“Most beloved brethren, today is manifest in you what the Lord says in the Gospel, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.’ Unless the Lord God had been present in your spirits, all of you would not have uttered the same cry. For, although the cry issued from numerous mouths, yet the origin of the cry was one. Therefore I say to you that God, who implanted this in your hearts, has drawn it forth from you. Let this then be your war-cry in combats, because this word is given to you by God. When an attack is made upon the enemy, let this one cry be raised by all the soldiers of God: It is the will of God! It is the will of God!” 
This quote is pretty hardcore, isn’t it? Don’t you feel pumped up now? This quote probably makes you want to motorbike jump over a flaming sea of demon sharks while dropkicking Satan in the face — which was originally a scene they had to cut out from the movie War Room. Okay, so maybe I’m over-exaggerating.
The interesting thing about this quote is that it comes from Pope Urban II. Oh, and this is the speech that started the Crusades. The crowd he is speaking to will go on to murder lots of innocent people and needlessly destroy cities. As a result, in later Crusades, hundreds of children will be killed and sold into slavery. The Crusades are one of the go-to illustrations that people will use if they want to argue that religion is bad for the world. But man, that speech was still dope.
The thing is, looking back on history, we can see that this Pope was an evil dude, and we can tell that those who followed him were being manipulated. But, unfortunately, it is much harder to recognize when Christians in our own time might be manipulating us, lying to us, or taking advantage of us. So today, I really believe it’s important for me to highlight some of the ways pastors can manipulate you and turn Christians away from what God called us to do.
The three areas I will discuss are: prosperity, purity, and propaganda. And before I really get into this, I want to say one thing: “Trigger-warning.” Boom! I learned that trick in my college class: How to be a liberal snowflake 1301. After watching videos of Bernie Sanders, I learned that if I call out “trigger warning,” I can then say whatever I want. I feel untouchable. Now I can be as arrogant and cocky as I desire. I’m teasing. But really this might be a heavy subject, so know I’m not trying to attack you and please try to have an open mind.
One of the greatest threats facing the American church is a heresy called the “prosperity gospel” or, as it’s also called, the gospel of “wealth and health” or the “word of faith” movement. It’s essentially the idea that faithfulness to God will result in financial blessing. And what do these pastors mean by faithfulness to God? They mean donating your money to their church or ministry.
Usually, they take an obscure verse from like Leviticus or Deuteronomy way out context, and say this is a promise from God that if you donate money to their church, then you will receive more money or health from God. This is referred to as “seed faith.” Your donation to the pastor’s organization is like a seed that you plant, and they claim that this seed will grow until you reap an even bigger reward.
For example, I once watched a segment on Daystar’s TV channel. It was Benny Hinn featuring a man who claimed to have a revelation from the Holy Spirit. This revelation stated that 3,000 were going to “plant their seed” of a 1,000 dollar donation and would be over abundantly blessed by God in the areas of real estate, romance, and finances. Of course, like most of Daystar, it was complete bullcrap and also the easiest way to scam 3,000,000 dollars. Other than an obviously fake attempt at prophesying and Benny Hinn saying “Yes, Lord. It’s true!” the only evidence offered in support of this revelation was a few Old Testament passages taken way out of context. This is a more obvious form of manipulation because it’s on Daystar TV, so you can assume it’s a scam. But sometimes, the manipulation will come from a megachurch pastor and won’t be so easy to spot.
So another way pastors might try to get your money is by saying that if you do not offer tithes to his church, then you are under a curse. But people who do tithe are blessed by God and do not experience financial difficulty. They say that the whole reason God wants you to donate money is so God can bless you. And when you refuse to donate money to that church, you are robbing God of a blessing. All of this means that if you are faithful to God, then you will be wealthy. If you are poor and in bad health, it means you lack faith and are not a true follower of Christ.
Here’s what’s wrong with that picture. First of all, we ought to donate money to help the poor, not because we are selfish and want to get something for ourselves. Second, we have empirical evidence that this is not true. It’s called reality. Think of all the poor and starving Christians in Africa. They are poor because of social and natural conditions, not because they lack faith. And are we really going to say that all of the Christian slaves before the Civil War were living in horrible conditions because they didn’t have faith? Absolutely not. The slaves were better Christians than everyone living around them. It was the wealthy slave owners who weren’t following God. And finally, Jesus himself was poor! He was the most faithful follower of God ever, and yet he lived in poverty and was murdered.
