Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Manipulative Power of Peace: Guest Post by Lewis Wells

A month ago I discovered the blog Commandments of Men by blogger Lewis Wells. Lewis writes with passion of the danger of legalistic, human-powered religion. His personal loss at the hands of patriarchal control breaks my heart.
Thank you, Lewis, for speaking out against spiritual abuse.

Without further ado, Lewis' guest post:

Show of hands...

Who among you has based a decision solely on whether or not you had "peace" about it? (my hand is raised)

Who among you has rationalized or justified a decision solely because "God gave me a peace about it"? (my hand is again raised)

Peace is a beautiful thing. It's to be desired. It's also, against every platitude that's ever been instilled in those of us of the Christian faith, sometimes worth the fight that precedes it. When that very important aspect of the pursuit of peace gets left out of the equation, peace can become a very, very dangerous manipulative tool in the hands of the spiritually abusing. Even those who abuse unwittingly. The idea that peace can be used as a benchmark or plumbline in decision making isn't a biblical one. Disagree? You believe there's biblical evidence for this? Okay then, let's examine some prime biblical figures...

Moses...Oh, umm, wait, we can't use him. He tried to come up with every excuse in the book to avoid God's purposes. He was scared to death of his calling.
Abraham...Hmmm...We'd have to dodge the Ishmael thing and the offering Isaac thing.
Jacob...Doh! The man's name meant "swindler", and was changed to Israel only after spending his entire life swindling and an entire night wrestling with God, for which he was allowed to limp for the rest of his life. He sounds desperate to me.
David...Now we're on to something, err, or not. I forgot about those Psalms where he's pleading with God and his skin is hanging off his bones.
Elijah...Curled up in the fetal position under a broom tree, which is little more than a glorified tumbleweed.
Wait! I've got one! (drumroll)....Jesus!...Jesus, right?!...No?...Gethsemane? You mean when He was is distress and despair, sweating blood, pleading with the Father that if there were any other way? And just think - Christ had the Spirit of God, the Comforter, without measure.

There's an enormous case to be made for obedience in these examples, even if some of it was more eventual than immediate, but little evident peace.

Now, if you're wondering why I consider peace a manipulative tool (the "peace" game, as I call it), allow me to try to explain it. Authoritarian teachers like Bill Gothard, the Vision Forum crowd, and all associated with the Shepherding movement - essentially, any group or system which operates on a hierarchical authority pyramid or structure - have long taught that you make decisions based on being "at peace" with it. They base this belief on the following scripture...

Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

More accurately, this teaching is based on this prooftext from the above scripture: "Let the peace of God rule in your hearts." That prooftext, standing alone, looks like clear, "biblical" evidence that we are to use "peace" as a barometer and benchmark in our decision making, i.e., "I have peace, therefore it's the right decision", or, "I don't have peace about this...I must be doing something wrong." Sadly, this passage from Colossians 3 is not even vaguely implying any such thing. If one reads the whole passage, one can clearly see that Paul is speaking on interactions with fellow believers - being loving, forgiving, living in peace, et cetera. It in no way, shape, or form applies to decision making. Unfortunately, this line of thinking has seeped even into mainstream, non-abusive churches, becoming a regular part of the Christianese language.

This is where the "peace" game comes into play. In an authoritarian system, one has to clear decisions and life choices with an authority figure. For those who don't know, I lost my bride, on the threshold of our wedding ceremony, to a patriocentric/hyper-fundamentalist/Christian Islamic family. Her father, and his like-minded cohorts, believe in an authority hierarchy. For women, it's brutal. They MUST be under the authority of a man and in submission. Her father felt it was her obligation to be submissive to him - even in her mid 20s. She ultimately succumbed to the emotional manipulation, abuse, and brainwashing, paralyzed to move forward with her life and plans without his permission and approval. In the final two days of our relationship, she was bombarded with 26 incoming calls from authoritarians, all of whom played the "peace" game on her.

Now, place yourself in her shoes: You've never made independent decisions, you've been indoctrinated with "Submit! Submit! Submit!" your whole life, you've been raised to believe that your dad is God's conduit into your life - and anything God has to say to you will come through him, your family's circle is small and like-minded, and the people in it are trusted because they're what you know, then, a man comes into your life, you fall in love with him, new truths begin to be revealed about all you've known, you then begin to reject what you've known, despite the pain it causes you, and you stand on the threshold of losing everything and everyone you've known in choosing to seek the last minute, these long-trusted friends, who you've always believed and been instructed are "over" you in the spiritual food chain, call you and say, "I'm so scared for you. I think you need to pray about this some more. Rest and pray."

Do you see what they've done there?

In those few words, they've conveyed the message that they disapprove, the urge to pray conveys the message that God disapproves, and in creating a mindset of "What do they see that I'm missing?! Why don't they have peace about this?!", they've very successfully, and very subtly, shifted the true benchmark for any decision that follows away from pleasing God...and focused it solely on making a choice that they demonstrate "peace" with and approval of, because they have usurp God in the mindset. They've made their decision for her, yet in such a way as she never realizes it. They've manipulated their outcome of choice - and God had nothing to do with it. At the same time, they haven't outright told her "No!", and this protects the abusers illusion of "Who, Me?" innocence, and strengthens the belief of the abused that there's been no abuse. Emotional leverage has been created and used with the cunning of a serpent. Pressure, release, repeat as necessary.

This happens every day. In cults, Shepherding movement groups, authoritarian groups, patriarchal/Christian Islamic families, and even in individual relationships.

