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ARE YOU BEING MANIPULATED AT CHURCH?


One of the reasons why some people offer resistance as far as being plugged into a local Church and being committed, especially financially or in submitting to spiritual authority, revolves around the issue of the fear of hatred of manipulation and abuse. That's fair. Nobody wants to be manipulated or taken for a ride. And, to be fair, there has been too many incidents, reported and unreported, documented and undocumented, of manipulation in the Church.

From individuals to wholesale communities, spiritual manipulation has wreaked havoc throughout history, resulting in the unfortunate consequence of many throwing out the baby with the bath water, so to speak. But what exactly is manipulation? What shape and form does it take? How can we identify it and weed it out? To manipulate is to negotiate, control or influence someone or something for one’s own advantage.

Spiritual manipulation is a technique used by some abusive churches and cults to control individuals and acquire gain, all the while giving the impression that their teachings are based on the Bible.

Some religious groups take Scriptures out of context in order to support their beliefs. They isolate “proof texts” and “cherry pick” verses to persuade the uninformed that their interpretation is right, even to the extent of claiming they alone have “the truth” and everybody else is wrong. Some have even altered the Bible and produced their own translation to support their religious bias.

Some denominations use scholastic dishonesty to manipulate.

They will use partial quotations from first-century Christians and eminent Bible scholars in suggesting that they agree with their views. Take, as an example, the booklet “Should You Believe in the Trinity?,” published by the Watchtower Society. Page 7 includes a partial quote from Justin Martyr: “Justin Martyr, who died about 165 C.E., called the prehuman Jesus a created angel who is ‘other than the God who made all things.’ He said that Jesus was inferior to God and ‘never did anything except what the Creator . . . willed him to do and say.’” What’s missing from this partial quotation is significant. Justin Martyr said that the “Son, who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.” Nowhere did Justin Martyr say the pre-human Jesus was a created angel.

Some individuals manipulate Scripture for their own personal benefit. An authoritarian husband might demand that his wife submit to him as the head of the house and quote Ephesians 5:22 (“Wives, submit to your husbands”).

But that same man might purposefully overlook verse 26, which says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Instead of taking the bits of Scripture he approves of and using them to lord it over his family, he would do well to read 1 Corinthians 13 and practice the type of love that is patient, kind, protects, trust and perseveres, etc.

During a conversation between Christians, someone might say, "The Lord has told me that. . . ." This phrase essentially shuts down the conversation because it implies that, since God has spoken a word, there can't be any further discussion. Don't be fooled by this trick; it is a form of spiritual manipulation.

This is the personal favorite of modern false prophets. Coupled with their magnetic personalities and charisma, once they claim that God told them this or that, their devout followers just lap it up! Or a preacher says, "Sow into my ministry, and God will repay you. I am good soil. Sow, and you will reap! God is no man's debtor." Could such preaching simply be an exploitive appeal for money? Is the preacher trying to influence people for his own financial advantage? If so, it is spiritual manipulation.



Another form of spiritual manipulation occurs when abusive churches and cults twist Scripture to give more authority to the leadership and keep the members under their control. One example is the use of Hebrews 13:17 as a basis for demanding unquestioning loyalty and obedience to the leaders. Some religious groups view questioning the leaders as tantamount to questioning God. Some leaders claim to have divine authority and approval; thus, to disobey them is to disobey God.

This is perhaps the most pernicious form of spiritual manipulation, and it has no place in a true church.

Victims of spiritual manipulation seldom realize what’s happening to them. Here are some indicators of a spiritually manipulative church:

Legalism
Demands for obedience
Unquestioning submission
Punishment (loss of privileges, shunning or expulsion)
Misplaced loyalty
Emphasis on performance
Exclusivism (“We alone are right, and everybody else is wrong.”)
Isolation (refusal to associate with anyone but spiritual brothers and sisters)
Humiliation of the "disobedient"

Abusive churches train members to block out any information that is critical of the group.

With enough thought and information control, the leaders can get those under their control to defend their new identity against their former identity. The first line of defense is denial – “What you say isn’t happening at all.” Next comes rationalization – “This is happening for a good reason.” After that, justification – “This is happening because it ought to.” Finally, wishful thinking – “I’d like it to be true, so maybe it really is.”



A characteristic of spiritually abusive systems is that a misplaced sense of loyalty is fostered and even demanded. This is not about loyalty to Christ, but about loyalty to an organization, church or leader. Because authority is assumed or legislated, following that authority must also be legislated. This is accomplished by setting up a system where disloyalty or disagreement with the leadership is construed as disobeying God.

Questioning leaders is not allowed. After all, the leader is the authority, and authority is always right. Such spiritual manipulation denies the truth of Ephesians 1:22, which says that Christ is the Head of the church. Our loyalty is due Him.

