Dealing with Religious Bullies by Marvin Yoder

Dealing with Religious Bullies
Marvin Yoder

Marvin and his wife, Leah, are the founding pastors of LifePointe Church in Mattoon, Illinois. Marvin is a graduate of Rhema Bible Training Center and is also enrolled in the MDiv Program at Oral Roberts University. Marvin has a rich ministerial background, having pastored several churches, working in Christian education, and traveling extensively as an itinerant minister. Prior to starting the church in Mattoon, Marvin was heavily involved in staff at Rhema, serving as an instructor, Dean, and as an Associate Pastor. Marvin has authored several books and study guides, including Movin’ On Up and The Traveling Minister’s Handbook. Marvin and Leah have three children, Christina Anne, Nichole Joy, and Audrey Danielle.

I remember when I beat up the school bully. I surprised him and everyone else when it happened. Looking back, I probably could have responded in a better way, but the truth is, at the time I really felt good about it. Interestingly enough, afterward that the bully left me alone the rest of my school years and later we were co-workers together.

Something in all of us resent bullies, especially religious bullies who operate in the "name of the Lord"! Just when we get to church where we think it might be a safe place for us, some religious “meanie” leans on us with his agenda. Aristotle said that religious bullies "put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious." (1) Thus they often find an open door to attack our self-worth, violate our free-will, put us down in front of our peers, push their agenda on us, and in some cases rip us off.

Sometimes I would like to deal with religious tyrants like some did in the Bible. Moses dealt with Korah by divine punishment, and the earth opened up and swallowed Korah. David killed Goliath! Jesus used a whip and chased the money hucksters out of the Temple. Paul told Elymas the sorcerer he would be blind for a season.

There were bullies throughout Bible times. We must realize that bullies have existed in every generation. We can’t sit around wishing bullies wouldn’t exist anymore. Bullies will come and go; they will appear and disappear.

When Does a Person Become a Bully?

We’ve probably all dealt with difficult people. A lot of people may have problems, but not very many are a problem. Some, because of their problems, are difficult to help or instruct in doing the right things. But even then, their behavior is really only a symptom of the problems they’re dealing with. This kind of person is not a bully.

A bully is someone who intentionally imposes what he believes and wants on others without regard nor respect for their beliefs or views, taking advantage of them emotionally, spiritually, often financially, and sometimes physically. Jesus used these words to describe the religious bullies of His day . . . “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.” (Matt. 23:13, NLT).

Religious bullies are the people who want to argue contentiously and endlessly to impose their beliefs on others, dividing the Body of Christ with their inflated opinions and evil threats, and taking advantage of others at the expense of their well-being. Those who do not succumb to their undermining ways are quickly branded with labels like "not saved", "hateful", "intolerant", "heretic", "false teacher", or "false prophet." However, it is interesting to note that the words the accusers use are often descriptive of themselves and their own actions. Actually, some who point an accusing finger at a person who has different beliefs to label them as a heretic are often acting more heretical by their intimidation, manipulation, accusations, arguments, and divisive activity.

I wish we could deal once and for all with religious bullies, and they would be gone. However, dealing with these kind of religious despots is often more complicated than a one-time fight. And to add to the difficulty of scripturally addressing these religious “meanies”, fellow believers will quickly tell you to "walk in love" and "just leave it with the Lord." What they really mean when they tell you these things is that they think we should keep quiet and hope those bullies will leave us alone. The problem with that is . . . bullies won’t go away and they won’t leave you alone unless you learn to do something about it.

Today we have laws that limit our responses to these bullies. We’re not supposed to kill them, or beat them up, or slander them. The Bible does give us some instructions on how to respond to a religious bully without losing our spirituality (but those instructions may not be what we had thought).

Religious Bullies Have Been Around for a Long Time

Jesus had to deal with these religious “meanies.” He dealt with these bullies in various ways, by invoking the power of God, asking questions that confounded them, driving them out of the Temple, avoiding them, and by confronting them.

Paul also had to stand up to religious dictators who were not only intolerant of any beliefs other than their own; they were openly accusing and persecuting others like Paul who dared to believe differently.

