#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.

— Anonymous


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.

Click here to read all of the stories in our #hearLDSwomen series. Has anything like this happened to you? Please share in the comments or submit your experience(s) to participate in the series.

“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)

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5 Responses

  1. EmilyB says:

    I’m making some creepy connections after reading this, between both the powerful moments I’ve had with church leaders (who clutched at their chests with eyes all aglow and pronounced that the spirit was with us as they committed me to all sorts of church stuff) and the good LDS people who likewise got me to commit to Amway and Mary Kay after, with hands pressed to bosoms and eyes aglow with a special fire, they testified to me about how much those companies’ products and family-friendly businesses had blessed their lives–as if they’d delivered a testimony of faith. Talk about blurred lines. Even though nothing necessarily bad happened to me in the multi-level business world (I just couldn’t seem to hack it–I couldn’t master striking it as rich as the folks who recruited me) I did eventually fall away from MLM life because I eventually realized that the companies were more concerned about their own profits than they were with my success (recruits/profits were more important than their own people/products). I feel myself slowly doing the same with the LDS church for the exact same reasons. I am still attending church for now, thanks to the good I see in some of the women and for the sake of the female pioneers who endured so much, but this kind of manipulation is just so unhealthy. I’m not sure how much longer I will make it.

  2. Dot says:

    One of the counselors in our bishopric wanted my teenage daughter to drive his kids to seminary (he didn’t like having to get up so early to take them). I told him he needed to ask her himself and I doubted she would do it—it was out of her way and would have doubled the length of her early morning commute. He said, “Oh I’ll just make it a calling.” Apparently if you’re in the bishopric you can just have women do whatever you want by making it a calling. She said no.

  3. Klee says:

    Dot -Cheers to your daughter!

  4. SC says:

    The church has an actual corporate advertising sales strategy behind this—it is called “HeartSell.” It was once posted to a church-owned webbsite where anybody could access it (Bonneville Communications), but the outcry of the masses over the church’s stated plan to manipulate emotions in order to increase corporate profits/strengthen their brand eventually caused them to take down the page. (Understandable—if the church is true, why would they need a corporate ad strategy to manipulate consumers into converting? Why not share the truth and let it speak for itself?) But if you Google the phrases “HeartSell” and “Bonneville Communications” (the media arm of the church), you can find cached versions of it.

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