By the time you have experienced the artificially loving recruitment process, and the black-and-white thinking, and the esoteric approach to truth, and the hidden agenda -- by the time you have experienced all that -- perhaps the phrase "bait-and-switch" comes to your mind. In the bait-and-switch, the manipulator baits you with something he knows that you want, but when it comes time to give it to you, he switches it with something else. This is a classic (if unethical) sales technique.
Merchants have been known to advertise a sale on a very popular product even though they don't actually have it in stock. When customers come looking for it, the salesman is instructed to say something like, "I'm sorry, we just sold out on that item, but we have something just like it over here." And then he directs the customer's attention to a less-popular "equivalent" item, knowing that a certain percentage of customers will fall for it after getting their hopes up and taking the trouble to come in.
People fall for the bait-and-switch all the time, even though they are disappointed over not getting their first choice. A classic example of this is found in the Bible (Genesis 29). Jacob, the son of Isaac, fell in love with Rachel, and agreed to work seven years for her father Laban if Laban would allow him to marry Rachel. Laban agreed, and Jacob proceeded to put in his seven years' work. Seven years later, when it came time for the wedding, Laban switched Rachel with his older and less-attractive daughter, Leah, indicating that he had to follow custom and marry-off his older daughter first.
But if Jacob would just agree to work another seven years, he could have Rachel, too. As a bonus, he would let Jacob have Rachel right after he finished his honeymoon with Leah. Having invested so much time, energy and emotional anticipation, Jacob gave in.
And that's exactly what manipulators who use the bait-and-switch are counting on: that you have so much invested in getting what you want, that you will settle for less (or in Jacob's case, something other than what he wanted -- two wives instead of the one he loved) rather than walk away empty-handed. Spiritual abusers are counting on your desire to experience the spiritual benefits you've been looking for to keep you following them, even though they keep switching them with something "less than," or something "other than."
This is a game that has been played by con-artists for centuries without number. It is the one major skill of the quick-change artist. It is the stock in trade of many corrupt salesmen. And it is the primary active ingredient in Spiritual Abuse. Each one of the manipulative techniques we have so far described involves baiting a person with something he or she desires, and then substitutes it with something that achieves the goal of the spiritual abuser. The core of Spiritual Abuse's manipulation is nothing other than the classic "bait-and-switch."
Manipulation itself is a bait-and-switch. The manipulator baits you with his or her apparent concern for your best interests. If the person is very skillful, it is only much later that you realize that your interests were perhaps very far from the manipulator's mind.
I was once fooled by a quick-change artist. I was a teller in a bank downtown in Chicago's Loop, and I was very young (this happened nearly 20 years ago as I write this).
There are two prime times when a quick-change artist likes to work: when the bank is very slow, or when the bank is very busy. When the bank is slow, a teller's guard is more likely to be down, and he or she is more likely to make the error of being overly-trusting. At those times, the quick-changer will play it smooth, with sheepish innocence, and very fast hands. He works at keeping the trust of the teller for as long as possible.
But when the bank is busy, a teller's actions tend to become mechanically repetitive, and they're more likely to act before thinking something through in order to get to the next customer as efficiently as possible. Then the quick-changer will act impatient, perhaps complaining about the long wait in line, trying to rush the teller. His goal then becomes to keep the teller off-balanced and unsure of himself for as long as possible, and fearful of upsetting the "customer."
It happened to me on a busy day. The line of customers was relentless. The quick-changer asked for change for a $50 bill. Before I'd known what happened, he'd taken me for $45. In the middle of the "transaction," I hesitated. Something didn't seem right. I should have closed down my window right then, pressed the hidden-camera button, and balanced my drawer. But the line was long and the quick-changer played his role perfectly.
Not wanting an unpleasant scene at my window, I gave him what he came for, and as he walked away he cast an offended sneer at me over his shoulder, as if accusing me of trying to rip him off! This was a totally by-the-book quick-change, down to the final manipulative sneer. He wanted to keep me off-balance for as long as possible, making as sure as he could that I wouldn't suspect anything until after he was outside, and could blend into the crowd.
The manipulation of Spiritual Abuse is nearly identical to this in many respects. Just as in the case of the quick-change artist, the spiritual abuser is able to adapt himself to the situation. He can be smooth, or he can be intimidating.
As it is with the quick-change artist, so it is with the spiritual abuser: he tries to catch you when your guard is down. When you're vulnerable to his manipulation. For many victims, this happens around the time of a major life-change, crisis or depression.
As with the quick-changer, the spiritual abuser is also able to make the switch between what he said he would give you, and what he ends up giving you, very quickly.
And as with the quick-changer, the spiritual abuser needs to keep you questioning yourself for as long as possible after the fraud has been committed. As you are leaving a spiritually abusive group (or getting kicked out), the leader will do all he or she can to keep you thinking that they are right and you are wrong. This serves two purposes: 1.) it makes it harder for you to leave, so that perhaps you will stay, and 2.) if you do end up leaving, it keeps you from being quick to tell others about your spiritual abuse experience.
The reason that so many do not open up to others for a while is because the departure experience was so traumatic, that for quite some time after they leave they are still questioning themselves. "Were they right after all? Was I wrong to leave?" Echoes of the many condemning things they said to them fill their heads for months after your departure. The memories of all those faces of people believing the leader, and accusing them of being a "backslider," or a "rebel," or an "apostate," are burned into their minds. It was quite a while before I opened up to anyone about my experience.
When the spiritual abuse victim finally realizes that he or she really was deceived, the pain of the embarrassment is often enough to keep the person quiet for quite a while longer. And then when the victim does get the courage to open up to someone, he runs the risk of being accused of "gossip," "slander," "backbiting," etc., by the spiritual abuser, which adds to the victim's suffering. A person who has never experienced this pain should not glibly comment on it.
A spiritually healthy pastor would give you the freedom to disagree and leave. A spiritually healthy pastor would not keep trying to convince you that you are wrong once it becomes clear that differences are irreconcilable. He would realize that such an approach would only lead to a quarrel, and spiritual leaders must not be quarrelsome (1 Tim. 3:2-3). Provided that you are not guilty and unrepentant of some sin that is obvious to all, the true pastor will do all he can to ensure that your departure is peaceful.
Should you choose to go on reading about the other characteristics of spiritual abuse, you might notice the particular bait-and-switch that is involved with each of them:
• Spiritual abusers bait you with "authority," and switch it with authoritarianism.
• They bait you with "righteousness," or some other form of spiritual accomplishment, and switch it with elitism.
• They bait you with "the leading of God's spirit," and switch it with spiritual intimidation.
• They bait you with "spirituality," or "victory over sin," and switch it with legalism.
• They bait you with "unity," and switch it with uniformity.
• They bait you with "honesty," and switch it with abusive denunciations.
• They bait you with "spiritual discipline," and switch it with excessive church discipline.
• They bait you with "transparency," and "openness," and switch it with coercive confession.
• They bait you with "freedom," and switch it with a painful exit process.