Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Peace Game

My friend Julie graciously invited me to write about this subject on her blog about 18 months ago. With a lot of ground covered between then and now, and more of my own religious addictions having been dealt with since then (hopefully), I want to revisit the issue and give a concise explanation of what I mean when I refer to "the Peace Game", which is a powerful weapon in the arsenal of authoritarians in fundamentalist belief systems.

Before we continue...Not everything that happens in your life is "God's will". Your choices matter. You aren't a puppet on a string being manipulated by the great authoritarian in the sky. God gave you free will, and the responsibility to use it wisely. I mention this because "God's will" often comes into play in the course of the Peace Game. The subject of "God's will" is something I'll probably write a bit on in the near future, being it's something that needlessly causes Christians in fungelical land so much stress.

The widespread implementation of the Peace Game within authoritarianism traces largely to the tactics of the Shepherding movement (with its heavy emphasis on the disciplee being in submission to the discipler), although I'm sure it's been around in some fashion as long as religion itself. What makes it such a handy thing for spiritual abusers is its stealthy, sneaky nature - controlling the choices of the people under them without ever directly telling them what to choose.

If you're an underling within the system - whether a QD (or a QS) within P/QF, a child of the Christian homeschooling movement, or just what amounts to a newbie in a Shepherding influenced or type of church (such as Sovereign Grace, IFB, et cetera) - you're expected to "seek counsel" on all of the major stuff (and sometimes the minor stuff) in your life, from jobs, to relationships/marriage, to church or spiritual matters. In this example, person 1 is "in submission" to the "spiritual authority" of person 2...

Person 1: I'd really like to do so and so.
Person 2: Hmmm...I don't really have peace about that. You need to pray about it some more.

Now to most of us, it's clear what's gone on there. Person 2 has clearly told person 1 "No!" But... to a person beaten into submission by fear-based, authoritarian, fundamentalist doctrines, this sets off a hurricane's worth of insecurity, instability, fear, concern, shame, guilt, you name it. It wasn't an outright "no", and surely this person who's supposed to care so much about their spiritual life wouldn't manipulate them (or so they think). So, they "seek the will of God" about it, and pray fervently. The distress caused by person 2's answer is now translated as a lack of peace within person 1's own heart about the issue. Thoughts such as these begin to emerge...

"If this were God's will for my life, person 2 would have peace about it, wouldn't they?"
"Why doesn't person 2 have peace about this? Why don't I have peace about this?"
"There must be something wrong with this? There must be something with me?"

This leads to almost desperate prayer, which often looks like this...

"God, this is obviously not your will for my life. I'm a sinner, and I've sinned. Can you forgive me?"

Person 2 manipulates, successfully, the outcome they wanted all along, having never technically said "no", while person 1 genuinely believes they've heard from God and made their own choice when they've done neither. Person 2 has successfully made "peace" the personal standard for person 1 in determining "God's will", when "God's will" is actually nothing more than their own will, and the only "peace" achieved in the scenario is the weight of needless guilt and turmoil over person 2's initial lack of "peace" being removed from person 1.

Person 2 also reaps the additional benefit of person 1 now being even more unstable, malleable, and reliant on person 2. Each successive time it gets a little easier to manipulate, as person 2 continually fosters instability and discovers more and more of person 1's buttons. "You need to pray about it some more" will from now on mean "You haven't heard from God until you agree with me" to person 1's conscience, and person 1 is completely oblivious to it.

This is a basic breakdown of the Peace Game. It has lots of little ins and outs that I haven't even touched in this post, but it typically follows a pattern similar to the one above. A lot of you have probably been on the receiving end of it. My ex certainly was. Her disappearance was the result of her need to "hear from God about us", when in actuality it was a reindoctrination session and her opportunity to arrive at the same conclusions as the people poisoning her. Once she'd done this, they lifted the pressure of instability, insecurity, uncertainty, and backhanded condemnation they'd been applying, and presto - she'd "heard from God" about our relationship, aka, "found peace".

Decisions shouldn't be made from "peace" any more than God's will can be determined by "peace". Decisions should be made based upon right or wrong - even if the right decision causes you a world of distress or hurt, which it often will.

Few things of true merit and value come easily or peacefully. Those of you who've found your freedom can certainly attest to this.


