What’s Wrong with Influencing?

What’s Wrong with Influencing? January 16, 2024

What’s Wrong with Influencing?

What's Wrong with Influencing?

It is common, in certain branches of Christianity, for pastors to openly mobilize their congregants to “influence the influencers.” They cloak it in a gospel message, but their tactics are as old as Constantine (4th Century) and the early Christian church. The Roman Emperor made special concessions to the church and its leaders and even developed a new Christian city (Constantinople) which glorified mostly the leader. Eventually, Christians became comfortable fighting Rome’s battles instead of following the non-violent Christian ways of Jesus. What’s Wrong with Influencing?

It’s very clear, in early church history, that leaders began to fear losing control of their followers. Even though Jesus and some of their Scriptures said, “Fear not,” they slowly moved toward a different gospel that emphasized control. The emperors were able to capitalize on their fears and provide them with positions of power (aka “influence”).

Modern-day Christian activists dream of infiltrating all layers of government, right down to the school and planning boards of their local communities. It sounds logical to them because it is often preceded by the typical fear-based sermon that demands “Something needs to be done about it!” Jesus certainly spoke truth to power (which we might translate as protesting). But, he never encouraged his followers to move into positions of leadership so that they would have the votes to force people to agree with them.

What Jesus seemed to be encouraging HIS congregants to do is to change the world by loving other humans, not manipulating them through power and control.

In the U.S., the most extreme examples of this error are the White Nationalists who promote a type of theocracy that has consistently failed throughout history and cost the world millions of lives (many of them believers).

Leadership may be influence, but the type of influence matters.

So, what’s wrong with influence?

It Proceeds From the Wrong Motives

If you are attending a local church, I encourage you to listen closely to the next sermon you hear. Record the message or make sure you get an unedited version. Is there a fearful undertone especially in the early parts of the message? Does it insist on creating an “other” to be against or opposed to? Does it focus on exaggerations like “we have to SAVE our country,” “time is running out,” or “our enemies are winning?”

Preachers are similar to politicians and salespeople. They have learned the subtle nuances and benefits of injecting fear into the pitch so that they can sell you their solution.

It Pursues the Wrong Goals

Jesus repeatedly insisted that his followers not “lord over” (control) others, yet because they let fear get the better of them, they have been doing it ever since. It is sobering to realize, when we become adults, that we cannot ultimately change people or even control them. Control and forced change only promote things like dictators, monarchies, and the abuse that follows. Jesus and other thinkers knew this and repeatedly warned us about it.

Controlling my yard with unnatural methods destroys the soil and causes more expense to keep it in that unnatural state. Ruthlessly controlling my children produces trauma, enables abuse, and ultimately harms and stunts their growth. High-control religion accomplishes exactly the opposite of what is beneficial to humans. Statistics are piling upthe fear and control of various religions in the United States have devastated the followers and only benefited the leaders.

Everyone imagines this as some other group. But every day, we learn more—and it’s not good news for organized religion. Before you dismiss this by mumbling that your church is different, I challenge you to consider it deeply if you care about people. Even the progressives and deconstruction circles are culpable.

It Promotes the Wrong People

When the goal is “we have to get our people in positions of power” or “we have to influence those in power,” we end up with leaders like Marjorie Taylor Green, Jim Bob and Josh Dugger, and Lauren Bobert. We value them essentially for their narrow beliefs and their ability to intimidate. I don’t respect any of these people because they boldly proclaim Jesus, but completely ignore many things he said.

I challenge you to evaluate your leaders based on the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5). Does your favorite leader embody love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?  Or are they simply a bully that you hope will help your party, group, or religious affiliation get what they want?

It Produces the Wrong Results

The Fear and Control model has never produced the right results. It gives us weak followers—It promotes and protects narcissistic abusers—It demands more and more control—It can never be satisfied. I continue to be amazed at how political and religious groups demand our resources and our volunteer labor, only to create trauma, enable disorder, and move us further from noble goals.

In the United States, we don’t have to imagine how this turns out. We know the result of what Constantine began 1700 years ago. Not only can we count the bodies of the wars, police actions, and conflicts, but we can witness the shit show live on television in the “sacred” halls of Congress. Organized religion’s trauma body count increases exponentially, while narcissistic leaders protect their platform and their power differentials.

It always sounds like a good idea to seize power or control others, but it always turns out to be the wrong approach, so let’s pause and choose a better path.

It’s hard to prescribe a universal solution because everything is nuanced and diverse and situations demand creativity and communication. But I assume we already know some of the answers like “love your neighbor,” “treat people like you want to be treated,” and “don’t fear excessively or lord (control) others”. While we are at it, let’s just eliminate the other from our vocabulary instead of trying to exterminate them in one way or another.

Be where you are, be who you are, be at peace!

Karl Forehand

See next blog: What’s Wrong With God’s Plan And Purpose?

Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Out into the Desert, Leaning Forward,  Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart, The Tea Shop and Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authenticity.  He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast and community.  He is married to his wife Laura of 35 years and has one dog named Winston.  His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply! You can read more about the author here.

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