Emotional blackmail at church
In a conversation prompted by a new book about A. W. Tozer, John Piper offers this insight:
“Not feeling loved and not being loved are not the same. Jesus loved all people well. And many did not like the way he loved them. Was David’s zeal for the Lord imbalanced because his wife Michal despised him for it? Was Job’s devotion to the Lord inordinate because his wife urged him to curse God and die? Would Gomer be a reliable witness to Hosea’s devotion? I know nothing about Tozer’s wife. She may have been far more godly than he. Or maybe not. It would be helpful to know.
. . . Tozer may have blown it at home. . . . But I have seen so much emotional blackmail in my ministry I am jealous to raise a warning against it. Emotional blackmail happens when a person equates his or her emotional pain with another person’s failure to love. They aren’t the same. A person may love well and the beloved still feel hurt, and use the hurt to blackmail the lover into admitting guilt he or she does not have. Emotional blackmail says, ‘If I feel hurt by you, you are guilty.’ There is no defense. The hurt person has become God. His emotion has become judge and jury. Truth does not matter. All that matters is the sovereign suffering of the aggrieved. It is above question. This emotional device is a great evil. I have seen it often in my three decades of ministry and I am eager to defend people who are being wrongly indicted by it.”
When a church’s mentality — the very categories and assumptions with which they process reality — is not biblical but therapeutic, this “great evil” can be perpetrated without any troubling of the conscience. But no one should ever be pressured to confess as sin aspects of their behavior which the Bible itself does not identify as sin. It is the Word of God, chapter and verse, and only the Word of God, not human expectations or emotions, which defines sin. When we forget this, we exalt ourselves to the place of God with our own self-made demands and haughty accusations. This is indeed a great evil, though self-exaltation rarely feels evil. Misguided moral fervor feels good, even virtuous.
But there is a reason why the Bible includes this:
More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
must I now restore? Psalm 69:4
And there is a reason why the Bible includes this:
Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 2 Timothy 4:14-18