\"Eyes That See Lies\"
By Pastor Steve Pierson
Below is an excerpt from the book I am writing. In recent years my personal experiences in church leadership have led me to realities I never knew existed. So, to start with, let me say this; sin is an unfortunate part of all of our lives. It taints every person’s reputation in some way. No person can sit back and point out the sins of others, without first taking note, and responsibility for their own sin. Some of the most surprising sins I’ve committed have come since being a Christian. As I ponder and take responsibility for those sins, I have only the grace of God to lean. Having said that, we all live and make decisions out of our past experiences. As believers, we grow from those experiences and become more like Jesus as a result. Grace doesn’t allow us to look back and condemn ourselves or others for past actions. We should always use the past to assure we honor God in the present.
In 27 years as a Christian, I have experienced some of the most wonderful people and brilliant leaders in the body of Christ. I have seen gracious leaders and generous leaders. I have seen integrity, humility, and transparency pace in front of the pulpit as an example of everything I want to be as a pastor. However, I have also seen legalism, arrogance, and secret living from the same. I have witnessed self-aggrandizement and, in some cases, pure evil. My decision to write my book flowed out of the unfortunate reality that there are those in the church that seek a place of honor for themselves rather than glorifying God. Consequently, what they construct often devours the dignity of others and leaves the people God died for feeling neglected and abused.
Chapter three of my book deals with my personal experiences, as well as others, in being a part of abusive church cultures. There are many things that make up an unhealthy church. However, when a church becomes abusive, it is always because a leader has become abusive. Leaders build cultures. Whether it’s in the corporate world or the church, culture determines the health of the organization. When a church culture becomes unhealthy, it is always because its leader has become unhealthy. There are many facets to an abusive church culture, chapter three of my book highlights one of them. I pray you consider what is said and use it to pray for discernment for the body of Christ. Blessings, - Pastor Steve
A Culture of Lies
“beware of the Man of One Book” – Thomas Aquinas
Twenty-four hundred years ago, the philosopher, Plato, introduced his “Allegory of the Cave.” In his allegory, a group of prisoners were confined to a cave where they had been since birth. They had no contact with the outside world and therefore were naive to its reality. The prisoners were chained facing a wall with a fire burning behind them giving off a faint glow. As people walked in front of the fire with different objects, shadows were cast onto the wall in front of the chained prisoners. The prisoners named these objects believing the shadows were reality. Suddenly, one of the prisoners was freed and left the cave. After his eyes adjusted to the sunlight for the first time in his life, he realized that the object’s shadow’s which were cast onto the wall he had looked at since birth, were not reality at all. The freed prisoner then returned to the cave to share his discoveries with the other prisoners. Upon arriving, the freed prisoner, having seen reality outside of the cave, had a hard time seeing the images on the wall. The prisoners still bound, thought the journey had made the freed prisoner delusional, and so they violently rejected his efforts to free them. The moral of the story is that most people are comfortable in their ignorance and are hostile to anyone who points it out.
Over the years there has been debate as to what was meant when Thomas Aquinas coined the phrase, “Beware of the man of one book.” However, most people agree that in some way, it’s referencing the danger associated with the man who thinks he has all the answers and instructs others to look no further than his one source.
Controlling the Information highway in any tyrannical system is crucial. Immediately following the election of Adolf Hitler, Germany established the “Propaganda Ministry.” Hitler understood that any freedom to access information contrary to what the Third Reich distributed, could undermine his cause. Consequently, newspapers, printing presses, television, and radio were all ceased and brought under government control. The people were only going to know what Hitler wanted them to know. Any pursuit of information other than what the government provided, would lead to alienation and quite possibly confinement in a concentration camp.
As mentioned in the last chapter, every abusive leader is insecure. Those insecurities are seen by the congregation but rarely recognized as such. In fact, one of the most powerful things about an abusive church culture, is that it manipulates information in a way that makes the abusive leader seem stronger and holier than he actually is. Like driving into a fog bank, an abusive leader takes advantage of the culture he’s built by clouding the judgements and perceptions of those he leads. In his mind, his strength depends on how the people view him rather than how God views him. To that end, he lies to create false narratives. He manipulates information to convince the people of what he wants them to see and hear. Much like the wizard of Oz, he hides behind the curtain separating reality and fantasy while he leads with smoke and false impressions. When a person finally comes out from underneath the control of an abusive culture, their eyes are opened. It’s as if the curtain has been pulled back and they realize that Oz is simply a deceptive man. Like the freed prisoner from Plato’s cave, they realize that what they had been looking at the entire time wasn’t real.
