He came up with a plan for the whole team. But another missionary, Dave, was raising some legitimate questions about that plan. Dave’s concerns seemed to irritate Jake. That night they adjourned and planned to start again around the breakfast table the next morning.

As they were eating and before they started any serious talking, Jake smiles and says, “I wanted to share from you how God bless me this morning in my quiet time. He put on his reading glasses and pulled out his well-worn leather covered Bible. He flipped through several verses and read each one. Taken out of context, but stringed together, the verses spoke of the sin of contempt or disagreements being sowed among the brothers . . . how terrible of a thing it was, and how God will punish people for doing that. Jake put down his Bile and with almost a tear in his eye started to talk about how God was grieved about the discord that He had seen in this group of leaders and how it was God’s desire that they obey him and their leaders (Jake was a self-appointed leader not a true leader of the group).

It wasn’t long before Dave spoke up. He had been sitting in silence with his head down. “I’m so sorry. I feel like I’m the brother here who is being proud (btw Dave was a very humble, introspecting guy) here and I’m the one sowing discord. I ask all of you for your forgiveness.”

Jake had a pleasant smile on his face and gently shook his head in the affirmative.

My friend Ken finally couldn’t contain himself.

Ken: “Do you guys see what is going on here? Jake did not get his way last night, he did not like anyone questioning him, like Dave, so he is using guilt-manipulation to put Dave in his place and to keep him quiet. Dave has raised some good questions that we can not just throw away now.”

I thought Ken did an excellent job in exposing the truth.


Lutestring said...

Thank you for this - this are some very honest and true thoughts. We shudder at Mitchell, but how easy is it to do what he did at a smaller level? Very disturbing question with a disturbing answer - but for the sake of honesty and love and a true life - we have to go there.

After all, once I admit that I have a propensity to abuse others - I am free to confess it, fight it, grow into something different. And there is something different. It does exist and God resurrects it in us.

MJ said...

"After all, once I admit that I have a propensity to abuse others - I am free to confess it, fight it, grow into something different."

Beautifully said.

Anonymous said...

Whoever Ken is, we need a whole lot more of him. I have found it a very rare thing to be in Christian groups of people with that much insight (probably because such people usually get a "godly" kick out the door, heh).

MJ said...

Ken is a great guy. Actually a Navigator missionary and always gives me hope for the organization.

I will never forget his act of sensitivity when we were alone on the mission field and I was struggling with a crises of faith and depression . . . he sent me a package for the U.S. It was about ten Gary Larson Far Side books. Not to trivalize depression (as if a Far Side book could cure it) but the timing was right. I read those books cover to cover, one after the other until I was through them all. I think the greatest message in that act was here was a guy on the other side of the earth who really did care about us. That was a glimmer of hope that I needed at the time.

MJ said...

can't correct my previous posting but should read "from the U.S."