All Christians need to be alert to spiritual manipulation and follow this example from Acts 17:11,  “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Did the apostle Paul take offense when the Bereans researched to ensure that his preaching was based on Scripture? Of course not, because Paul knew his preaching would stand up under exhaustive scrutiny. Likewise with all teaching and preaching – we must hold it up to the light of God’s Word before we accept it. Any religious group that prevents its members from doing independent research, or from challenging what the leadership says, must have something to fear.



Jesus told His disciples they would be like sheep among wolves and instructed them to be “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). The Master’s yoke is easy, and His burden is light. He gives us rest and is gentle and humble in heart (Matthew 11:28-29). That is the Christlike example all who shepherd Jesus’ flock must exemplify. It's easy to be spiritually abusive. Sometimes this abuse may not necessarily come from a malicious heart. But we must always remember that some of the most heinous crimes against humanity have been done with the best of intentions.

What is abuse? It doesn't differ much from manipulation. To “abuse” is to use something or someone to bad effect or for a bad purpose, especially regularly or repeatedly. Spiritual abuse happens when a spiritual authority, such as a cult leader or abusive pastor, seeks to control individuals and ensure obedience. Spiritual abuse is closely associated with spiritual manipulation and is not God's plan for promoting spiritual growth.


A spiritually abusive group might claim that they are God’s sole channel of communication and that they alone can rightly interpret God’s Word. They might claim that salvation depends upon belonging to their church and that, since God speaks through them alone, there can be no further discussion on what the leaders say. Or the leaders might point to God’s blessing on their work—proved by increased baptisms, perhaps—and push members to contribute more generously to their expansion programs. Pushing for more money, promising that God will repay, and piling on guilt can be signs of covert abuse.



Abusive groups also place great emphasis on performance-related works—attending every meeting; volunteering to help at local, regional, and national events; and devoting required minimum amounts of time to proselytizing. Members are constantly reminded that the end of this wicked system of things is imminent and so there is very little time left to spread the “good news.” Everyone must do more in the advancement of “God’s work.”

The dedication of each member is tracked and measured by the amount of time, effort, and money he or she gives to the cause. If an individual’s efforts begin to slip below expectations, it will be noticed.

Spiritual abuse can occur when church or cult leaders misuse Scripture to bolster their own authority and keep their members under their thumb. For example, as stated earlier, spiritual authority may use Hebrews 13:17 (“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority”) to demand blind loyalty and unthinking obedience.

A leader might say, “God has given me authority over you; thus, to disobey me is to disobey God.” If members grow uneasy and think about leaving, all the leader has to do is say, “If you leave this group, you will never go to heaven, because only we have the truth.” This type of manipulation is appalling, but it occurs more often than one might think. Our loyalty is due Christ, the Head of the church (Ephesians 1:22), not a particular organization, church, or leader.

Cults and abusive churches pre-emptively insulate members from any information critical of the group. Members are taught early on to be skeptical of any negative report about the group and that the biased media only lies about them.

These “lies” are identified as a form of persecution, which “proves” they must be the one true religion. So, for example, if journalists report on leaders who have been found guilty of child abuse, the organization simply tells its members they cannot believe anything the newspapers say about them—it’s all lies and smears. If simple denial doesn’t work, they move on to rationalization and wishful thinking. Spiritually abusive leaders can become so adept at thought and information control that those under their sway will actually defend their new identity over their former identity.

The more committed to the abusive church a person becomes, the more isolated he becomes from non-members, and the more he fears punishment if he tries to leave. Some people, after a lifetime of emotional investment in a religious group, simply do not know how they could survive if they left.

They have no friends other than their fellow church members. They may have cut off contact with family members. They probably have no interests (social or intellectual) outside of their group. Such is their fear of being ostracized that many stay put, keeping their misgivings to themselves.

Jonestown survivor (where notorious cult leader, Reverend Jim Jones ordered mass suicide resulting in the deaths of over 900 people) Deborah Layton wrote, “When our own thoughts are forbidden, when our questions are not allowed and our doubts are punished, when contacts and friendships outside of the organization are censored, we are being abused for an end that never justifies its means.

When our heart aches knowing we have made friendships and secret attachments that will be forever forbidden if we leave, we are in danger. When we consider staying in a group because we cannot bear the loss, disappointment and sorrow our leaving will cause for ourselves and those we have come to love, we are in a cult” (Seductive Poison. New York: Anchor Books, 1998, page 299).

Peter warned us that “there will be false teachers among you” (2 Peter 2:1). As he described these false teachers, Peter points to their propensity to abuse their followers: “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories” (verse 3), or as the KJV puts it, “They [shall] with feigned words make merchandise of you.”

Those who would attempt to use the Word of God to take advantage of the church are greedy liars, and they will bring divine retribution upon themselves: “Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (verse 3).

Jesus’ yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Those who claim to speak for Jesus today should not be placing heavier burdens on people than Jesus would. A pastor is to be a shepherd.

Shepherds who abuse the flock can expect severe punishment when the Lord returns: “He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. . . . From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:46-48). With privilege comes responsibility, and those spiritual wolves who abuse their authority will have to answer to God for the harm they have done.

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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