Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Turning Matthew 18 into a Litigious Process and Using the “Big Lie” to Disguise It

I don't know that I can even begin to list all of the personal experiences that others have related to me concerning the misuses of Scripture within spiritually abusive churches. There are too many to count. At this point, as I listen and find myself plugging in the specifics into that predictable pattern of manipulative techniques, forgetting most of the details. If the so called “Matthew 18 Process” has been used to declare a person non-Christian for the obvious purpose of silencing their voice in a court of law, I tend to remember that distinction. But from time to time, some of the personal details seem more memorable.

 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’  And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."  

What's In A Name?

Sometimes, abusive leaders can jump right into their proceedings, openly declaring it to be a “Biblical” process. What good Christian feels like they can question what pastors, their experts and religious authorities, define as the right way to interpret the verses in question? A reader provided a good example of this to me by describing her experience wherein she was “Matthew 18'ed” before a council at her church for showing up too late at a few volleyball games and failing to walk her daughters into a few games, only while she was ill and her ability to walk was compromised. (I'm sure that her daughters' excellent skills playing the game had little to do with the decision of the authority to toss the family out.  Late entry 11Apr12 -- Yes, this is a sarcastic statement!)

I guess that the moral of the story is there, if you daughters are very good at a sport and you have MS, be warned that no one will have much compassion or consideration for your limitations if your girls play on the church's team. If you're good at something, and it bothers the elders or pastor, causing them to feel intimidated or uncomfortable, you'd better mask your talents and not use them. Pride precedes a fall,” and “God opposes the proud,” so take some lessons from the submission doctrine and the virtuous use of suffering and self denial so that you can bank up humility points. Read more about submission doctrine HERE and about the “theology of suffering” HERE.

After all, as they say frequently in the Shepherding Discipleship churches, “don't sow discord among the brethren” but it takes on a whole different meaning within their group, and it's usually used as a quotable quote when the group tries to hide its unpleasant truths. Concerning unpleasant information about a pastor or leader, it means that you cannot say anything negative directly to them or anyone else because they are the anointed leader who cannot be questioned. This misapplication of the verses from Proverbs helps build the rationale of the sacred, unquestionable leader, going hand in hand with “touch not mine anointed.” And in addition, some teach that once appointed as a minister, one cannot give up the calling or the work because the gifts and callings of God are without repentance.” These verses are horribly interpreted and miserably misapplied to insulate spiritually abusive ministers from criticism or scrutiny.

Using the “Big Lie”

Sometimes the process can be used to keep criticism at bay, but the people using it wish to keep people from identifying it as “church discipline” or even a confrontation. The progression of events follows the “procedure” very well, but those in authority keep repeating and repeating that it's not a discipline session and it's not even a matter of Matthew 18 and offense. (I suppose that's meant to set the targeted person at ease?) Somehow, by repeating and repeating to the person that the“little chats” have nothing to do with the “process and procedure” of the abuse of Matthew 18, the pastor hopes that the person won't notice that they're using authority and intimidation techniques to silence him. The person also understands clearly that non-compliance will affect their good standing in their local congregation, and that if they don't comply “the real process” of discipline will ensue. This kind of manipulation happens more often then you think and it can be very effective. Here is one example, noting one such “before” and “after.”

They can call it whatever they want, but it is still abuse of power, authoritarianism, image consciousness and the suppressing of criticism. If they repeat the lie often enough, people will believe them? They can have liberty to do whatever they want, so long as they call it something else? That sounds terribly familiar.
A lie told often enough becomes the truth.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”

“The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one.”
“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”

To Pursue Civil Litigation

A number of years ago, I wrote about the aggressive processes of the misuse of Matthew 18 that can often be found within certain sectors of the dominionist movement. In order to advance their cause, this group views our modern life as a war zone, and as a consequence, they believe that they can justify bad behavior because they are in the midst of a “culture war.” In their minds, they're fighting for the integrity of the family and for the Bible and for America. This gives them liberty to behave as extremists during dire circumstances, and some even use “the Rahab Clause” to do so. (The Rahab Clause has been cited within this group to justify lying and deception, as Rahab did when she hid Israelite spies.) The end justifies the means for them because they believe that all things are a matter of life and death. This perception allows them to interpret the Christian rules of basic virtue a little differently – they can compromise them if their survival depends on it. Their outlook classifies everything as a conspiracy, so they can resort to more drastic measures so that they can “survive the culture wars” and champion the cause. Suing another Christian may be viewed as a necessary evil to further advance the cause.

(Without getting too far off topic for those who are interested in reading more, among the patriarchal dominionists, I attribute this to two primary influences: 1.) Right Wing Populism and 2.) the personal pendulum effect.resulting from immaturity.)

Though this process can be used against someone within a shared local church, the “Matthew 18 Process” can be used to silence critics in another church or even in a different Christian denomination:
  • If the target is a woman, request her’s husband’s contact information, and threaten him (according to gender hierarchy, because a woman cannot act on her own because she is easily deceived).
  • Request the names of the target's pastors and elders and contact them.
  • Confabulate to the target's church elders towards the goal of having them exact church discipline for un-Christian behavior (which often includes criticism of doctrine, even if one is in a different Christian denomination).
  • Threaten legal action (A dear friend of mine was told that “this is moving steadily into potential legal action” by a spiritually abusive aggressor when she sought justice for a serious wrong done to her.)
  • Attempt to have the person in question deemed non-Christian in any available public forum. It isn't just a matter of exposing sin. The abuser makes the effort to convince others that the target is not just sinning but is, in fact, not a Christian and has never actually been one.
  • By establishing the target as non-Christian, the abuser feels that they now have liberty to sue the target, bypassing I Corinthians 6 wherein the Apostle Paul advises to keep matters between Christians out of the civil courts. Had they not used their version of the “Matthew 18 Process,” they don't believe that they have Biblical cause to sue.

Blogger Tom Rich recently came through a similar process, and many like me are thrilled for him.  The introduction to his story appears HERE and HERE, and the justice at the end of the saga appears HERE and HERE.  I don't know that I'd call it a happy ending, because though he's seen some justice, having a court compel your adversary to make a public apology is not the same as the joy of the process of true forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace after disagreement.

Not every story turns out as well as the watchdog's saga.  Consider Joe Taylor who must have lost his appeal along with his livelihood, despite evidence that demonstrates that he was exploited and the truth was hidden for someone else's personal gain.

Institutionalized Spiritual Abuse

An upcoming post will discuss how Peacemaker Ministries uses this very process in many dangerous ways. They use their negotiation process in their aberrant understanding of the spirit of Matthew 18 to delay, allowing the statute of limitations to expire so that real victims cannot have legal recourse to use the civil system for help. They misuse Scripture to pressure church members to sign their rights away in a manner that gives additional power to church authorities. And they formally recommend the process of having a person declared to be a non-Christian so that the aggressor can have cause to use the civil courts to sue other Christians.

More to come on Matthew 18 and its abuses,
formal and informal.