Manipulation and Evangelism

I recently read this article on a site for ex-Christians. The gist of the article is that the writer, in a very vulnerable time of life (just after his parents divorce) was set upon by a pastor intent on turning a casual discussion into an unrequested time of spiritual sharing, emotional healing etc. etc.

After about an hour of me trying to get out of there gracefully, she had successfully broken down all my emotional and psychological barriers, and I was pretty much ready to just jump the gun and “re-commit” myself to Christ, but on an intellectual level I knew I was being manipulated. So I managed to ask her to pray for me to “find the truth”, so we prayed together and then I got the hell out of there.
"We prayed, then I got the hell out of there". Ok, here is my fear. I have had very few conversations of actual, in depth, spiritual and personal sharing etc that weren't a) requested by the other person b) downright uncomfortable c) deeply rewarding for me and the person requesting the moment.

I don't think that a bad thing. There are few people I truly trust to reformat me; and when I get really stuck I ask them, hesitantly, with fear and trembling, for direction. I'm not talking about the times when you ask for someones "take" on something, I'm talking about the times that, at the far end of prayer and self-searching you discover there isn't a way out of where you're at on your own. And so you ask a person you trust the most. I often discover after those fear and trembling conversations that God has been hinting at the answer received all along, there was just something in me making me unable to see it. God uses someone else to change me, so that I can hear him - in his word, in my prayers - where ever he his talking to me.

OK. That all said, these are not conversations I would have just anybody, LEAST of all someone I didn't know well. Someone I didn't trust. But I have met people who have the idea in their head that "in Christ" there are no lines can be drawn. These people act as if "in Christ" we have to treat all people like a old, trusted friend, or a counselor. They terrify me. They ask ridiculously personal, questions and unfortunately the reply "None of your $%#^@ business" never seems to come to mind when they ask.

Jesus it must be noted, was actually quite happy to return "What's that to you?" And in the few crazy, in-depth life changing conversations that Jesus had he operated out of his omniscience (like the woman at the well), which no pastor I know can claim.

Back to the "Jesus said you have to act like I'm your best friend" types. Every one of these conversations I can say, was unhelpful in the long run, but - and here is the nagging thought that got me writing - I don't think I've ever told any of them that. When someone who played on a vulnerability they saw in me demanded an uncomfortable and false moment of pretend intimacy and agreement, I never said "Hey, You know this isn't helping." or went back and said "You know, that really didn't help. And I felt a quite manipulated by your intensity." I never did that.

It occured to me, and spawned this post. That that person belives they helped. They believe they waltzed into my life, leveraged my love for Jesus into actual intimacy, and really helped me. Crap, they're prolly gonna do it again. And I'm not sure anyone will tell them the superficial nature of their victories.

The pastor in that story, along with a long line of manipulative evangelicals have never been told that their perception of their life as a series of vicories in Jesus, is an unfortunate, unintentional, well-meaning sham. That's my fault, for not being honest, and their fault for not hanging around long enough to be actual help or, more correctly, to see that they weren't being actual help.

Adding to this fear is that the fear that there may be an entire ministries built on "learning to be manipulative like I am" or "helping me find more and more people I can manipulate". Christians have to be weary that the skills of the showman, the travelling salesman, the magician, the illusionist, the fraudster, the telemarketer, and the cult-of-personality leader can translate directly into the church as a perception of spiritual power and insight, when they are really just the heights of the deceptions and manipulations of man.

I'm thinking of an old friend who was spurred by a travelling healer to run laps of his church auditorium only to further injure himself and his faith. Heck, I'm thinking you probably know the type anyway.

I'm thinking that being incarnational means staying put, staying around long enough to see the positive and the negative effects of my ham-fisted attempts at spiritual assistance. It means staying small scale, so I can remember who I (I think I) helped, how and when, so that I can be corrected and rebuked when necessary. It means never, ever falling into an "event" mentality. There have been a few pivotal events in my life, but many more pivitol processes, long conversations that were pivotal in hindsight, and man more relationships and loves that managed to turn the tide of my life.

Maybe thats the process for deep change - love>>relate>>converse>>entrust>>agree>>empower>> celebrate.

Sounds like it will take a while....


  1. Kitty said...
    I read the article you referred to, and I wonder if he wouldn't appreciate your comments.

    I agree with most of it, but at the end, I thought the words love, relate, converse, etc seemed sequential when they are probably sloppily overlapping.

    (it's not just you, I hate almost any a>>b>>c>>d>> sequence.)
    Derek Berner said...
    Thanks for your thoughts on my piece.

    I will say that I came to a position of unbelief more through a process than directly because of her influence; however, the process was definitely "kicked off" by that evening.

    But for god's sakes all I wanted to do that night was go see a movie with my family.

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