Silence As A Weapon

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Silence before God is admirable. Spiritual masters and mystics have turned it into an art form. Books that encourage silence such as Practicing the Presence of God have inspired millions of lives.

But silence is also a weapon spiritual leaders use to control people.

Their saying would go more like “Shut up and don’t ask any questions.”

Everyone knew Mark Driscoll was a bully- everyone that is except the people in his church who were afraid to call him out. Why? Have you ever bought a car, a house or entered into a relationship only to find out that what you’d actually bought was a lemon? How anxious were you to own your stupidity, to admit it to others let alone to yourself?

When it dawns on us that we’ve been spiritually manipulated, we’re humiliated, angry and confused. But wait there’s more! As a follower of Jesus it’s like double jeopardy – not only have I been played but now I’m also supposed to take the high ground and forgive the person who violated me.

The bully of course knows this angle and uses it to his/her advantage quite astutely. In fact they depend on you taking the high ground. They bet on it! Their unique case of emotional sickness includes the thrill of seeing how long they can avoid detection. It’s a game and they enjoy watching you spend enormous amounts of time working hard to forgive them.

Speaking of which, forgive my cynicism, I’ve earned it the hard way.

The bully knows full well that the issue isn’t about forgiveness but they aren’t going to tell you that. They’re going to let you waste as much time as possible chasing false leads. If you happen to get too close to exposing the truth they will do everything they can to discredit you or catch you on a “technicality” such as not expressing your criticism with kindness or sharing your frustration with a third party (just like they have done)

Jesus never “worked things out” with his religious opponents, he called them out, pointed them out and warned his followers to watch out for them. There’s an idealized notion of reconciliation that is leveraged by the violators. Victims are made to grovel and beg for an audience while the violators sits in a position of power and for the most part is afforded the benefit of the doubt. Why? Have you ever been a pastor? Have you ever spent years, decades with people trying to help them only to have people flip on you? I have and it sucks. No wonder we afford pastors special grace when there are misunderstandings – we ought to. They have a very difficult job. But when the person in power, pastor or not, uses silence as a weapon then they deserve to be called out in the same way Jesus called out the Pharisees.

I spent 10 years trying to get Driscoll removed from his position of influence in Seattle. I interviewed a number of former Mars Hill insiders for my book Question Mark which details our success and to a person they reported Driscolls’ unwillingness to meet with them face to face. He hid behind his position and used silence as a sacred weapon to punish people who dared to notice that the emperor had no clothes. He used silence to stall hoping people would give up and stop asking the obvious. He used silence to create an environment of fear and intimidation. He was the violator and they were the victims and he has never repented, apologized or owned his abuse with the people he actually harmed. Happily we got rid of him in Seattle but sadly Christian leaders in Phoenix have welcomed him as something of a wounded warrior who was misunderstood. Apparently Driscoll is the victim. Who knew?

The people in power are typically given the benefit of the doubt while the victims are interrogated as to their “real” motives. Why? Well it is quite the inconvenience to discover that you’ve been duped. We have all invested in communities so when the power brokers in the community begin burning our trust we don’t believe it. We don’t want to know. We blame the victim for trying to disrupt the community. We tell the victim that they are as much to blame as the violator as if there was no real power differential. We shun them using silence as a sacred weapon.

Recently I’ve been on the receiving end of silence as a weapon. I’ve experienced shunning for the first time in my life as a follower of Jesus. I have heard about it but never personally experienced it. It is disgusting to watch leaders who claim Jesus as their inspiration use silence to manipulate and control other followers.

I’ve decided that Jesus was right. The only thing you can do is point them out, call them out, and warn others to watch out.

Based on his behavior, whatever Jesus meant by “loving your enemies” did not include what they refer to in AA as “cosigning on their bullshit”. Apparently you can love your “enemy” while simultaneously working to remove your enemy.

If Mark Driscoll or my current ideological opponent ever decides to to actually repent (something violators rarely do), I’ll be the first to welcome them to the party.

Jim Hancock