In the book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, there are EXCELLENT thoughts on the subject of false peace in abusive churches. (As an aside, if you or a loved one have ever endured abuse at the hands of religious leaders, read this book immediately. It could change your life.) Enforcing false peace is a commonly used tactic of people who have the most to gain from covering up problems within the church and instead turning the blame on those who are hurting. Jeremiah is commonly referenced in regards to this phenomenon.
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 I punish them, says the LORD. Jeremiah 6:13-15
You want to know what I was taught about this passage by fundamentalist churches? I was taught these verses were about the scary “liberals” or backslidden Christians who no longer “blushed” at sin. I can’t even write this with a straight face. It is SO out of context. SO twisted. And SO backwards. While this blog post is NOT an in-depth, scholarly study on Jeremiah, it IS, however, written by someone with a degree in fundamentalist Bible studies and twenty-five years of experience listening to thousands upon thousands of hours of so-called Bible teaching. Take a look at the passage again, this passage is not talking about wicked sinners outside the church, it’s talking about PRIESTS and PROPHETS. It’s talking about corrupt leaders who, on the outside, supposedly obeyed every jot and tittle of God’s law to the letter, but on the inside, were corrupt and greedy and selfish and toxic. They ignored the WOUNDS of the people they were supposed to serve. They SILENCED the cries of the hurting by shouting, “PEACE!! Peace! Everything is great!! We’re all good! Nothing to see here! Move along!”
Let’s talk about how this is STILL going on today. Take a look at this meme. Look familiar? I’m sure you’ve seen it somewhere on your social media timelines. It’s certainly made the rounds several times on mine. It still makes me sick to my stomach.
Did you catch that? It might be hard to see what this has to do with false peace. But wait a moment. Take it in… Do you see the manipulation? Do you hear the silencing and shaming of victims using God’s name? There are so many things this meme is saying without actually saying them:
“It’s your fault for being hurt in the first place. Toughen up.” “If you were just a better Christian, you would get over what happened to you and love God better by not causing division.” (See my quote down the page about the people who murdered Christ) “Well, I understand that what happened to you was wrong and bad, but you can’t walk away from GOD because of it!!” (They say God, but they mean their version of God who demands perfection, not the God who is capable of loving you in and out of church: doubting and faithful, broken or healed. If God really is GOD, you wouldn’t be able to walk away…even if you wanted to. ) “If you find a perfect church, you better leave, or it won’t be perfect anymore” or another favorite “You’re never going to agree on everything with anyone.” (What we’re NOT talking about: perfection or absolute agreement. What we ARE talking about: living under destructive, damaging, abusive behavior. Big difference.) “We know what is going on is wrong, but we can’t leave because God won’t let us.” (Nope. God would never call you to participate and be complicit in sinful, abusive behavior. Admit it: you just don’t want to be the one on the receiving end of these sentences!)
I’ve literally had every one of these sentences said to me multiple times, in multiple ways, by multiple people. Let’s examine this a bit more closely. Let me insert an excerpt here from the amazing book I referenced at the beginning of this post:
The most powerful of all unspoken rules in the abusive system is what we have already termed the “Can’t Talk” Rule. The “Can’t Talk” has this thinking behind it: “The real problem cannot be exposed because then it would have to be dealt with and things would have to change; so it must be protected behind walls of silence (neglect) or by assault (legalistic attack). If you speak about the problem out loud, you are the problem. In some way, you must be silenced or eliminated. […] The truth is, when people talk about problems out loud, they don’t cause them, they simply expose them. In abusive spiritual systems, there exists a “pretend peace”–what Jeremiah decried. […] (pg 68) In order to protect peace and unity, they have to already exist. It is not possible to preserve or maintain something that is not there. In a spiritually abusive system, people are taught how to counterfeit peace and unity. The irony is that what is actually maintained is a lack of peace and unity. […] A true peacemaker, as noted in Matthew 5, is someone who goes where there is no peace and makes peace. It is not someone who covers over disagreement with a cloak of false peace. It is not someone who gets people who are in total disagreement to act as if they are on the same side. […] Paul says in Ephesians 5, “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them… But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light” (vv 11, 13). Accountability, change of heart, and even peace are possible in the light of the truth. Darkness is where wrongdoing and confusion operate. James calls false peace and hypocrisy demonic. (pg 90-91) The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse written by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen
Just because you point out a problem, does NOT make you the problem. I recently watched a public attack against a friend of mine after he posted that he was saddened by a toxic, commercialized Easter church service. (His words were much kinder than mine) Within moments, an all-out comment war had ensued, spearheaded by low level staff from the profit machine..err…church. Every tactic in the book was used, including shame, manipulation, fear, and finally a blatant “stop talking or else”. And this is just what we saw publicly.
Religious leaders killed Jesus to keep Him from calling them out on their crap. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.
Folks: that isn’t church. That is the mafia. That is a cult. And it is just the tip of the iceberg. It is one of the very few examples of the “Can’t Talk” rule within a religious setting that DOESN’T involve illegal sexual, financial, and/or violent activity. If you are trapped in that kind of environment, seek help. If you are being victimized and silenced, reach out.
Don’t ever let someone use God’s name to keep you quiet. Jesus was sent to the cross BECAUSE of His outspoken stand against corrupt religious leaders. He did NOT ignore corrupt leaders who preyed on the vulnerable. He called them out and made a scene. If we’re truly following Christ’s example, we won’t shut up about abuse in the church, instead we’ll speak even louder. Religious leaders killed Jesus to keep Him from calling them out on their crap. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. So, let’s change the meme to something more like this:
What can we do to actually create real peace and unity in God’s church, so we can get back to the business of loving people and telling them about a God who loves them too. Well, here’s a start:
Let’s stop forcing people to shut up so the broken system can keep on being broken, corrupt and narcissistic leaders can keep on being corrupt and narcissistic, and meanwhile, the world looks at the mess we call church and holds their noses at the stench.
Let’s stop shaming victims in the name of a God who cares about them deeply, regardless of whether they happen to be inside or outside of your church doors.
Let’s stop blaming victims and take a long, hard, honest look at the politicized, commercialized religious system that hurt them in the first place.
Let’s stop demanding that people stay with their abusers, even if that abuser happens to be a spouse, family member, pastor, or even an entire church.
Let’s stop screaming, “PEACE, PEACE” in wounded people’s faces to cover up their cries and actually get to work making peace a reality in their lives.
Let’s stop idolizing pastors and other religious leaders by placing them on an untouchable pedestal and turning a blind eye to their abuse and abusive teachings. If you know people are being hurt and you do nothing, please understand me here very clearly: YOU are ACCOUNTABLE for that. You are COMPLICIT in that abuse. Fix it.
Let’s do better, church.
I’m in…who’s with me?