Have you ever been told to shut up in the name of Jesus? Have you ever been on the receiving end of a conversation being told to zip your lip by the power of the Holy Spirit? It happens on the radio, in line at the coffee shop, in church or ministry staff meetings, and at family dinners.
Let’s call the manipulative, cliché, controlling, nonsense what it is: spiritual abuse. When someone in a place of power uses their spiritual position to dominate another person, it’s spiritual abuse. Sometimes it’s extreme, and other times it’s extraordinarily subtle.
The extreme examples are easy to point out. A young boy being raped by a priest while being forced to say the Lord’s prayer is hard to misdiagnose. (If you’re thinking that kind of thing doesn’t happen, feel free to Google it.) The subtle examples are harder to point to, but can cause long-term damage nonetheless.
The subtler forms of spiritual abuse can take on a twisted tone of care or kindness. Its gentle tone covers the controlling, manipulative message. Which, of course, it why the interactions often feels icky even if we can’t quite put our finger on the reason why.
Many of the Shut Up in the Name of Jesus messages have become such a standard framework within Christian culture that they are hard to decipher. When the verbal exchanges are delivered by someone in a position of power, it leaves us with the head-tilted confused-puppy feeling.
To help clear up any confusion as to the subtle (or not so subtle) messages, I’ve provided a partial Spiritual Abuse to English Dictionary for your perusal.
The Spiritual Abuse to English Dictionary
1. I’ll pray about it.
Translation: I’m going to over spiritualize things to get out of making a decision.
Praying for someone can be deeply meaningful and valuable. Sometimes, though, we are not being honest. We want to say “no” to a request, but are afraid to take responsibility for our feelings. Our need to be seen in a positive light takes precedence over truth, so we spiritualize it and hope it goes away.
2. We’re just going to have to see what God wants to do.
Translation: You aren’t agreeing with me so I’m not willing to discuss this any further.
Patience is a good thing, perhaps even a virtue. It’s true that we don’t know how things are going to turn out. That doesn’t mean we have to shut down feelings in the process.
3. Your emotions are obviously controlling you.
Translation: My reason and logic have not yet caused you to give me the answer I want.
Emotions are not bad. Emotions are not good. They just are. Emotions are symptoms. It’s like telling someone with a stab wound that their feeling of pain is invalid. Um…nope, not helpful.
4. Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.
Translation: You can’t feel hurt by what I did because God says I’m already forgiven.
Forgiven is kind of the point of the whole Jesus business, right? Someone being hurt by my words matters. It is essential to take responsibility for my behavior and make amends. Blowing it off with bible band aids and bumper sticker bullshit only deepens the wound.
5. We are to please God, not man.
Translation: If we are pissing you off, then take it up with God.
If my version of pleasing God is causing my neighbors to hate me, I may want to reconsider what the heck I’m up to. Am I pleasing God, or have I just become accustomed to controlling people with my arrogant nature under the guise of faith?
6. You just need to forgive.
Translation: I’m tired of hearing about your broken heart. You’re pain is screwing with my sense of stability.
Denial is not the same as forgiveness. Let me say that again: denial is not the same as forgiveness. When we’ve been wounded, deeply, life altering kind of wounded, healing takes time. Forgiveness is important, personal, and much more ache-worthy than we like to pretend.
7. Were you spending enough time in God’s word?
Translation: You deserve the devastating thing that happened because your faith is questionable.
Just stop with the advice giving already. This is a good place to just listen. Listen with profound compassion and without judgement. When someone is sharing their heart, just listen. They may actually give you permission to provide guidance if you listen first.
8. God is in control.
Translation: Your fear is annoying, so I’m going to question your faith to shut you up.
Again with the feelings deflector. Fear or anger are natural responses to hurt and pain. They are actually quite essential. A person may or may not believe God is in control in that moment. Perhaps it’s being said as reminder that we are safe in a big unsafe world. Maybe take them a casserole and a big hug instead.
