Weaponization of scripture—using scripture with ulterior motivation for the sake of control, manipulation, and silencing—is practiced in unhealthy, abusive Christian environments.
Not only is scripture weaponized, but also various terms and phrases are used to silence victims and support oppressors. This can be intentional or unintentional. Context is imperative, as is accurate usage and appropriate application. The following addresses some of the commonly weaponized verses, passages, terms and phrases.
Commonly Weaponized Scriptures
2 Samuel 1:20 – “Tell it not in Gath….”
David told the Israelites not to speak of the death of King Saul to their enemies, who would then gloat over Saul’s death. This scripture has nothing to do with speaking publicly about the shameful sins and harms committed among the leaders of God’s people. We grieve about these things, while we long for repentance and faith.
Psalm 105:15 – “Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!”
This referred to physical violence or death, specifically as it related to Abraham, Moses, and others who led the Israelites in one way or another on their journey eventually to the promised land. It was God speaking this to kings who were after Israelite leaders such as these. The text is historical, not prescriptive. It does not in any way address questioning a pastor or other Church leader, criticism, holding them accountable, standing up to them when there is wrongdoing, speaking out or exposing abuses which have been kept hidden in the dark. 1 Chronicles 16:22 refers back to the same text.
Proverbs 18:13 – “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
Accusing with this verse assumes that the ones speaking, such as those participating in dialogue on this forum, have not “listened.” But if you accuse with this verse, you may end up being guilty of the very thing you are accusing: in trying to silence those who are speaking out about wrongdoing, you are “answering” the matter without having “listened.”
Matthew 7:1, 3-4 – “Judge not, that you be not judged…. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
In other words, confess your own sins and repent of them before pointing out the sins of others. But this does not mean we should refrain from judging. On the contrary, there are other bible verses where we are commanded to do so: Psalm 37:30 – “The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just,” and John 7:24 – “stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
Matthew 18:15-17 – “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Many have confronted Jim Cymbala and The Brooklyn Tabernacle, spanning decades. Since The Brooklyn Tabernacle has not course-corrected through accountability structures such as a Board of Directors, a team of Elders or Deacons, outside leaders, or a denominational entity, the remaining recourse is a public statement. Secondarily, these verses speak of 2 people with power equal to one another, not a person attempting to address a systemic issue. When a power differential between the 2 people exists, or, when the confrontation is a person confronting a system, methods of approach shift significantly.
John 8:7 – “And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.””
The self-righteous Pharisees were going to stone the woman taken in adultery (fulfilling Jewish law), but Jesus stopped them with these words. Jesus, flipping the script, told the Pharisees they could condemn her to death (throw their stones) for her sin only if they themselves were without sin.
“Casting a stone” (condemning someone to death) is not the same as publicly asking a Christian organization, such as The Brooklyn Tabernacle, for full transparency, effective accountability, and to stop the wounding of sheep.
1 Cor 6:1-8 – “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!”
Again: many have confronted Jim Cymbala and The Brooklyn Tabernacle, spanning decades. Since The Brooklyn Tabernacle has not course-corrected through accountability structures such as a Board of Directors, a team of Elders or Deacons, outside leaders, or a denominational entity, the remaining recourse is a public statement. In addition, what is being discussed herein covers not just immoral actions, but also unethical and possibly illegal actions as well. Effective accountability on all levels is imperative. Those responsible for the wounding must be exposed and stopped.
Distorted, Exploited Terms and Phrases
“We all just need to forgive.”
“Forgiveness” isn’t just pretending that toxic behaviors, abuses, crimes and other circumstances have not happened.
When someone has sinned, he or she needs to repent. That means acknowledging that what he or she did was wrong. Then, as John the Baptist said to the Pharisees, he should “bring forth fruits of repentance.” This is the changed life that makes restitution and shows that the person isn’t walking in the same way anymore.
When God said “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more,” (Jeremiah 31:34) He was referring to people who had changed hearts and lives.
This is what we look for in those who have engaged in harmful actions.
“We need to be loyal to _______. We need to submit to our God-given, God-ordained authorities. Rebellion is like witchcraft. God will punish you for speaking out against the man of God.”
