I recently learned some troubling news about someone in the faith community I deeply respect. It came to light that this person used their positions of power to emotionally and spiritually manipulate and abuse those in their care.
I know this person and his wife. I have supported their newest organization and considered them light in the spiritual darkness of the modern white evangelical church. Reading the open letter from those they have harmed, it is clear they have left a trail of pain they have yet to take responsibility for in any meaningful way.
It is devastating when someone in the faith community does what many would deem unthinkable. It is harder still when the actions are justified by a manipulation of scripture and God’s character. I grew up in a situation where the Bible was used to justify a skewed view of life. The level of manipulation was minor but still devastating. I see the ripples in those around me to this day. I have had friends who have suffered greatly under the abuse of God’s Word to justify truly horrible acts of evil. I have witnessed some using the church to shield obvious predatory behavior and turn a blind eye because that is easier.
Abuse is abuse and God hates all of it. There is nothing to justify any form of it. There is nothing to justify men and women who are in positions of authority doing things they know to be wrong or illegal.
For many, moments like this cause crises of faith. Because we put our trust in a person, or because the person was in a position of authority and/or spiritual leadership, we often have a hard time separating God from the individual.
God is not man. Man is not God (though we like to pretend we are). The best thing we can learn is to separate one from the other. When a person in spiritual authority uses that authority to harm others, that is as much of an abuse against God as it is against their victim.
I know many people who have walked away from their faith because of the wounding of someone attached to faith. They came to see the institution of the church as broken, corrupt, paternalistic, sexist, racist, money hungry, fame driven, etc. as the rest of the world, and sadly it can be. But I would argue these actions are pretty strong indicators that the congregation – starting at the top – left God behind long ago and started worshipping the gods of their own making.
God called us to set the oppressed free, to remove the yoke of wickedness, to share our bread with the poor, to be with those who mourn (see Isaiah 58). We are called to be examples of God’s love and compassion. We are told to feed the hungry, provide water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, and visit the prisoner (see Matthew 25). Ultimately God calls us to be a reflection of who He is.
God sees through charisma, justification, power, eloquent speech, the ability to work a room. God who knows the heart, the intention, the coveting, the desire of power over another, the debasing of others that leads to abuse. God is with those being abused, neglected, overlooked, silenced. He is there every time someone hurts someone else, and to do it in His name, manipulating His character to justify, cover-up, silence, etc. – well, friend, you are on your own because God is not fooled and someday we will all be held accountable for what we did and did not do (so if you are staying silent when you know something wrong is happening – it might be time to speak up).
It has taken me half my life to undo the damage done by the manipulation of scripture. People I love still cannot believe in a loving, good God because of the contradictions we lived under. Healing is a process. It takes time, intentionality, assistance, trusting your voice. It takes reclaiming what was stolen and not letting it be used to harm you.
But please hear that those who abuse, manipulate, hurt, steal, kill, hate – no matter their twisted, sinful justifications – are not God. They do not represent Him. They do not have a special line to Him. They do not have divine revelation from Him. They are liars. They are horrible people. They are wrong. And they need to be held accountable.
But they are not God. One of the best things I did was to wipe the tables clean. I pushed off all the bullshit I’d been handed about who God is (broken and flawed because of the contradictions it was delivered under) and gave God a fresh slate. “Show me who You are Lord!” I cried out. I read the Bible for myself. I found a mentor I could wrestle through things with. I read books by upright religious leaders. (The Attributes of God by Tozer changed my life!) I spent time on my knees letting God show me His heart.
Over the coming weeks we will explore the character of God more by using what He left in His Word. But for now, let me say – when those in positions of power, especially in the church, do things that hurt, are abusive, are wrong, etc. they need to be held accountable! So be mad, seek justice, go to the police (especially if the church will do nothing to stop them). Do not be silent! Cry. Be angry. Get counseling. Process what happened. Use your voice to make sure it does not happen again.
But please know that God does not condones or approve of what happened to you. He is angry and hurt with you. He sees it all, including the failure of others to act, and it breaks His heart. If you want to be angry with God – be angry – let God have it! He can take it, but then, I pray, you can find time and space to let God speak tenderly to you.
Sometimes people attached to the church can do truly unspeakable things and they will hide behind or manipulate God’s name to justify it and silence their victims. But friend, God is a God of justice. It is written all over His Word. And someday those who use His name to harm others will be made to face their choices. It is a small bit of justice for the here and now. It is a small reality to cling to when the wrongs get to be too much. But God is a personal God who wants to bring you His comfort as well as show you who He truly is.
But there is nothing [so carefully] concealed that it will not be revealed, nor so hidden that it will not be made known. For that reason, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops.Luke 12:2-3 AMP
Has there been a time in your life someone has used scripture to justify their sin? Whether big or small, how did it affect you? How did it affect your view of God? What in you is unresolved around that hurt? What do you need to hear from God about that situation?
If you want, do a topical study on justice, love, mercy, etc. and write down the verses that stand out to you. Use these to start the conversation with God over the pains you wrote about above.
Lord God, Father of mercy, justice, love, and peace. Be with those who suffer injustice under the guise of Your Name. Be with those who are turned away, devalued, not believed, marginalized, abused. You are a God of Justice. Over and over Your Word tells us to be about justice, to not deny what is right towards those who have been abused, neglected, hurt. You promise that someday those who harm will be held accountable.
Lord, make us instruments of Your peace. In the face of those who manipulate Your Word for their selfish gain, give us courage, hope and a true understanding of who You are.