Intimidation is something that happens frequently in churches, but very few church members even realize it’s happening to them. Another term used to describe intimidation is bullying. Being in an intimidating situation can affect your emotions negatively and even cause you to make snap decisions without thinking about it.
photo credit Lady Jess
Each state has its own laws about intimidation and it’s important to understand what it is, how to identify it when it happens to you, and how to get away from it. I found intimidation listed under the Civil Rights section of the California Department of Justice website.
The tricky thing is getting the government to protect you from religious intimidation. So instead of expecting them to protect us, we need to protect ourselves. Protection from intimidation in a religious setting involves getting educated about it.
Let me be sure to add this disclaimer, I am not a lawyer, nor am I in the position to legally advise anyone on specific situations. If you feel that you or your family’s safety, financial stability, or property is at risk for being physically harmed, you need to call a lawyer and/or the police.
I understand that this article will be venturing into the realm of biblical interpretation and that I may end up being “rebuked” by well meaning Christians for what I’m going to reveal, but as a counselor for the spiritually abused I can’t, in good conscience, avoid giving information so people can make an educated decision about their safety just because it crosses over into a person’s religious beliefs.
The most subtle and least often prosecuted form of intimidation is spiritual abuse. When someone, especially a religious leader, tells you that you, your family, your finances, or property are at risk of destruction due to your lack of involvement in their religion or lack of money you give to the religion, they are using an intimidation tactic against you.
Allow me to share some insight with you from a logical and practical perspective. All sorts of destruction happens to people inside of religion and outside of religion. Pastors kids get involved in drugs, homes are ruined by storms, and finances plummet for all sorts of reasons just like anyone else in your community who doesn’t belong to a religious organization. Any promise made to you that none of these things will happen if you follow their teachings would be a lie (If you don’t believe me, read the book of Job). There is no way a pastor can insure you that a hurricane will not hit your house based on your church involvement or financial support of their institution. Just because a storm does hit a home of a person who does not belong to their religion, doesn’t mean it’s because they weren’t “believers”, church members, or faithfully tithing to the organization.
If we allow ourselves to become victims to this kind of intimidation, then we alone are at fault for being gullible. In other words, we walk right into it. The government can’t protect you from being gullible.
Once you are educated on intimidation tactics (bullying), then once you see it happening to you, simply disregard what is being said and walk away. As an American citizen, you do not have to allow yourself to remain in an intimidating situation, nor are you required by God to be a doormat for a religious bully.
When a clergy, or other religious person, tells you that you might suffer eternal torment if you don’t do “x,y,z”, they are terrorizing you in an effort to convert you to their religion. This is the religious version of a terrorist threat, a threat to your soul. This kind of threat can negatively affect your mental health and in the long run can negatively affect decisions you make in this life time.
When they try to convince you that your life is an “insult to God”, “less than because you don’t have their deity”, or that you are “unworthy to even be alive”, they are manipulating you into believing something about yourself that is not true.
When they put pressure on you to recite a prayer, participate in any religious ceremony (such as baptism), or to attend their church services then they are using coercion to get you to comply to what they want.
I know how this works, not just because of my counseling studies, but because I used to be deeply involved in a church that did these things and sat through countless “meetings” where they teach how to do this. Some churches main goal is to convince you that you are unworthy and deserving of eternal torment.
As a Christian, these tactics frustrate me, because I don’t believe God operates in this manner. God doesn’t need people to be bullied into choosing him. God gives you the freedom to make up your own mind about him and about where you choose to worship.
If we go back several centuries to study how people were converted into the “Christian” religion, we find terrorist tactics such as threats of violence, imprisonment, and torture if they didn’t convert. Over time, this kind of physical violence to bring about a conversion of religion became outlawed, but they continue to emotionally and mentally terrorize people into converting.
A classic statement by a bully involves “if you don’t do this,…..then that will happen to you” The word ‘this’ represents something you must do and the word ‘that’ represents a negative result if you don’t.
I know that a lot of Christianity claims that God issues statements like this, but I think their interpretation of the Bible is skewed by the type of leader they have. I also understand that this means there are a lot of leaders out there giving terrorizing threats from the pulpit to put people into emotional/mental bondage to live in fear and into robotic unconditional obedience to the group, its leader, and their version of god.
Many times, the people are so conditioned to believe in these threats that they are frightened of questioning the “teachings” or leaving the groups they are involved with.
When you find yourself in a terrorizing situation where you are living in fear of “disobeying” the “teachings” …”or else”, then you can leave. This is the same thing a government agency will tell you.
It’s your freedom to not believe their threats and to leave.
They may also attempt to emotionally blackmail you with threats of shunning, excommunication, or breaking off the relationships if you leave.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Upon leaving such a group, if you get any threats of ruining your job, disrupting relationships you have, repeated unwanted phone calls/emails/texts, then call a lawyer. A lawyer can walk you through some steps to getting free from the group. If you can’t get a lawyer, you can begin with a “cease contact” letter that is notarized and sent by registered mail. Keep all copies of communication that you send that shows you have done your part to halt their communication with you.
If you are leaving a rather large group, it makes it more difficult to get them to stop if the leader hasn’t informed the church to let you go. You don’t owe them an explanation of why you left, nor do you have to tell them if you’re going to another church. If they are persistent, although they are probably intending to be “good friends” to you, with their threats of eternal torment or God withholding his protection from you, just firmly state that you don’t believe that and are not willing to discuss it any further. If they don’t stop, let them know that you need a break from communication for the time being, so your family can readjust to a new church.
Keep in mind that many religious folk have no idea what the intimidation laws are, because their pastor doesn’t want them informed. If his tactics are revealed he will lose church members. He has the freedom to impose spiritual “teachings” from the pulpit and you are sitting in the pew willingly. So the government can’t touch him. However, most church members don’t realize that carrying his bad tactics out into the community on a person’s doorstep, place of employment, or through phone and email can result in a misdemeanor.
It’s important to equip yourself with education to empower you to overcome intimidation. Leaving a religious group that terrorizes, manipulates, and emotionally blackmails you can be very difficult on your mental and emotional health. Be sure to find a support group or counselor to help you.
Just because one “Christian” group treats people this way does not mean God treats you this way, nor does it mean all Christian groups operate in such an abusive manner.
God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, and of power, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7