Proverbs 18:17 says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” The Bible is replete with instructions to the believer to guard themselves from deception. Jesus himself put the responsibility on his disciples to see to it that they were not led astray by those who came in Christ’s name (Matt 24:4). When Paul and Silas shared the truth of God in the synagogues at Berea, we’re told that the Berean’s were noble because they examined what they were told in light of scripture. The New Testament church itself was protected against those who would bring an accusation against another person without sufficient evidence. In Matthew 18:16 we’re told that when an offended brother could not personally settle a matter with the person he was accusing of an offense, that brother was to take “one or two” witnesses with him. The purpose was so that every accusation could be established. Deuteronomy 19:15-17 tells us that the “one or two witnesses” were to be leaders in office who were charged with looking carefully into the accusations. We’re told that part of their responsibility was to set both people down in the controversy and hear from both parties. Essentially, the accuser would state his case and the accused would have the opportunity to answer. Those in office would then investigate by gathering all the information and then presenting a judgement. The point is obvious, the Bible teaches that no one person is to control all the information. The Bible teaches that no one person’s opinions are to be taken as fact. Furthermore, the Bible commissions the individual believer to protect himself from deception by making sure he has all the information available before making a decision (Proverbs 18:13).
In an abusive church culture, the leader maintains control of the people by maintaining control of the information they receive. If a person has access to information outside of what the abusive leader offers, that information might challenge the narrative of the abuser and in turn, threaten his ability to control. This is why it is not uncommon for abusive leaders to alienate those they lead from the people that might disagree with their narrative. Such was the case with Jacob.
Jacob was a young man watching his church be dismantled by infighting amongst those he always knew to be friends. Jacob’s pastor would often speak of people that had left his church as if they were in rebellion to God. The problem was that many of the people that Jacob’s pastor implicated in this “rebellion,” were people that Jacob knew to be lovers of Christ. One day Jacob decided to call one of the former pastors who had left his church to ask to meet for coffee. Jacob wanted to get this pastor’s side of the story as it pertained to the reasons he left Jacobs church. When Jacob’s pastor found out that he had a coffee appointment with someone he was accusing of wrong doing, Jacob was pulled into a private meeting with his pastor. Three hours later, well in to the early morning hours, Jacob’s meeting ended. Shortly after, Jacob called the former pastor he was scheduled to meet with and canceled their appointment. When this pastor asked why he was canceling their appointment, Jacob said that after talking to his pastor, he realized he was being a busy body.
The unfortunate thing about this account is that Jacob was doing the very thing scripture commands him to do. Proverbs 18:13 warns us against coming to a conclusion on a matter unless we know the whole matter. It goes on to say that taking a position without all the information is foolish and leads to shame. However, in an abusive church culture, that is exactly what happens. The abusive leader is allowed to subvert scripture. He establishes an understanding within the culture itself, that pursuit of information outside of what he provides is unbiblical and sinful. He even goes as far as to make agreements and contracts surrounding his insecurities.
Years ago, a youth pastor felt called by God to leave the church he was serving
at and pursue a different call at another church. Upon telling his lead pastor of this new direction God was leading him in, his pastor told him he felt his decision was a betrayal. Nevertheless, the lead pastor told the youth pastor that if he agreed to stay off social media and to not make contact with a particular person who had left the church, he would pay his salary until he left. The youth pastor agreed. Upon leaving, the youth pastor decided to reach out to this forbidden contact and did return to social media. Six months later, this youth pastor was publicly denounced as “rebellious” and “divisive.”
The byproduct of this type of control is that the leader is allowed to build an unchallenged narrative about people and situations. Lies can be presented as truth and misrepresentation of the facts becomes undetectable. Once the abusive leader has established himself as the most reliable source of information, the moral of Plato’s allegory becomes reality - The prisoners chained in the cave reject any and all information that might suggest that they are actually ignorant of the facts. Consequently, any source of information that might contradict the abusive leader’s narrative, is met with aggression. This is one of the reasons why an abusive leader fosters a divisive culture, he has no choice. To maintain control of the people he’s deceived, he must control who they associate with. If the abusive leader cannot control the people who challenge the truthfulness of his narratives, then he has to control what others think of those people. What emerges from this type of abuse is horrifying. People’s reputations are ruined and relationships end, all on the basis of lies. Additionally, family members are shunned and faithful congregants are made to feel like they’re unholy and in rebellion to God. In this type of culture, definitive lines of allegiance are drawn. People that attempt to leave are painted out to be deserters. They’re called “uncommitted” and often accused of abandoning the work of God, and sometimes God himself. When this type of deception reaches its apex, Satan is welcomed into the church to devour the Bride of Christ, all the while, the church sits back and applauds his abuse as “holy.”
