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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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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Opinions

Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022
Craig-Cloud

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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