  1. Just to be clear...

    Not every person who uses this ploy does so for sinister reasons. I'd dare to say that most people who use it are doing what they think is their "godly" duty.

  2. Awesome post. I wish understanding this could be achieved by reading it. :-P Err, that is, I wish explaining it so well could lead to people understanding it. I especially love the last sentence in your second to last paragraph, "Decisions should be made based upon right or wrong."

  3. Amen, if only people realized that their choices matter! If we didn't have free will and everything was controlled by God, then every time we sinned, it would be God's 'fault'! Ridiculous of course.

    We can choose to do God's will and we can choose not to do God's will - it really is as simple as that.

  4. It can go even deeper than comes right down to being image bearers of God. As bearers of His image, we have been given the ability to, like Christ: create, decide, take action, wield spiritual power, bear the Good News to all creation, heal, reconcile...etc, etc. Our very nature in Christ naturally goes against every religious system set up to control and dominate people. Now, when someone tells another person, another image bearer, that they cannot be free to choose or that they do not have the authority that they DO have to make their own decisions about life, and that person listens, it damages something important inside that person. The part of them that, like God, has authority. Hierarichal systems that are bent upon subservience, power, and control, cannot bear it when people are who they are meant to be, simply because one who cannot be controlled diminishes their power and sense of importance. And someone who knows who they are in Christ is much less likely to be manipulated like in the way Lewis describes in his article.
    Sarah K

  5. What a great article! There is another game closely related to the "peace"game, played by the real high rollers- the "Lord spoke to me" game. Surely some of you have played this one (or had it played on you!)

    I believe that God's will governs things- but I also believe 100% in our free will and the need and ability to make choices bases on our imperfect ability to discern what is best. I think BOTH concepts are true, but neither is correct without the other side of the coin. No theologian can explain how these seemingly opposed forces both work, side by side, but I think they do. These ideas don't go over well with simplistic fundy thinking that hates open ended, unresolved questions- or any questions, for that matter!

    Clearly the peace game is often played by well meaning people, but sometimes not- and in either case, the result is intimidation and the shutting down of any ability to function as a whole, thinking, feeling human being. I have close friends who suffer in making ANY kind of decision because they are afraid that it will not be "within God's will" and He will gleefully punish them if they pick door #1 instead of door #2. What kind of Father is that?

    Now, I have seen disasters happen in the lives of people who think they are following "God's will". Does that mean He doesn't care? I don't think so. I think it's because Christians want to believe that if they follow their "authorities" and the simplified formulas they espouse, that everything will turn out like a fairy tale. If it doesn't, that is further proof that somehow we didn't pray enough or seek enough counsel on the matter.

    I think of this as almost a Ouija Board kind of theology. I knew a lady once who could not get a 4 Wheel drive vehicle (they lived on a cliff) because a preacher told her husband not to give in to her fears. No consideration that she was a well educated, sensible woman. No, the preacher just "had a word" from God, so all other considerations were out the window.

    Well, sorry to digress, but I get ballistic about this one- I've seen first hand what this spooky Christian game can do. We need to grow up and use our minds and confess that sometimes life here on earth is a big bloody mess whether or not someone had "peace". Peace and the Lord's will are used in hindsight every time someone crashes and burns as a means of gaining further control over them. What oppression!

  6. Sounds like the base of it is bringing too many other people into one's decision-making and relying on what they think instead of relying on oneself. We can sure pray about our decisions and look for "peace," but it has to be our own, between us and the Lord, not something given to us by someone else.

  7. I can top that: the older sibling of the peace tactic: the "you need to hear audibly from God on this" tact. This effectively makes the desired status quo the default, the one you don't need to hear from God on, and the decision the non-authority figure wants is the one under scrutiny.
    My mother used that one against me when we came to my parents to ask for their blessing on our future marriage.

  8. @Laura: "What kind of Father is that?"

    Michael Pearl.

    --Jenny Islander

  9. Anise, I got the same response from my parents, only it was in relation to whether or not I should go to college. "Wait on the Lord," I was told,"and He will tell you what to do." I wasn't allowed to anything but live at home until I heard the voice of the Lord telling me otherwise, which I of course never did hear. Instead I hearkend to the voice of my stepfather.

