This quotation from influential pastor John Piper was posted on The Gospel Coalition (TGC) website on the 23rd of March 2015.
Not feeling loved and not being loved are not the same. Jesus loved all people well. And many did not like the way he loved them. Was David’s zeal for the Lord imbalanced because his wife Michal despised him for it? Was Job’s devotion to the Lord inordinate because his wife urged him to curse God and die? Would Gomer be a reliable witness to Hosea’s devotion? . . . I have seen so much emotional blackmail in my ministry I am jealous to raise a warning against it. Emotional blackmail happens when a person equates his or her emotional pain with another person’s failure to love. They aren’t the same. A person may love well and the beloved still feel hurt, and use the hurt to blackmail the lover into admitting guilt he or she does not have. Emotional blackmail says, ‘If I feel hurt by you, you are guilty.’ . . . His emotion has become judge and jury. Truth does not matter. . . I have seen it often in my three decades of ministry and I am eager to defend people who are being wrongly indicted by it.
This is taken from comments John made back in 2008 in reference to the fact that A.W. Tozer’s wife said she enjoyed marriage to her second husband more than her marriage to Tozer. Part of the quotation was also used in another blog post on TGC website here. It seems the people at TGC really like these words as some of John’s comments have been used in TGC blogs by Justin Taylor, Ray Ortlund, and now Jared Wilson. (Ray Ortlund also included them in a book.)
Nevertheless, there are a few things I find disturbing in this quote.
First, John uses the examples of three women in the Bible who had a problem with the godly zeal and devotion of their husbands. These three women were spiritually blind and misguided. Yet, in his original quotation, John compares the feelings of a woman he doesn’t know (the widow of A.W. Tozer) with the misguided attitudes, words, and actions of Michal, Job’s wife, and Gomer. This is unfair, to say the least. Thankfully, Tozer’s widow, who died in 1987, doesn’t have to deal personally with John Piper’s insinuation.
But there seems to be more to this quotation.
John suddenly makes it personal, and talks passionately about the emotional blackmail he believes he has often seen in his ministry. (I have omitted some of his more inflammatory statements from the quotation above.)
John believes that some church members have wrongly assumed that he and other ministers have hurt them, when in fact they have loved them. He asserts that some hurting church members failed to feel the love of their pastors and then resorted to emotional blackmail.
I know of people who have been hurt by pastors. This usually occurs when people have unrealistic expectations of their ministers. Yet these expectations are usually reinforced from the pulpit or by church culture, or both. When pastors allow the perception that they are powerful people with a better or deeper spiritual understanding, maturity, or capacity than other church members, or when pastors accept accolades to that effect, then some church members will expect more than what pastors can actually give. Some members may even expect to be loved in such a way that they will feel loved.
To some extent I agree with John that “A person may love well and the beloved still feel hurt,” but what concerns me the most about his quotation is that John never admits that there were times when he failed to love well. He puts all the blame and guilt on those who have felt hurt.
Being a pastor can be a very difficult role, and there are times when pastors need protecting. But John seems intent on protecting himself and his fellow shepherds at the expense of his fellow sheep. To protect A.W. Tozer’ reputation, he maligns his widow. To protect his fellow shepherds who have been emotionally blackmailed, he puts all the blame on the sheep. Surely there must be a way of supporting and caring for the shepherds without resorting to unhelpful and uncaring insinuations against fellow Christians.
I am sorry for the Christians who have unwisely expected too much from their pastors and have been disappointed and hurt. I hope that they will not take John’s unsympathetic words to heart, words which seem to be tantamount to emotional blackmail.
Authority in the Church
Jesus’ Teaching on Leadership and Community in Matthew’s Gospel
Equality and Unity in Ministry (1 Corinthians 12)
A shepherd who only feeds the male sheep in his flock(?)
Articles on Bible women who were more spiritually discerning than their husbands: Samson’s mother, Abigail, and others.