What happens is, such emotional turmoil and tumult is built up within the abused, being so knocked out of balance, questioning themselves, their own motives, their own godliness, their own worth,"Can this be right?! I can't risk losing everything and end up wrong! I just can't!" Then...defeated submission. The abuser, having persevered, releases the applied pressure and switches to love-bombing and "healing", and with the pressure released, and with such a "loving" environment now created...the illusion of peace. But it's a false peace. Much like a volcano, after years, decades, even centuries of inner turmoil, blows it's top, releasing the pent up pressure, and in the following days, after the tumult of the blast has died down and the damaged has been assessed, the illusion of peace exists on the surface. But underneath...the earth still churns, and pressure is already building once again.

It's enough to make one rethink "God gave me a peace about it."

Look at it this way - if the greatest recorded events in the bible couldn't have transpired until the involved parties had peace about it, the bible wouldn't be very thick. False peace can be an enticing elixir, a beautiful facade, and a restful mirage, especially to a starved, battered, and troubled soul, because it's our habit to put our peace in the wrong place, the easy place, and base it on the wrong things. We reach temporal peace with the perceived outcome of our decisions far too often, instead of finding our peace in an unchanging God and his beautiful, life-giving words, trusting Him to care for us regardless of outcomes. What's right is right, whether we're at peace or in turmoil. Earlier I spoke of Christ in Gethsemane. He did reach a peace, but not with the situation. He found His peace, which would realistically have to be described as a "troubled" peace, in trusting the words and plan of His Father. (Matthew 26:52)

How easily we forget that there's another spiritual force at work on this earth that can create the illusion of peace to steer us in the direction he prefers. A false peace. Ask Ahab. He can tell you all about it, or at least he could if it hadn't killed him. It's also sobering to think of the platform the son of perdition will use to make his grand entrance onto the world stage...a false peace. The great manipulator certainly knows how to use it.

Don't discard or marginalize your emotions, whatever they may be, whether peace or turmoil, but do yourself a favor and measure them by God's word and NEVER by human approval. There are far too many people who are far too willing to subtly make your decisions for you, both well-meaning and not so well meaning. Sometimes the genuine, lasting peace requires turmoil.

Some things to think about. While you're thinking, my hope is you'll find peace in God alone.

photo by arose4me in photobucket


Anonymous said...

For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace. (Jer. 8;11)

Sobering post.

Sharon said...

What if we have peace from God after fighting it through with Him, even though others around us don't approve. Obviously, I'm assuming that we've also checked out what God says about the topic in the Bible.

I guess I think peace is still valid IF I have shut out all other voices and genuinely heard from God for myself.

I totally hear you though! Someone else's fear "I don't have peace about that" controlling my life is manipulation.

Sarah said...

I'll admit I've used peace as a guide, but not in the way you've described.

I discovered a few years ago often taking risks involves getting outside our comfort zone and when doing so one can feel out of control, nausea, sick, sweaty - etc. So you can follow God outside your comfort zone, feel anything BUT blissful peace and still have peace that is anchoring your soul as you make a decision that you'd rather not have to make because it's so uncomfortable. The Peace He gives keeps you from coming unglued when you are in the thick of difficulty.

When peace = easy, you have to replace "peace" with "comfortable" and retrain yourself to find what is peace. I don't think peace is the problem but people's perception of it.

This doesn't mean that easy = bad in all situations either, I don't want to paint the picture that you have to live under constant stress outside of your comfort zone, but that it's subtle but common to mistake one for the other.

In many cases with QD they will trade temporary peace (easy, comfort zone) for long term peace (living in freedom, integrity and at peace with their Lord.)And be told that the temporary peace is the one God wants them to have.

Just my $.02

Darcy said...

I hear what you're saying. I've been the victim of "I just don't have peace about your choice". But in my mind, peace does not equal comfort or ease. Peace isn't a warm, fuzzy feeling. It's, as the above poster said, an anchor. It's impossible to understand. It is what anchors your soul in the midst of turmoil. For me, true peace has only come through a fight and obedience to God and God alone. You can be comfortable with your choices and still not be at peace about them. Peace is a state of the heart that cannot be determined by cirucumstances. So, yes, I do use peace as a guide to know I'm in God's will. But I long ago learned to not equate peace of heart with comfort. And to pretty much ignore anyone else who felt behooved to tell me they weren't "at peace" with my decisions. :P

RamblingTart said...

Thank you for this. So much. As a survivor from that world I teared up reading this, remembering that horrible manipulation that kept me in bondage and fear for so long. Thank you for exposing it and taking away its power a bit at a time.

Lewis said...

Hillary...Wow. I considered ending this post with that scripture, and for whatever reason, forgot to include it. Thank you.

I agree with all of you.

It's a matter of Whom our peace is in and why our peace is in Him. It's what I was touching on (or attempting to) with the example of Christ. What I've always referred to as a "troubled peace". Discomfort with the circumstances and situation, yet trust that God is greater than all of it.

I once told my ex about "troubled peace", and she looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. She'd always been taught, or indoctrinated, to believe that when you were in God's will He'd give everyone in the authority chain the warm fuzzies. Broke my heart.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I might have to send this to like a dozen people. Really good. It makes me glad that even though I grew up in the church I always felt uncomfortable with christianese and was a lot more likely to say I didn't think something was a good idea than "Do you have peace about it?"

I have made decisions before where I felt peace but it turned out rather disastrous. It's weird, but it's actually rather soothing to realize that I may have been using the wrong criteria.


Jo said...

Excellent post, Lewis! Very thought provoking, as a decision I had "peace" over almost ended in disaster lately.

frogla said...

i like what darcy said about peace. i also believe that peace is knowing that i'm loved secure and accepted by God no matter what and that He's got my back! Thnx Lewis!

Incongruous Circumspection said...

I second this 100%. Also, the "the Lord told me" phrase. He did? How? Nobody can ever tell me. Whatever. Your thoughts and experiences told you with inputs from your religion.