As was mentioned before, an abusive leader leads from his insecurities. It’s fear and not faith that undergirds his decisions. Never is this clearer than in his pursuit and control of information. An abusive leader hates surprises! Because his control of the people is maintained through exaggerations and lies, he needs to know what information is contrary, and where that information originates. It’s not uncommon, that when he becomes aware of a narrative contrary to his own, paranoia sets in. Consequently, pressure is applied in his demand to know what others know. A person might be asked, “Where did you hear this from?” And, “Who have you told this to?” The abuser’s motivation for these questions is not to be misunderstood. What he really wants to know is who he has to contend with, and who has information contrary to what he has supplied? If the person being asked refuses to answer for confidentiality reasons, they are often chided and said to be in rebellion for not submitting to their leaders. The smallest of matters become major issues. However, this narcissistic behavior does have an end game. The abusive leader hates truth! When an abusive leader obtains information that might expose his deception, he will often use that information to adjust the story he’s concocted. These “lies on the fly” are real time adjustments meant to help him preserve his deception. When a person challenges the edited version of his story, they are often told they “misunderstood” what he was saying before. Phrases like, “That might be what you heard but that’s not what I said,” or “that might be what you read but that’s not what I wrote,” are used to avoid any accountability to his pre-edited version of his new reality. Simply put, the abuser says and does anything he can to avoid being proven a liar.
In recent history, there has been a lot of debate on the use of torture to obtain information. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, it was proposed by some that employing enhanced interrogation methods in this new war, was a viable option in obtaining intelligence. The outcry of the type of torture being used during CIA interrogations of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, drew attention to the effectiveness of emotional and psychological manipulation. In the process of employing this type of torture, people were often secluded for long periods of time. The temperature in the room would be set at an uncomfortable level while a constant borage of lying rhetoric would fill the room. The person being tortured would be denied food as well as receiving a relentless attack on their psyche. The purpose for this type of torture was to break the prisoner down until he had no more emotional stamina, and would volunteer information, simply to escape the conditions.
When an abusive leader is seeking to maintain control of people, how he gets information, and communicates it, is often tantamount to psychological torture. Congregants are dragged into long meetings. These meetings can last anywhere from 3-4 hours and often go into the next day. Those being prodded for information or told what certain information means, are not only tired and hungry, but also emotionally spent. Those on the receiving end of the abuser’s constant borage of rhetoric, and reorganization of the facts, will do anything to have it stop. It’s not uncommon for a person to walk into one of these marathon meetings with information that is true, only to emerge three hours later, very confused. Some emerge even questioning their own recollection of things. Since the abusive leader operates under these psychological strenuous circumstances, the people are more prone to accept his “suggestions” of reality. People are actually convinced of things they don’t believe. The abuser uses repetitive suggestions and faulty interpretation of facts to create his fantasy world in the mind of the one being abused. The follow-up tactic to securing these implanted lies as reality, is equally deceptive. The abuser will often recall conversations that never happened, making people accountable to words they never spoke.
Additionally, Abusive leaders utilize information to protect the lies they’ve established through what is called “Projecting.” Projecting is when a person guilty of an offense (usually in secret), accuses his accuser of the same offense openly, but does it first. The abusive leader does this in an attempt to discredit the one who might divulge damning information, by making it seem like their accusations are retaliatory and therefore not creditable. This is why the abusive leader frantically seeks to know what people know when he believes his lying narrative may be exposed. He wants to understand what’s being said so he can jump out in front with manipulation, before his lies are brought to light. I once heard of a pastor who was guilty of online sexual misconduct. When his fear grasped him and he thought his misconduct might come out, he asked a fellow congregant to clean his computer. He told this congregant that he believed two former members were hacking his computer remotely and were sending inappropriate emails to members of the opposite sex. Although these former members had no access practically or experientially, the abusive pastor’s “projecting” served as a protective mechanism in the event that his private sin life became known.
When an abusive leader constructs a culture that recognizes his version of reality as the most reliable and his “one book” of information as the only viable source of truth, then that culture becomes abusive. The people accept lies and distortions as fact. Since they have no way of judging the validity of those “facts” without seeking information outside of what’s been provided, their judgements and decisions become destructive. They end relationships while casting judgement on every person’s spiritual status, except their own. Their assertion that everyone is wrong except them, leads them to the same folly as Saul of Tarsus – they persecute those Christ died for. The abused become the abusers. While living in the dark, they insist they can see, and although they’re invited to leave the cave, they’re convinced their view of the wall is reality.
Your views and thoughts are deplorable. Your marriage is falling apart and we can all see it. Your church is an embarrassment. You spend all day reading political garbage on Facebook, and you are directly harming the Kingdom of God with your apathy and selective hearing. You pander to your audience in the very same way you criticize others. It’s pretty rich that you wrote on abusive leaders. Maybe you should look in the mirror. No one feels bad for you. Fuck you.