So when pastors start preaching that God will bless you with money if you are faithful and donate to that pastor’s church, don’t believe them. Besides, most of the churches who teach this prosperity gospel are megachurches, which make millions of dollars. They don’t need your money, and if you gave it to them, it probably would just be spend on a third coffee bar. As Christians, we are called to donate money, but that money needs to go to the poor. So donate to charities that are actually helping the outcasts or to Christ-following churches that truly need the money.
The second area that pastors may manipulate you is using the Christian notion of purity. The idea of purity – of things being clean or unclean – is one of foundational elements of the way we humans think about morality and ethics. This is especially true for Christians because Christianity arose out of Judaism, which is based upon purity laws. You know, like the laws that say you can’t eat certain foods because it makes you unclean.
There is no problem of purity on its own, but pastors will apply these ideas in dangerous ways. We will decide – rightly or wrongly – that certain groups of people are unclean. I have a couple of examples; the first of which is emo culture.
Y’all probably know what emo kids are. Emo refers to a certain culture that has its own fashion, art, and music scene. Typically, they dress in a lot of black, have piercings everywhere, and listen to music that screams at you. Funny thing is: I actually get along really well with emo kids. I’ve made friends with several Hot Topic employees in my life, and usually the only girls who are romantically interested in me have giant holes in their ears.
A lot of these kids are funny, beautiful, kind, and artistic. And they are overjoyed when someone takes the time to truly understand what they are all about. Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that emo kids are, for the most part, not welcome in our churches. First of all, the interior design, the way we dress for church, and the music we sing are pretty much the opposite of anything an emo kid would like. But that’s not the main issue. The real problem is that we take our subjective ideas of fashion and art, and make them “God’s standard.” Emo kids are not really welcomed into our churches until they put away their skull t-shirt and piercings and dress in a brightly colored button-up shirt with slacks. You know, what Jesus wore.
And we push this narrative that everything they like is probably filled with demons because it is not as cheerful as Christians want. “Wow! You’re watching Tim Burton movies? Before you know it, you’ll be sacrificing goats to Satan.” This is the kind of narrative we construct. It’s a narrative that – whether we intend it or not – pushes these types of people away from our churches. They think they are not welcome. An example of this is tract I once saw. (Tracts are those leaflets handed out that find creative ways to tell you about how you will burn for eternity in Hell – often disguised as fake money).
Today’s “gospel-centered” story is about a rock band. (And yes, this is a real tract that Christians use to evangelize! ) A cool group of young teenagers wanted to form their own Christian rock band and were practicing in their local church. The pastor didn’t like that music, so he kicked them out early. The band was really bitter about this and thought if they could just get signed unto a record label then their band would become famous. Then, mysteriously from the shadows, a handsome businessman promises them the record label they were looking for. The band becomes famous and things take a nasty turn. Their lyrics become darker and aren’t so happy anymore. They get into drugs. Two of the band members become gay and start dating each other. Another band member gets really into vampirism. Then the two gay guys get AIDS and die. And on his deathbed, the lead singer realizes that the businessman who gave them the record label was Satan all along.
To summarize, if you join a rock band, you’ll turn gay, your best friend will turn into a vampire, and then Satan will kill you with AIDs. And of course, it is the occultists who are leading the rock music industry – the same ones controlling the Vatican and speaking to you on CNN, and they are the ones sending us to hell in our vampire coffins. And this explains all of the passages in scripture where Jesus was asked, “Lord, how might I inherit the kingdom of God?” And Jesus replied: “Put away your electric guitar and learn the organ.” Or like it says in the Apostles Creed: “Jesus ascended into heaven where he now sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty from which he shall come to remove every piercing from the metal band screamers.”
You see, we come up with these narratives that certain people are unclean, and it becomes an excuse for us to stay away from them. Churches will act like if you associate with those people, then you will become unclean yourself. And so we leave them alone and withhold the love of God from them. You know, because that’s what Jesus would do (sarcasm).
It’s not just with emo kids that we do this. They are only one example. In the magazine Christian Century, I read an interview with a transsexual, who said that she grew up believing the church hated her and did not want her. Then one day, and an LBGTQ pride parade, a church invited her to attend their service. She was shocked that somebody actually wanted her around. So she attended this church, and cried every Sunday for two months in a row because the gospel message she heard was so beautiful and was the thing she was looking for her whole life. Someone finally wanted her. That woman cares about church more than any of us. And yet, we are given a narrative saying that transsexuals are unclean, which is interpreted as “We shouldn’t interact with them.”