  10. When my engagement became known, lots of my P/QF friends told me how I needed to submit myself to a church, my parents, etc., to make the decision to get married. Horror stories of girls getting married and not working out (and ending up with abusive husbands) were thrown around, and most everyone in certain circles said I just didn't know what I was doing. "Don't trust your heart, you need to talk with godly people in a church/your parents about this."
    Needless to say, they made me feel awful, though I wasn't moved.
    I find it interesting is that the church people begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem, even prophesying with the belt tied around his hands to show what would befall him there.
    Good post. I need to come here more often. I've thought about starting a new, anonymous blog, but I'm afraid it would just be anger coming out and not be something appropriate to write anywhere on the web. So thanks for doing a good job :)

  11. My husband and I made an agreement early in our marriage that if we strongly disagreed on a direction to take - that we BOTH went back to our prayer corners, and would come back and commit to keep talking until we were in agreement. Neither of us felt it was appropriate to assume the other were NOT hearing from God - we pursued God's will in personal prayer, and talked out our personal thoughts/fears. It is the personal fears, perceptions and beliefs that often rise within our mind and keep us from really "hearing" what God has to say.
    What a toll on a reallly deep, meaningful relationship - how crippled I would be to truly "help" my husband to rise to his potential if he felt entitled, even obligated, to dismiss my thoughts, impressions and intuition.

  12. Lewis, have you ever read "Good News For Anxious Christians: 10 Things You Don't Have To Do"? I don't remember who the author is, but this book is amazing. Although it's not dealing with the extreme fundamental side of Christian, it tackles some of these very issues and shows how they are playing out in the lives of even mainstream Christians.

    He talks about the need to recognize our own free will and not wait around for God to give us a "feeling" about every decision. He discusses how the Bible reveals much of God's will, yet Christians still act like God's revealed will can only be found through special feelings in prayer time.

    I think it's worth pointing out that this kind of fearful dithering over big choices is something we've been taught even in mainstream churches. I went through a period of depression a few years ago when I found many problems in my life and was unsure which ones I was "allowed" to improve, and which ones were God's will that he wanted me to stew in indefinitely.

    Once I gained a healthier view of my own choices, and how God's guidance actually works, much of my depression lifted and my walk with God became much more vivacious. I think this is an important message for all.

  13. Lewis said:

    Decisions shouldn't be made from "peace" any more than God's will can be determined by "peace". Decisions should be made based upon right or wrong - even if the right decision causes you a world of distress or hurt, which it often will.

    Of course, there are often choices that need to be made where there is no clear right or wrong. Do I move to another city, or stay where I am? Do I marry this person, or not? Do I choose this college major, or that one?

    I, too, was subject to the "peace game" in the Dominionist/shepherding church I belonged to. I reject the idea that some human beings have the right to seek God's will for other adult human beings. I'm not entirely against the idea of having "peace" in my own heart be one method of guidance by the Holy Spirit, however. It's important to be sure the sense of peace really is coming from the Spirit, and that's sometimes hard to determine-- but when weighed in with other factors, like the use of our God-given reason and common sense, an inner "peace" is something that I think can help with our own decision making. It's also called "trusting your gut," or "following your heart," and as you have said elsewhere, Lewis, a heart filled with the Holy Spirit is something we can trust.

    I'm saying this by way of balance-- a push-back on the very valid points you have made. I don't think you're rejecting altogether the idea of inner peace being part of a leading by the Holy Spirit. But throwing someone else into inner conflict in order to use "peace" to control them is just plain wrong.

  14. Another destructive spin off of allowing others to "shepherd" you into "God's best" is how people will critique your spiritual walk by watching for success or failure in your life.

    I am of a mind that because something may turn out badly, it does not necessarily prove anything about you or anyone else. Who knows what may have been learned along the way? It could also be that you were subject to the fact that bad things happen in this life-the rain falls on the just and the unjust type of thing. Who knows? Certainly not those who believe that if you follow their secret formula you will lead a charmed life. That didn't seem to work for many of the early Christians.

    I do agree that we should not discount the very real presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. It just should never be used as a tool to control other people, either for good or bad.

  15. This all seems to flow out of Calvinism, the need to convince ourselves and others that we are the elect. It all makes me ill. I bought into much of it, although my husband kept me from going totally off the deep end. I was once watching the Botkins' girls video.I can't remember the tital. My husband walked by the room and said,"I'm not sure what you're watching in there, but even the music sounds manipulative."