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Hi and welcome back! Hey, you know what never takes long to show itself? Toxic Christians‘ utter hypocrisy. Any time someone reveals some terrible shameful secret about their tribe, they spring into action… to protect the tribe’s reputation. And they do it by leaning very hard on some verses in the Bible that one site actually calls ‘the Lord’s conflict resolution plan.’ Today, let me show you how toxic Christians shield abusers and perpetuate systemic abuse by wielding Matthew 18 as a club against those crying out for justice and compassion.

fighting for abusers, shield in hand

Everyone, Meet Matthew 18:15-17 — Three Little Verses of Pain.

It amazes me that so much grief and pain can possibly flow from just three little verses in one book. But here we are. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus lays out how he wants his followers to resolve conflicts between themselves:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Easy peasy, right? First, these verses seem to tell Christians, they must try to fix their fellow Christian’s fault privately. Then, if that doesn’t resolve the issue, they must take a few friends and repeat the confrontation. If that doesn’t bring the sheep into the fold, then they can get the entire church involved in forcing compliance. And if that vicious tactic fails to strong-arm that person into line, then obviously Christians must throw that naughty sheep out on their ear and shun them.

(So much for that “love your enemies” blahblah that Jesus also supposedly said literally just 13 chapters earlier. Heck, so much for that whole “prodigal son” story! It’s almost as if Jesus’ opinions shift with those of whatever anonymous writer relayed those stories. Clearly, “Christian love” only gets shown to the obedient.)

Toxic Christians will happily disobey and warp into non-recognition every other thing Jesus ordered them to do. But this? This, they cling to no matter what. And I can see why. Being kind to their enemies outrages authoritarians, and comforting the mourning, feeding the hungry, and tending to the sick are all hopelessly boring to them.

Ah, but these verses represent orders that toxic Christians will very happily follow to the letter.

Toxic Christians LOVE Matthew 18.

Unsurprisingly, authoritarians love love love love love these three little verses in Matthew 18. There’s nothing about them that an authoritarian could not enjoy, really. It’s not hard to find authoritarians online extolling the virtues they perceive in these verses. I can see why, too. Matthew 18 represents nothing less than a Jesus-blessed, Jesus-mandated plan to enforce lockstep and groupthink — one in which the accusers grant the accused no recourse, no advocate, no voice, and no appeal. What’s not to like, if one is authoritarian?

One site even calls these verses “The Lord’s Conflict Resolution Plan.” We’ll come back to that one tomorrow, but for now just marvel at someone deluded enough to think that anything in the Bible represents a working roadmap for literally anything.

A number of churches even build their control tactics around Matthew 18, like this church does. (Watch out, y’all, they’re going for the original Greek and Hebrew!) Websites galore, like Got Questions, sternly order those who find out about scandals to follow Matthew 18.

Toxic Christian groups’ over-reliance on these verses has, unfortunately, convinced the sheep in these churches’ flocks to deploy Matthew 18 as a means of silencing those who expose wrongdoing in churches.


The Setup to a Typical Matthew 18 Attack.

A few days ago, a fellow Patheos blogger over on the Evangelical channel, Jackson Wu, wrote a heart-wrenching account of his experiences in a huge missionary organization. His account is downright harrowing, especially for people who’ve ever been involved in evangelical organizations like his. He worked as a missionary for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for years, for its International Mission Board (IMB). During those years, he saw a lot of extremely awful stuff.

He’s still evangelical, and he states at the outset that his goal was not to “tear down the IMB or SBC.” What he’s really hoping to achieve here is reform more than anything else. And sure, we heathens may know very well that there is no changing a broken system, especially from a position of powerlessness within the system. Wu hasn’t learned that painful lesson yet.

Still, I was sympathetic to him and appreciated how difficult it must have been to write about his experiences. It is really hard for members of broken systems to fight through all the protections that those systems’ masters deliberately put in place to keep their victims silent.

And as per normal, it really did not take long for a self-appointed judge to wade into the post to inform Wu that he had Jesused all wrong here and should have followed Matthew 18.

A Typical Attack in the Wild.