Here are some instructions that Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans in how to deal with these religious tyrants . . . "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." (Romans 16:17, 18 KJV)

The problem we encounter as we read these verses is the archaic language of the King James translation. So let’s read it in a modern paraphrase . . . "One final word of counsel, friends. Keep a sharp eye out for those who take bits and pieces of the teaching that you learned and then use them to make trouble. Give these people a wide berth. They have no intention of living for our Master Christ. They’re only in this for what they can get out of it, and aren’t above using pious sweet talk to dupe unsuspecting innocents." (Message Version)

Often these religious bullies take bits and pieces that someone has said, take them out of context, and exploit their apparent "error" in any way they can. Today, they air their television programs, promote their websites, write books, hold conferences and seminars, and cry "heretic" as soon as someone disagrees with them. You can find out who they have branded as religious heretics by tuning in to their shows, going to their websites, and reading their books. By the way, one of their agendas is to make money by selling material to gullible Christians that exposes all the dirt they have on these so-called heretics.

Identifying the Real Heretics

Often people think of a heretic as a person who advocates false doctrine; having strayed from the fundamental doctrines embraced by mainstream Christianity. And sometimes that is the case. Sometimes people do stray from the fundamental doctrines of Christianity and major on things that are not according to the whole counsel of Scripture.

But the Bible only mentions heretic one time in the King James Version and the Greek word used is "aihretikos," which according to Strong’s Concordance means schismatic.

A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself. (Titus 3:10, 11 KJV)

New King James Version – Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.

The Message Version – Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him. It’s obvious that such a person is out of line, rebellious against God. By persisting in divisiveness he cuts himself off.

Often false doctrine is present in the midst of heretics beliefs. However, the true evidences of a heretic are the quarrelsome spirit and divisive actions a person exhibits. They would rather split churches and brag about winning doctrinal battles than work together in a spirit of unity. They want to prove they are doctrinally correct rather than walk in love toward fellow Christians. However, Paul said without love you have nothing. Having sound doctrine is good, but having sound doctrine and walking in love is even better.

I’ve met some people who hold to an erroneous belief but they don’t impose it on others. According to this verse, that person may be in error, but he is not a heretic. A person who does not argue with others or divide the church should not to be labeled or treated as a heretic. Sometimes a person who holds a differing view on the rapture of the church and the Great Tribulation Period is labeled by others as a heretic. If that is their personal belief and they allow others to decide what they believe, and are not dividing the Body of Christ, they are not a heretic that everyone should reject (or shun).

The words heresy or heresies is only mentioned four times in the King James Version and it means disunion and gives the idea of bringing ruin or causing loss.

Acts 24:14, KJV – But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy (disunion), so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:

1Corinthians 11:19, KJV – For there must be also heresies (disunions) among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

Galatians 5:19-20, KJV – 19   Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies (disunions),

2 Peter 2:1, KJV – But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies (disunions), even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

Actually, no one really knows any subject in its fullness. We should all remain teachable and endeavor to keep growing in knowledge of the Scriptures. Therefore, we should exercise patience toward others as they also grow in knowledge of the Scriptures.

Choosing How to Respond to Religious Tyrants

However, there comes a time when we must deal with religious dictators and their intimidating ways. We can choose one of several methods to deal with these religious bullies.

There is the Get-Even Method where a person’s response is carnal and he acts like the bully does. That creates a lose-lose situation for both parties involved.

There is the Waiting-It-Out Method where a person passively endures the rants and intimidations of the bully, hoping by their no response the bully will go away. This creates a win-lose situation where the bully gets what he wants and the other person loses out.

There is the Peace-At-All-Costs Method where a person actively and quickly gives in to all demands of the bully at their own expense, and giving up what is rightfully theirs. Again, this creates a win-lose situation where the bully gets what he wants and the other person loses out.

Finally, there is the A-C-T-S Method (not axe method) where a person "Acts Congruent To Scripture." They act according to Biblical principles that work to bring win-win situations to both parties involved. Let’s look at this for a few minutes.

This method does not respond in kind toward the bully by getting even, or doing some of the same things in return. If we act like the religious bully in turn we are not doing any better, nor do we help the situation at all. The important thing to remember in dealing with a religious bully is to maintain our own spirituality while effectively dealing with his intimidating actions. The Apostle Paul gave some instructions on how to do this . . .

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NLT)

Notice it says for the servant of the Lord to be kind, endeavor to teach, and be patient with everyone (including religious bullies). This does not mean that we allow the religious bully to have his way. It simply means that we are to maintain certain spiritual attitudes and actions in the middle of dealing with religious tyrants.

When I was attending college, I had to deal with one of the professors who viciously ranted against any of what he called "Word of Faith" beliefs, and specifically attacking Kenneth E. Hagin. He went on and on in the classroom, going so far as to state that other well-known cults would be preferable to "Word of Faith" beliefs. Some of my classmates tried to reason with him, but it just added fuel to the fire. Finally it was time for lunch, and I quietly approached the lectern and asked the professor if he had any lunch plans. He accepted my invitation, and over lunch, I asked him if he had ever been in any of Kenneth Hagin’s meetings or listened to any of His messages, and he admitted he had not ever done so. I proceeded to tell the professor of the love walk of Kenneth Hagin, and how kindly I have been treated by the Hagin family. He quietly hung his head, and the rest of his class lectures had a totally different tone than before. Later I had another opportunity to interact with him and he was respectful and courteous to me.

