Several church leaders today would do well to learn from Jesus’ ways rather than to engage in manipulative and spiritually abusive tactics with church members. Here are some quotes from the book “The Jesus I Never Knew” that show us how Jesus never puts any emotional pressure on others.
As I survey the rest of Jesus’ life, I see that the pattern of restraint established in the desert persisted throughout his life. I never sense Jesus twisting a person’s arm. Rather, he stated the consequences of a choice, then threw the decision back to the other party. He answered a wealthy man’s question with uncompromising words and then let him walk away. Mark pointedly adds this comment: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
We sometimes use the term “savior complex” to describe an unhealthy syndrome of obsession over curing others’ problems. The true Savior, however, seemed remarkably free of such a complex. He had no compulsion to convert the entire world in his lifetime or to cure people who were not ready to be cured. In Milton’s words, Jesus “held it more humane, more heavenly first / By winning words to conquer willing hearts, / And make persuasion do the work of fear.”
In short, Jesus showed an incredible respect for human freedom. When Satan asked for the chance to test Peter and sift him as wheat, even then Jesus did not refuse the request. His response: “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” When the crowds turned away and many disciples deserted him, Jesus said to the Twelve, almost plaintively, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” As his life moved toward doom in Jerusalem, he exposed Judas but did not try to pre-vent his evil deed—that, too, a consequence of restraint.
This quality of restraint in Jesus—one could almost call it a divine shyness—took me by surprise. I realized, as I absorbed the story of Jesus in the Gospels, that I had expected from him the same qualities I had met in the southern fundamentalist church of my child-hood. There, I often felt the victim of emotional pressures. Doctrine was dished out in a “Believe and don’t ask questions!” style. Wielding the power of miracle, mystery, and authority, the church left no place for doubt. I also learned manipulative techniques for “soul-winning,” some of which involved misrepresenting myself to the person I was talking to. Yet now I am unable to find any of these qualities in the life of Jesus.
How could a church founded by the One who withstood the Temptation carry out an Inquisition of forced belief that lasted half a millennium? Meanwhile, in a milder Protestant version in the city of Geneva, officials were making attendance at church compulsory and refusal to take the Eucharist a crime. Heretics there, too, were burned at the stake.
Sometimes the church grows its own mini-Hitlers, men with names like Jim Jones and David Koresh, who understand all too well the power represented in miracle, mystery, and authority. And some-times the church simply borrows the tools of manipulation perfected by politicians, salesmen, and advertising copywriters.
I believe God insists on such restraint because no pyrotechnic displays of omnipotence will achieve the response he desires. Although power can force obedience, only love can summon a response of love, which is the one thing God wants from us and the reason he created us. “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself,” Jesus said. In case we miss the point John adds, “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” God’s nature is self-giving; he bases his appeal on sacrificial love.