9. Unless your husband had sex with someone else, God hates divorce.
Translation: You’re wrong for leaving your abusive spouse, because he didn’t actually put his penis in another woman.
Women (or men) being told to stay in a relationship where they are being hit or abused in some other way is abhorrent. I also think God hates it when love is misrepresented by those in power. And for the record, there are lots of ways to be unfaithful.
10. You are outside of His will.
Translation: I’m concerned you’re about to tell the truth.
Are you really authorized to be the conduit for the voice of God in this situation? I suspect He knows their address if He needs to get them a message. Do we sometimes receive spiritual guidance and caution from healthy counsel? Of course. But, we better have previously earned the right to say such things.
11. You are simply refusing to submit to God in this situation.
Translation: You are refusing to submit to me.
It is helpful to ask directly for what we need rather than using manipulative tactics to get our way. It’s also just cheap and unbecoming.
12. Please pray for so-and-so because they…
Translation: I like to gossip and be the center of attention, but doing it in ‘ask for prayer’ format feels less slimy.
If you want to pray for someone, then do. If you want to share it with others, ask permission. The gossipy, “share personal information under the guise of prayer time” routine is disrespectful at best. Oh, and it hurts like hell to find one’s personal tragedy has been used so another gains a false sense of importance.
13. The bible said it and that settles it.
Translation: Your questions are bringing up my own insecurities and I don’t do vulnerable.
A specific view on one specific verse out of that one specific translation used to shut down another person’s opinion is irresponsible. Breathe. Big deep breath. It’s possible to hear another perspective and not have it sweep away your entire spiritual foundation. Or, if it does, perhaps it needed to be. Utter certainty is actually the opposite of faith.
14. Everything happens for a reason.
Translation: I’m uncomfortable with feelings of any kind, so the vagueness of this comment should put a lid on any further discussion.
The fact that we can’t see the entire picture yet is a rather important concept. There may be things happening we don’t understand. AND, to say it to someone whose heart is broken is about as effective as telling someone who lost their child that God needed another angel. Just stop talking.
15. God will not give you more than you can handle.
Translation: Your recent earth shattering tragedy is just not that big of a deal, so buck up little camper.
Yes, yes He will. My experience, and the experience of many that I love, is that He will give you more than you can handle. This phrase is often used when we can’t handle our own emotional experience in the face of another’s emotional fire hose.
16. God told me that you should…
Translation: I’ve played the God card twice, I’m out of subtle ways to get you to do what I want.
It would be more respectful to just admit we want someone to do it our way, and we are afraid about what will happen for them (or us) if they don’t.
For those of you who are now calling down the wrath of God upon my head for such blasphemy, hear me out.
I understand that some of these statements can be completely benign. In the right context between the right people they can be loving, tender even. They can be said with care and concern. But, let’s be really honest here, they often aren’t. Many a broken heart has been further shredded by this type of verbiage.
When someone uses such phrases to override or shame the opinions and feelings of another without regard to the other person’s well being, it is abuse. If you’ve made it this far, but now you’re saying to yourself, “yea, but…..” please read the last line again.
Compassion is not hard for me to find toward those who spiritually bully. In my pre life-falling-apart life, I was that person and it was ugly. People got hurt and I was self righteous about it. I controlled and manipulated with a big smile and a “let me pray for you”. It wasn’t to intentional hurt another, but I was far from having integrity on the matter.
The statements were out of deeply imbedded fears of my own; lots of pain and shame I’d never worked through, or even admitted to having. Another’s deep feelings brought up my own, and I couldn’t allow that.
For those who hope to create a relationship or church or family or life that is safe, honest, and inviting for others, it is imperative to watch the motive behind the things we say. When in doubt, error on the side of “this might be deeply offensive” and “I may need to work through some of my own stuff”.
If you’ve been told to Shut Up In the Name of Jesus, hopefully this short translation tutorial can help you find your way through the spiritual abuse maze. Or, let us help.