Practical Steps to Dealing with Religious Bullies

Many of these religious bullies have a public pulpit with which we as individuals do not interact, nor do they have a direct effect upon us in our Christian walk, and we really don’t ever have to personally deal with them. However, what will we do when our paths do cross with religious bullies who intimidate or manipulate people until they agree with their beliefs? Of course we should pray for these people, but seldom is prayer the whole answer in dealing with these types of individuals. The following list will help to confront and deal with religious bullies who try to lord it over you, and help you to walk free from their dictatorial methods.

  1. Daily affirm your true worth by quoting what the Bible says about you. You must not forget who you are in Christ—He made you to be somebody and equipped you to walk in His plan. Heed the words of Judy Garland, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” (2) Find verses that describe you are in Christ, and carry them with you on 3 x 5 cards so that you can refer to them as needed. It is up to you to find out your true worth, and this keeps you from believing the labels that religious bullies try to put on you.
  2. Know your options in dealing with bullies. Avoid thinking that what the bully wants is all that’s available to you. Explore what you can do in spite of what the bully is doing or saying. If necessary, have a friend that you trust to help you explore your options. Some options may include deciding ahead of time what to say to a bully, when you should be around them, how much time you should spend around them, whether you should be ever be alone with them or if you should only be with them in a crowd, or when you should confront them.
  3. Write down your response before you attempt to verbalize it. Getting your response on paper where you can see it will help establish your thoughts so that you can clearly and decisively communicate your stand or beliefs. One of the tactics a bully will use is to “throw the book at you”, bringing up everything they can whether relevant or not to keep you off balance and unable to clearly focus on your response. Writing your response down will help you to keep stating what you believe and state your objectives in the midst of the accusations, intimidations, and manipulations of the bully.
  4. Realize you may have to confront the individual. Most people don’t like confrontation, but it is a part of life. Some of these tyrants don’t back off until they are personally dealt with face to face and made to realize that they cannot intimidate or manipulate you anymore. Often it is better to take a person with you when you confront these individuals for support and to witness what is said. This keeps the confrontation from becoming a "he said – you said" situation that later on no one can verify (Matt. 18:15-16).
  5. Practice saying "No" in a decisive way. Robert Kiyosaki  said, “A lot of people are afraid to tell the truth, to say no. That’s where toughness comes into play. Toughness is not being a bully. It’s having backbone.” (3) Practice in front of a mirror until you can say no in a convincing way. Practice saying no until you do it with authority, and there is no whining in your tone of voice. The Bible instructs you to let your yes be yes and your no be no (James 5:12), and you must learn to communicate this clearly, and in a way that helps you deal effectively with these types of situations.
  6. Ask for God’s help to deal with this situation. You may be the person who has to deal with the bully, but you must learn to rely upon God and what He can do. You must learn to have the same confidence David had when he confronted Goliath. David said that he came in the name of the Lord. We must also learn to come in the name of the Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and believe that God is helping us.
  7. Surround yourself with a good support team. The Bible says with much counsel you make war (Prov. 20:18). A good support team involves those who can give you wise advice, have certain skill sets, pray for you, or have knowledge in certain areas that you need. These could include spiritual counselors, Bible scholars, your pastors, psychologists, and in some cases financial advisors, CPAs, and attorneys.
  8. Determine to walk in love and never give up your spirituality. Without love you have nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3), but with love you can triumph (1 Cor. 13:8). In the end it is better to walk away from a confrontation with your spirituality intact and maintain spiritual attitudes and actions. You may not be able to change the other person, but you can maintain who you are in Christ. Love does not focus on the wrong things done to us (1 Cor. 13:5); rather it focuses on walking according to what God has done for you through Christ (2 Cor. 5:14). As you continue to walk in love, God will work with you, and you can have a future living above the threats and accusations of these religious bullies. Kenneth E. Hagin summed it up when he said, "Walking in God’s love is the way to victory in life." (4)

(1) – Aristotle,, accessed Jan. 30, 2014

(2) – Judy Garland,, accessed January 30, 2014

(3) – Robert Kyosaki,, accessed January 30, 2014

(4) – Kenneth E. Hagin, Love The Way To Victory, Tulsa, 1998, RHEMA Bible Church, 163