An Awful Power

She was lonely and grieving. She came to the revival because she needed… something

The speaker noticed the attractive blonde sitting by herself in the crowd, eyes wide and glistening, and her head bobbing at everything he said.  He caught her eye again and again during the sermon, staring just a beat longer than necessary. 

When he gave his invitation he said, “The Holy Spirit has a special word for someone tonight.” (She nodded).  “This person has been waiting a long time to hear from God.” (nod, nod). “This person has been separated from God because of SIN, but tonight is her time to RELEASE all that holds her back.” (nod, stifled sob).

Then he stepped off the podium and slowly walked up the aisle, pointing his finger at my friend.

“Sister!” he continued with building volume, “Won’t you allow the Spirit of the Lord to enter in and make his dwelling in your heart?”

Tears streamed down her face as she cried, “Yes, Yes, Oh yes!”

Then he did that thing that Pentecostal ministers do where he placed his hand on her forehead and she collapsed.  Two big deacons had placed themselves behind her and caught her as she fell.   The preacher moved onto his next victim.

Nothing mystical or spiritual happened here. The preacher’s practiced eye had seen a vulnerable person and to make the show more dramatic he took advantage.

It’s a form of rape.

In addition to vulnerable ones like her, shills placed throughout the audience are cued to fall at the preacher’s touch. Then the power of suggestion takes over and plenty of people will keel over, too. They have no idea they are being manipulated.  

It happens every Sunday in churches all over the world. 

I’m frustrated that people allow themselves to be so easily controlled. And it makes me angry that someone would use the pulpit to manipulate and brutalize others.   

When I was a pastor I never practiced that “faith healing” crap. I was always aware of the power people gave me and I tried not to harm them.  I didn’t scream, accuse, or manipulate people. I didn’t claim any special word from on high. And I didn’t let the music go on and on, holding the church hostage until someone came forward to be “saved.”

Yet even with my muted style, I could see people looking at me, waiting for a holy message to make them feel less desperate. It disturbed me to be given so much power.

Want to know a secret? I used to feel inadequate and embarrassed that I got so few responses from my sermons. But now I’m glad I was a failure.

I was never comfortable taking on the “Man of God” role, showing a confidence I didn’t feel, demonstrating a faith that was never so firm as my voice.  I hoped one day to grow into it the role but instead I grew out of it. It only took me thirty-five years.

I have many minister friends who are humble and want only to help.  But the culture in which we function compels us to wield way too much power where people will accept anything we say without critical examination. It’s one of the dynamics that allows many religious leaders to get caught up in scandal.  

I still want to help those who are lonely and grieving but now I do it as one person to another, with no magic tricks, no gimmicks, and no power trips.   

4 thoughts on “An Awful Power

  1. I often think that people need the golden cows of familiar ritual and false leadership.I remember a famous man whom I dislike, telling us watching him on television that God is never wrong. (I believe that.) God knows everything past and future. (I believe that also.) This man caused a hurricane to turn away from the east coast with the power of prayer. (I did not believe that one.) God told him that he was going to be elected president of our country. I did not believe that one either but many people did. The man is still as famous as ever, still just as popular. Two plus two cannot be added up to equal seven, but we want that when we need seven as an answer. Either God was wrong or the man was and we still insist that both were correct. When we are lame and sick, our minds need a dramatic punch in the head that will heal us. We rationalize about the thief on the cross. He was there, we are not. We can only be helped if we sip the wine, eat the wafer, talk to the statuette and have the help of some divinely inspired leader. In short, we have to earn it. The exact opposite of the message of grace, but that is what we believe. We want and need to give you this power over us. Maybe it means that we are not responsible when our prayers fail. Maybe it means that God is not at fault either, only that our leader was not as strong as needed This is the one thing that stopped me from entering the clergy. I may not have abused that power by running for office, but I knew I would have messed it up somehow. I’ve known too few good preachers, but some. I can only thank you and them for having a strength that I did not have, do not have now, and that so many others do not possess either.

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    1. What do you make of the Near Death Experiences (NDE) where people meet a being of pure light and pure love who accepts them completely? And the life reviews that so many people
      recount – where they see, feel and experience all the things they did and how those things affected the people in their lives? People who experience an NDE often come back dramatically changed. Is it sinply “Religion” you don’t believe in? Or do you believe there is no soul, no spirit, no eternity? No after life?

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      1. E.R: NDEs are indeed numerous and powerful for those who experience them and I would never want to minimize or discount them. It makes sense to me that they would alter a person’s life after experiencing them. However, people’s lives are almost always altered after being near death, wouldn’t you say? As to explaining these experiences, I think we’re all still in the speculative stage–we don’t know how or why they occur. Do they prove we have souls? That there is am afterlife? No, they don’t.

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