Leaders sometimes use gaslighting to wield power against someone else or maintain power or authority. Although most Christians aren't familiar with the term gaslighting, as it’s a term most counselors use, gaslighting is a form of abuse.
Church is messy. Christians sometimes do or say things that cause someone else to become offended. Christians who are offended by another church member should go through the process of Matthew 18 to resolve the dispute.
But if that church member doesn't listen, it's important for the church member to go to a leader to have them intervene. It is equally as important to address the church leader if you have a concern with their moral conduct or theological views that they express either in public or private.
However, leaders just like church members can lack the emotional maturity to take accountability for their actions.
To save face or seek the approval of others, some gaslight these members into believing their concern is invalid or unnecessary. What is gaslighting, and what should a Christian do if a church leader gaslights them?
Gaslighting is defined, according to Merriam-Webster, as “psychological manipulation of a person, usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one's emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”
Some examples of gaslighting might be:
- Denial of behavior
- Pretending conversations never happened
- Words and actions do not match
- Minimizing or ignoring behavior
Leaders sometimes use gaslighting as a tool to wield their power against someone else or maintain power or authority. Although most Christians aren't familiar with the term gaslighting, as it’s a term most counselors use, gaslighting is a form of abuse.
It is an abuse of power, and it is also a form of mental abuse. What could Christians do if they feel a leader is gaslighting them?
1. Confront Them Directly
Even if the leader's behavior is far from approachable, it is important to confront them directly. However, it is important to have a witness with you to make sure words are not twisted or manipulated to make you look like you're wrong.
Be clear in your complaint and express what they are doing and why they are doing it. Sometimes leaders don't know what they're doing. It is important for you and Christian to go and point that fold out to them.
Matthew 18:15-17 says, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
2. Report Them to an Authority
If he does not want to hear what you have to say, it is best to go to the authorities above them. If they are part of a denomination, most denominations have a leader or someone who is above them that oversees their church.
Tell the overseer what is going on and provide evidence if necessary. If you can, keep your correspondence in writing so that you can provide this evidence to the overseer if necessary.
If interactions are by phone, get permission to record the phone calls and then hand them over to the overseer as well.
3. Leave the Church
It may be best to leave the church entirely if you've gone through all the proper channels and no one addresses your concerns. Although it won't help you recover from the abuse you've suffered, it's always best to remove yourself from a toxic situation.
You can let the leader know of your departure and the reasons behind it. Let them know to remove your membership if you are a member of the church.
4. Seek Help
Seek the help of a counselor to help you get past the emotional and psychological abuse. Although Romans 12:18 makes it clear that “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” God never wants us to endure abusive people, words, or actions to make us question our own reality.
God is the God of truth. If someone doesn't listen to the truth, it is best for your overall well-being to leave the situation. The council is an unbiased opinion that can help you see the situation from a different perspective.
They will be able to give you tips and strategies on how to deal with the negative emotions associated with the events. It will also give you advice on how to go through the process of forgiveness.
Although you may not feel like forgiving someone based on their actions, we are commanded in Scripture to forgive others just as Christ has forgiven us. When we forgive someone, we release ourselves from the anger, and the hurt someone else's actions cause us.
We also give the other person the gift of the freedom Christ gave us through his death on the cross. Forgiveness not only releases the offender, but it also releases the offended as well.
5. Don’t Gossip
While it is tempting to gossip to other friends and family about the situation, especially those who are in that same church situation, don't make the situation worse by gossiping. It only breeds dissension and disunity within the body.
It will not help the situation, and although it may feel like it may make you feel better in the short term, it will only destroy relationships in the long term. Allow your friends to make the decision to either stay in the situation or leave.
You don't have to lie if friends ask you why you left, but you should never counsel them to leave simply because you're disgruntled. God does not want us to resort to retaliatory measures to even the score.
What Does This Mean?
Gaslighting is a form of abuse that has been allowed (and even accepted) for many years. For Christians to become more self-aware and take the necessary steps to love themselves as Christ loves them but also to love the other person, they must establish firm boundaries and make sure gaslighting never happens again.
It is important to point out this as soon as it is occurring so that the other person may be restored. If the leader chooses not to change their behavior or acknowledge their actions, it may be best to leave the situation altogether.
Report them to the authorities above them and seek the necessary help you need to release yourself from the abuser and continue to walk in freedom as in Christ Jesus.
For further reading:
Who Holds Pastors Accountable?
Why Do People Stop Going to Church?
othing.html">What Are Modern Examples of a ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’?
What Does Matthew 18 Say about Conflict Resolution Within the Church?
Why Is Shame Connected to the Church?
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Michelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website www.michellelazurek.