#hearLDSWomen: Using Scripture to Manipulate/Coerce Others
A high councilman assigned to work with me on a stake calling wanted me to launch a class we were working on together before it was ready. Feeling frustrated because I wouldn’t just start the course before it was ready, the high councilman used scripture to try to manipulate me into going against my better judgment: “You know, sister, the children of Israel didn’t want to cross the river Jordan, either, because they didn’t believe it was safe, but when they listened to their leader and put their foot into the waters, they found that they easily parted for them. I promise that if you just go ahead and get started and follow the counsel of your leaders, that waters will part for you and things will work out.”
This reminded me of my days as a missionary, when the MTC taught us to use a strategy called “The Commitment Pattern,” which also used scripture and emotional manipulation to coerce people into making commitments to pay tithing, obey the word of wisdom, live the law of chastity, and hopefully join the church. Many of us sister missionaries disagreed with this style of teaching and preferred to simply invite the people that we taught to simply live their lives and make changes/improvements according to the promptings they received and not any coercion on our part, because the church’s Commitment Pattern felt like used car salesman tactics. (Indeed, widespread mastery of the Commitment Pattern among our Mormon populace is credited for the rise of multi-level marketing companies, pest control sales companies, and other traveling sales companies along the Utah corridor—it has nothing to do with spirit-based teaching and everything to do with convincing people to make decisions at the behest of the salesman.) Even today, Preach My Gospel teaches missionaries a more subtle version of this—based more strongly in emotional manipulation via claims to feeling the spirit than a pattern–while the seminary program teaches “The Learning Pattern” which is almost identical to it.
Since learning the Commitment Pattern as a missionary, I’ve recognized countless times that leaders have used scripture to try to violate my agency—to try to convince me to do things I wasn’t comfortable doing in my calling or in my family/home/life. My husband, for example, while trying to finish his degree, needed to enroll in night school and it took him away from his YM calling, so he asked to be released, but church leaders used scripture to try to counsel him to choose the church over his schooling. My poor husband was so distraught that he asked for a blessing, and in the blessing he was likewise told to put church first and he would be blessed. But I told him to stand his ground and put supporting his family first—that he was being manipulated by men who had spent months unable to find anybody to serve in the young men’s program. My poor husband had been desperate to finish school because our growing family was in need of the extra income that his career would provide, so it was time for him to stop listening to the men at church and start reading scripture and receiving his own counsel from God. The way those leaders used scripture to manipulate my husband for their own self-interest was shameful. In the mission field, we had a term for people who use scripture to advance an agenda, rather than testifying of Christ: Bible Bashers. Mormons typically used this term when referring to Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I believe it refers equally to LDS leaders who use scripture to try to rob our members of their God-given agency to make decisions for themselves.
Pro tip: Listen sensitively to women when they share their insights and feelings about how to best move forward with their callings or church projects. Don’t pull priesthood rank and manipulate women to proceed when they are not ready to. Don’t use scripture to coerce women (and men) to do things they are uncomfortable doing.