Spiritual blackmail is real. It happened to me at the least unexpected moment with the least unexpected people. Here, in New Zealand.
I met a classmate who introduced me to his friends who were attending this particular Christian church. I am a very spiritual person. I am a Christian and I believe in God, in Jesus.
The first time I joined their gathering was a prayer night. I remember what I prayed in the group because we were asked to say our prayers for everyone to hear. I prayed for discernment.
Looking back, I know that that prayer was answered when I left the group. But the experience did not leave me unscathed. It almost destroyed me.
I have nothing against the people. In fact, I came to appreciate how strong their faith was. Moreso, I appreciated their efforts in faithfully pursuing the “fellowship of the saints” in spite of their hectic schedule. They have meetings at most three nights a week, that excludes Saturday and Sunday. I hear some of them say, they are tired, but all for the Lord.
I was tired too. A struggling student, I studied in the day and worked at night. I was physically exhausted that I chose to join a cell group in the city where I can just take the lift to the second floor to attend a two nights a week meeting. After each meeting, I simply take the lift to the fourth floor and get my early rest for the next daily grind. I did not know that that was when the problem started.
The cell group on the other end of the city often seeks me. I did not know that I became a de facto member of the cell group on that part of the city where I first joined.
I realised that there was competition among cell groups. Who was in the bible study? Who was the speaker in your cell? What happened? I contained all my suspicions until winter came and I got sick.
The cell group where I was de facto member wanted me to join a discipleship seminar. I was not ready. But they think I was. So I did, when I came to the seminar the leader publicly admonished me.
He told me that I was part of their group. And it was this so and so’s fault that I was confused and was joining the city group. He said that they have already blessed me through their prayers. In an angry tone he clearly said that if I leave their cell group and go to the other, I will no longer be blessed.
A big red siren on my head was flashing. Blackmail.
I held on up to the last minute of the session even as my mind was revolting. It was a spiritual blackmail. He must have forgotten, I prayed for discernment on the first day.
I never came back.
The spiritual blackmail traumatized me. My experience with the church has made me even more wary of any associations with Filipinos and especially any religious practices with a semblance to that particular church.
I wonder what kind of God they have. Does their God favor one cell group over the other? Do they really think that their prayers are more effective and can bestow more blessings than the other group?
They always highlight how successful their members were. The ones who left are nowhere. They do this subtle blackmail to keep members.
I am still struggling up to now and sometimes wonder if my leaving their group has put a curse on me. Their God must be furious with my leaving. Their God punished me.
But even as I am struggling I am more convinced that their God is different than mine. My God is merciful. My God is forgiving. My God is non-discriminating.