In his very first response to Jackson Wu, TRUE CHRISTIAN™ David Swann proclaimed thusly:

I am often troubled by this “purging of the soul” by people who go public with their “Departure’ from an organization. My first question always is why do you have to go public? Second, did you adhere to the biblical principal of dealing with differences with another person, or in this instance leadership. I am NOT SB, so I don’t know about their methods or doctrines, but it seems to smack of the Pharisee praying “I am glad I’m not a sinner like these people.” [screenshot]

That was his first comment on the post. That was the first thing he thought of saying to Jackson Wu.

He did not say “Gosh, that was just awful and I’m sorry you went through that!’ No, he did not and never did that I saw on the thread. Nor did he express any kind of consternation that IMB had acted this way.

Instead, he tried to shut Wu up by invoking the tribe’s magic Matthew 18 silencing spell. He tried to rob Wu of the right to speak about his experiences. He (wrongly) thought that Wu had not followed what King Him thinks is the correct procedure to use to complain about anything. So King Him didn’t care.

Another commenter dropped by to tell Swann that actually, in his post Wu details multiple attempts to resolve his concerns in the proper Matthew 18 way. Swann relented very slightly at that point, then groused about unspecified Christians who just complain because they’re upset their groups “don’t get everyone to move as they see fit.” And um, Wu didn’t do that at all either.

Eventually, I realized Swann hadn’t actually read Wu’s post. Dude just saw someone shining light on a seriously abusive system, and leaped in to squawk “MATTHEW 18! MATTHEW 18!” on command — just as he’d been taught.

Training Toxic Christians to Protect the Wicked.

David Swann is nobody I’ve ever heard of. He’s just one of many thousands of toxic Christians I’ve encountered doing the same exact thing. He only earned a mention here because he’s the latest one I’ve encountered, that’s all.

I’ve seen this same silencing act so many times over the years. It’s tiresome, something to dully recognize when it happens before sighing and filing the incident away in one’s mind under Reasons to be happy I’m deconverted.

I saw Christians doing the same exact thing when the Josh Duggar scandal exploded into public view. I’ve seen it, too, whenever any evangelical leader’s sexual shenanigans come to light and whenever any church turns out to be a hotbed of abuse. Silencing attempts represent the go-to first reaction of so many TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to any of this hypocrisy.

It astonishes me that toxic Christians can’t perceive any of the serious shortcomings in Matthew 18 as a catch-all “conflict resolution plan” that their god invented for their benefit. They don’t comprehend any way for this plan to possibly fail.

Instead, they get taught to dismiss any complaints of wrongdoing if the person bringing up that complaint didn’t follow their masters’ preferred tactics to the letter. They’re not taught about nuances, nor how to evaluate complaints for patterns of abuse that need to be aired publicly. No, they’re just taught to attack any complaints that way.

The message is clear:

Talk the way Daddy likes, or Daddy won’t listen to you and neither will I.

But that’s not an effective way to deal with abusive organizations like what Jackson Wu described.

Real Talk: Abusers Stop When They Are Forced to Stop.

If the masters of those complaining are the problem in these complaints, as is usually the case, then these attack poodles are, in effect, helping their abusive and hypocritical leaders maintain a cloak of silence over their wrongdoing.

Does anybody seriously think that IMB would have changed had Jackson Wu not said anything? I mean, it still probably won’t, but at least he might give a few potential victims pause for thought before joining up. They definitely won’t change if nobody reveals their repulsive hypocrisy and overreach.

Abusers thrive in atmospheres of secrecy. They need the cover of darkness. The less sunlight that reaches them, the happier they are. When someone is hurt by their behavior but doesn’t publicly air that information, that helps abusers find and groom more victims. It gives abusers the leeway they need to operate in their squalid little organizational homes. As long as only victims know about the abuse, it can continue. Broken systems tend not to care about anything abuse victims say anyway.

But here is the truth of it:

Not one abusive leader in all of Christendom ever got inspired to behave better through secrecy and silence. Abusers stop when they are forced to stop — and not a moment sooner. Exposing them publicly is what gets that ball rolling. Protecting them with the shield of Matthew 18 only does the opposite.

And gosh, y’all, isn’t it just so strange that Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing anything about all this abuse that’s getting covered up under the shield of his very own words?


NEXT UP: Why Matthew 18 just doesn’t work in reality: the bad faith problem. See you tomorrow!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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