Friend of mine sent me a blogpost this morning wanting me to check it out – by the third line my eyes were just about rolling out of my head. So this post bears the subtitle “teachers behaving badly”- why? Oh because the art of political deception is alive and well in the religious blogsphere – you no longer have to prove your case, you need only make yourself look more desirable than your opponent – generally by calling your opponent’s competency into question needlessly.
The problem wasn’t his theology – really he never said much about it. What he did do was criticize a specific doctrine of others without really teaching why his was right. Oh sure, he gave a few verses outside of both their Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern context, but what he was perpetrating is an old political trick of saying nothing while seeming to say an awful lot. He crafted a tale that made people desirous to believe him and take his word for what he was saying, without having to actually prove himself. He told people exactly what they should think of other people and their arguments without telling them anything about the other people or what their arguments were. Reminded me of the serpent in the garden, promising wisdom if Eve would just take his word for what he was saying and yet delivering only death.
He criticized a big name ministry, and some teachers within the movement (which I will not reveal so as to not color the argument) who are deservedly well-respected by comparing them unfavorably in comparison with some names that are quickly losing respect for employing some of the same attack dog tactics I saw in this blog post. You see, and here is where the deception comes in – he gave the reader every reason to discount the teachings of others without ever laying down enough reason to believe what he is pushing. He carefully crafted an argument based not on making a rock-solid and well documented case (as every true teacher will do), but upon calling into question the integrity and competence of others to such an extent that in the end, the uninitiated will wholeheartedly agree with the author because they wouldn’t want to be like those “inferior” and “deceived” teachers that were named. The entire blogpost was one big manipulation tactic geared towards making the reader feel badly for even thinking about agreeing with those other ministries and teachers. Sadly, I see it all the time. In truth, he did nothing except prime the audience so that they would see himself (and not those other teachers) as the authority and then refused to back up his arguments – simply citing that the scriptures themselves proved him right (a cheap and sadly all too common claim out there – it’s the pseudo-intellectual equivalent of “the Holy Spirit told me”). This is the sort of behavior that is all too common among the online Body of Messiah – we look like the world and with good reason because we play their games better than they do – but unlike politicians, we play the game with God’s reputation and so our judgment will be heavier. There is little respect out there for the hardworking, spiritually mature, non-sensationalized teachers and too many people enjoy being critics while offering nothing except their criticism – in this day and age all are free to argue their case, even if they haven’t seriously studied the matter in question. Imagine trying to get away with that in any classroom! It is the critic, and not the scholar, who gains the broadest audience – so make sure of who it is you are listening to as it would be tragic to learn from a critic. The most obnoxious teacher is generally the one who has the least of substance to say.
So what are the warning signs that you are being grossly manipulated?
(1) The teacher is “priming your pump” – in other words, the person starts out with their very long, very agonizing struggle with the question in hand. Yes, their opinion wasn’t reached overnight (unspoken implication – “unlike others”) and they spent many tearful nights and many years searching the scriptures before learning the truth but in the end they realized that their position is the only valid position there is (insinuating that if everyone was as diligent they would agree as well – or perhaps “as anointed” if they received it instead by revelation). The teacher has just “primed the pump” by making you want to be the beneficiary of this hard-won revelation, by causing you to desire to become wise or at least embarrassed to admit disagreement. Remember how Eve was deceived? She wanted to be wise and have her eyes opened. (Social media is proof positive that this sort of thing works very well on men as well as women) But hey – if he or she spent all those years studying there should be quite the paper trail, right? Why not simply present it?
(2) The teacher makes sure to denounce, in various ways, any teacher of a differing opinion – even if they do so under the auspices of being concerned for their deceived brethren. The other teachers are purposefully vague, or their arguments make them sound lacking next to their peers who agree with the opinion of the author. The teacher names big names who disagree, making sure to elevate him or herself above well-respected Bible scholars and ministries because it wouldn’t do to simply make his case – he must make you see how much more competent he is than the big names who earned their place as teachers over the course of many decades. The serpent did this in the Garden as well, but the Teacher he called into question was God Himself. A teacher with the goods needs to present the goods, not just point out who doesn’t have the goods.
(3) The teacher states his case in a few lines, but doesn’t bother to prove it – “Scripture proves it for me.” I like to call it “all claim, very little (if any) substance.” And you are primed to think he has indeed proved it because by this point the manipulation has been pretty heavy. It might not even occur to you to look into his arguments, because he has carefully crafted his words to give the illusion of his argument being so self-evident that he in fact has no need to prove what he is saying. To Eve, it was self-evident that the Serpent was telling the truth and that God was lying. That’s how manipulation works. Again, if a teacher has the proof, why waste 1,000 words without proving it? What exactly was the point of those thousand words if not to make a case for the truth of your doctrine?
In the end we, like Eve, often want such a person to see that we are wise and discerning so we will often take a bite without demanding proof – not even thinking for a moment how much it should bother us that this person named names and insulted people who we should respect, or at least love and honor as people who have devoted their lives to Scriptural study. Nor do we pause and ask ourselves why the teacher couldn’t just make their case without bringing into question the competency and even honesty of those who disagree. And oftentimes, we don’t even demand that they make a case at all – if they made us feel like we are wise for coming into agreement with them, well that appeals to our desire to please those whom we place into authority and we get to feel the vicarious pride of being “in the know.”
I’ve seen what happens when people follow after teachers who do this – they change and not for the better. I know because I used to be one of those people. I would get a secret thrill if someone was being slandered – it was as if I were doing it myself but I didn’t have to say the actual words myself, at least not in public. But anyone who has known me long enough knows that I used to be a first class jerk, and my behavior during those years was a source of shame to my King. I listened to jerks and then I modeled that behavior towards others. Praise Yah that, one by one, the jerks I was listening to betrayed me because third time was a charm – I found a teacher who was incredibly gracious and kind and started behaving that way instead. I am glad that facebook timehop only goes back two years or people would see some shocking stuff out of me. It wasn’t until my eyes were opened to this kind of manipulation that it stopped working on me (well, usually, I am still flesh) and I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t listen to or learn from anyone who does this to people. It’s unnecessary. We don’t have to exalt ourselves by degrading others. If we do the work that God has called us to do, then He will exalt us – or not, His choice.
When I look at the teachers that I really respect, I see them doing one thing – teaching. I don’t see them ever trying to name names of the ministries that teach anything else, I don’t see them slandering others or try to tear them down – they just teach. When was the last time you saw Brad Scott, Rico Cortes, Bill Cloud, Dinah Dye, Holissa Alewine, Joseph Good, Ed Harris, or Valerie Moody (I probably forgot some folks) going around slandering other ministries or even exalting their own? They teach and teach and teach and stay focused on Kingdom growth and not on their own ministry growth. Even when other ministries come out against them, naming names – they remain silent publicly. It isn’t about them, and they know it. I am grateful that a few people like them got hold of someone like me and are teaching me how a real teacher, a real servant acts. Following their example is a tough road – they set the bar really high. But that’s the point, right? There are some really fabulous teachers out there, people of integrity who hold each other accountable and help the people coming up – with people like them, we don’t need to listen to the self-exalters, or the manipulators, or the haters. Life is too short, we have too much to learn, and too much work to do on our characters to waste time on those who sound way too much like they are trying to sell us a poisonous piece of fruit.