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There is a short list of words which are currently in fashion as labels for people who are supposedly so evil that they do not deserve the common decencies that other human beings are given. These labels justify all sorts of other accusations and injustices. And yet they are (Surprise, surprise!) almost impossible to define.

We have talked about a few of them in the past: cult, brainwash, and undesirable. Another is manipulative. Like the others, the dictionary gives a rather inoffensive definition ("able to manage people skilfully"), but it adds that the word almost always implies something evil about the manager being referred to. In other words, it is an insult without a definition.

One of Sydney's top cult-busters (David Millikan) professes that "manipulative" is the key trait of all cults. ("Cult", as most members will recall from reading some of our other material, is another one of those words used to insult more than anything else, because it just means "a system of religious belief".) Millikan himself offers no definition for manipulative apart from his own assessment of a group or a leader as being manipulative. When he says they are manipulative, that settles it; they are manipulative, and woe to anyone who questions it. And the only way the group or the followers can convince Millikan otherwise is by the group disbanding or the followers leaving.

This is the kind of meaningless jargon that makes up the bulk of a cult-buster's profession. A group is evil because the leader is evil and the leader is evil because he or she is a skilful leader. Full stop. Need we know more before we grab a gun and noose and join the lynch mob?

A couple of our fans have written to us recently to say that I am manipulative. Actually, I should take that as a compliment. With or without the evil, I have never thought of myself as a particularly skilful leader. I've never had any training, and have had to learn whatever skills I have through trial and error. (Pity the poor guinea pigs!)

Possibly as a consequence of my poor skills, I don't "control" very many people either, even after years of effort. But another explanation as to why I (and my companions) may not have been very successful in controlling other people could be that we are too straight with them about things like dishonesty. A dishonest person feels threatened in our presence, almost like their spirit is being "sucked out of them" or like they are being "manipulated" into telling the truth.

When a dishonest person is challenged in this way, suddenly everything that we do becomes a threat to them. No matter how nice we are, how hospitable we are, how happy we are, they always have this sneaking suspicion that behind it all we are trying to manipulate them into telling the truth. And, of course, we are. But for us, there is nothing evil about telling the truth. Telling the truth is what the Christian message (salvation) is all about.

The gospel according to me is the gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and that is that Jesus Christ came in love and in truth; but dishonest people killed him because they felt threatened by him.

The dishonest people really did not have anything to fear, but their own sinfulness caused them to kill Jesus. And each one of us today does the same thing through our sinfulness. We can only change all of that by falling on our faces before Almighty God and begging for his forgiveness through Christ, by accepting that everything Jesus said and did was for our good, and was not intended to hurt us, and by seeking to build our lives on the truth revealed in his unique life and teachings.

When we have done this, we will have the grace to face the lies and hate in ourselves that we tried to cover up before, and then we can really start to help others do the same thing. We will have fellowship with others who are walking in the same light of Christ. There won't be that "I know I'm not perfect, but don't you dare point it out in terms of specifics" attitude. In fact, we will want to get specific about improving our act.

Pray that God sends more skilful managers for this system of religious beliefs!

(See also Solid as a Rock, and Respectability.)

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