The Bible doesn’t talk about loyalty; the Bible talks about love. We want to be loving Christians to do what God calls us to do, rather than simply being blindly loyal to a human being who may be leading us astray.
When God told Samuel that rebellion was like witchcraft, He was speaking about rebellion against God, not rebellion against a human leader. In following God, we may sometimes have to go directly against a human leader, if that human leader has gone astray.
After all, Jesus told us very clearly (Matthew 7:15-16) that vicious wolves would come into the flock, and the people of God are to be watching for them. Jesus said we would know them by their fruits. Obviously He didn’t want His people submitting to wolves.
The people of God need to know the real fruits of the lives of these leaders (the fruits of their private lives), then draw conclusions and make wise decisions.
“We’re all sinners. We all need grace and mercy because we all fail. We’re all hypocrites.”
Certainly we all need grace and mercy. But this statement implies that all sins are equal.
Even though any sin can and will separate us from God, some sins have far greater consequences on this earth, which is why they have greater punishments.
When Jesus rebuked the hypocrites in Matthew 7, He was rebuking a specific group of people, not everyone. We are not all hypocrites. Some people live for the praise of God rather than the praise of men. Some who seem to be close to God actually are close to God. Some people truly want to focus on what is really important to God rather than manmade rules. Some people act the same way in private as they do in public.
“We need to protect the Church as the emissary of Christ.”
Protecting the Church doesn’t mean covering for evil. We protect the church by getting evildoers out of her midst. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” (Ephesians 5:11-14a)
“People who make accusations like this are just bitter.”
When anyone shines light on the darkness and speaks truth into lies, then if you accuse them of bitterness, you had better accuse Jesus of the same thing.
“What you’re doing is gossip and is forbidden in scripture and I won’t listen to it. I won’t have any part of it.”
What is gossip, really? It is a “wagging tongue,” delighting in salacious bits of news, whether true or not.
We seek to speak truth about harmful behavior, taking no delight. It has been excruciatingly difficult, painful, and we do it only because the Church of Jesus Christ needs to be purified and wolves need to be exposed.
“Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.” (2 Timothy 4:14-15)
In as much as Paul speaks out about someone in the ministry who did him harm, so should Christians speak out about unhealthy, harmful Christians, Christian leaders, and Christian environments, as a warning for others. Bringing harmful behavior to light is not gossip.
“You’re just throwing _______ under the bus. You’re slandering and destroying their reputation.”
If an accusation against someone is true, then it is not slander (the definition of slander involves falsehood).
How can you determine if it is true?
Read and listen to the testimony. Look at the evidence. Don’t just dismiss it out-of-hand because the person being accused is someone you respect.
If a person has lived a double life or engaged in harmful behavior in secret, then their (deceptive) reputation needs to be destroyed. Everyone deserves to have a reputation that matches with his or her true character. Anything else is falsehood.
“Do church leaders really need to be financially transparent and accountable to their members? Shouldn’t we just trust them?”
“Accountability is crucial. The manner in which a church manages its finances should be completely transparent. A church should always be ready to demonstrate that the funds God has provided are being stewarded wisely. Financial scandals have destroyed or damaged countless churches. And, in most of those cases, there has been a lack of accountability and transparency.” (“How Transparent Should A Church’s Finances Be?”)
Many financial scandals of recent years at Christian organizations are a poignant reminder and warning that we simply cannot rely on the notion that church leaders will handle millions of dollars of donations with integrity. Moreover, it is the responsibility of every single donor and church member to find out and obtain information, such as detailed financial reports, outlining exactly where their money is going. For those who do not execute due diligence in this process, they become enablers in whatever wrongdoing is happening behind the scenes. Take action. Ask questions.
“We should pray and wait for God to work instead of taking any action.”
Biblical and historical precedents dictate otherwise. The evil workings of various public figures have come to light because the people of God exposed them. John the Baptist publicly exposed Herod. Jesus publicly exposed the Pharisees. Martin Luther publicly exposed the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church. There are multitudinous other examples.
Unless otherwise indicated, scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.