Transsexuals are a real trigger-point for Christians right now, and so I know what you are thinking. But understand that my point is to remind you to stay away from scapegoating people. To stop scapegoating does not mean you have to agree with everything other people do. You don’t have to love metal music or get your septum pierced. But it does mean that you actually try to see life through the other person’s perspective and figure out a way to bring them the love of Christ. (For a detailed description of the process of scapegoating, see: https://www.ravenfoundation.org/faqs/)
To a large extent, human society was formed and founded upon scapegoating other groups or individuals. Such is the case until this very day, and Christians can do this as well. Churches, for the most part, are now not designed to share the gospel with nonbelievers. Instead, they are usually established to attract more white Christians from other churches. Part of this design is by scapegoating other culture groups and blaming them for Christianity’s problems. This scapegoating process is accomplished through propaganda.
Propaganda is a word to describe misleading information that is used to promote a certain point of view. For example, some people will make up false stories saying that the Muslims in a certain town are evil and inciting violence against other people. Then this information will be spread across fake news websites in order to get people to hate Muslims. This fake news is propaganda. Christianity, whether you realize it or not, is throughout permeated and influenced by propaganda. But how do churches do this?
One of the ways to spread propaganda is to build an ideological system that serves the church’s own selfish interest and is based on fear. Remember how I mentioned the prosperity gospel earlier? Who benefits from those teachings? It’s the pastors because they make more money. So they will use propaganda to manipulate you into giving donating them money. They may say something like, “A tithe is 10 percent of your income. That belongs to God; it’s his money. So donate that money to my church for a year, and if you aren’t satisfied with the blessings God gives you, I’ll give all of your money back.” That’s nothing more than a clever marketing scheme, but pastors will say this to you.
Another way they use propaganda is through fear. They will try to make you afraid of another culture group, and then these churches will tell you that only they can save you from this enemy. For example, for the last eight years, so many Christians have said that the main thing wrong with this country is Barack Obama because he is the anti-Christ, an is leading a movement of liberals and homosexuals to destroy this country and destroy Christianity.
Do you see what this message does? It externalizes evil. The other groups are the bad ones, and they are persecuting us because we are good. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught us to do. First, he said, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:3). Second, as I mentioned yesterday, the bible teaches us to put an end to scapegoating.
It is true that the millennial generation is leaving church faster than any previous generation. But this is not the result of some war on religious freedom. In an article by Pew Research Center titled “Trends in Global Restrictions on Religion,” the Americas, which include the United States, are ranked last in the category of religious restrictions. Which means that compared to almost everyone else in the world, we have the most religious freedom. So if Christianity has problems, we don’t need to blame Obama or Hillary Clinton, we need to look at ourselves. We have to be willing to face our own flaws and understand that it is our fault why so many millennials are leaving the church.
Manipulative pastors will be active participators in scapegoating rather than following their Christian duty to show mercy and overcome through the love of Christ. Their goal will also be to create a false reality. I hear pastors give false information all of the time. It can be interwoven throughout their message to point where I have a hard time trusting anything they say. One major problem for this is that our pastors don’t receive enough education – or if they do receive an education, it’s often from a seminary that isn’t credible and is known for false teachings (like Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas).
Being under a pastor who creates a false reality is dangerous. You will believe that you are being persecuted when you are not. You will believe you are under attack when you are not. You will be taught that certain issues are a matter of salvation when they are not a matter of salvation. You will believe that the point of Christianity is having a certain political belief rather than, as Jacques Ellul said, “bringing forgiveness of sin to people in their anguish, uneasiness, exasperation, guilt, self-accusation, despair, withdrawal, and loneliness” .
Don’t let manipulative pastors lure you into their fake realities. That’s going to be their goal. They will create a false world not based on facts. Then their teachings will be influenced by and built upon the assumptions of this fairy world. The more this fairy world influences the church, the more irrelevant we become to actually dealing with reality in any meaningful sense. How they act — whether they intend to or not — is to mold and shape you within a worldview that is distant from the real world. And this is incredibly dangerous because if you are not attached to facts and reality, you will not know how to properly navigate life. But instead of accepting facts, manipulative pastors and church people will continually feed you false information. Instead of knowing how you can be a servant of God, you will be stuck in La La Land, and not the good kind where Ryan Goslin sings to you.
 Jesus and Marx: From Gospel to Ideology by Jaques Ellul