Summary: If you can work and don’t, you shouldn’t eat.
Emotional Blackmail by Fr. Emmerich Vogt, O.P.
Something I always like to cover in my missions is the role of feelings and emotions in our moral lives. Someone just gave me a copy of a book by Susan Forward, Emotional Blackmail.
It’s about those who prey upon people’s emotions as a form of manipulation. Such people are masters of knowing how to win from their victims what they want.
A typical example I give is the person who shows up at the rectory to receive a free handout, someone who portrays himself as desperate for some Christian charity. He obviously wouldn’t go to an Apple store or to a Ford Motors dealer for
a free handout. It is those who work in the name of Christ, i.e. those who minister from churches, who are easy prey to this emotional blackmail.
I jokingly tell people that such manipulators learn their skills from street people conventions, where they learn what tools of manipulation are currently in vogue and which churches are easy prey.
But there is some truth to this, for it often happens that they come with the same modus operandi. One year the tactic was having a relationship with a Vietnam veteran.
At that time there was a lot of sympathy generated for the veterans, and rightly so. The street people convention presented the attendees with some scenarios of manipulation relating to the Vietnam veteran tool.
Thus one day when it was my turn to be on duty in the parish, I encountered one such emotional blackmailer. “Hello, Father, my name is Johnny and I live in a little apartment across the street”—lie number one. Why would he tell me where he lived? Because I don’t recognize him as a parishioner, so why would he come to us for a handout?
Because he lives in our neighborhood. Are you starting to feel responsible for his well-being? After all, the Bible teaches, “Love your neighbor.” Make no mistake, manipulators who come to the church for a free handout know their Bible. It, too, can be a tool of manipulation!
Second, he doesn’t have a job right now, he tells me. At street people conventions the attendees are trained: “Don’t portray yourself as a lazy bum who doesn’t want to work!” So the guy explains, “My company downsized“—lie number two. Smells like convention advice to me. “And”, he
continues (now get this),
“I’ve taken in a Vietnam veteran”—lie number three, meant to bring on the sympathy. Poor man, lost his job to downsizing, but is he wallowing in self-pity? No—he’s thinking of others, in this case a Vietnam veteran with whom he graciously shares his apartment. Wow, what
What Christian wouldn’t want to help someone in his predicament? The truth is, however, he’s lying. The scenario he paints is a typical one.
And so over the years I’ve had to come up with a test. If they don’t pass my test, I can’t help these people. So I politely ask:
1. “Can I get hold of your family members who can help you?” He has none! Sad, indeed.
2. “What about some of your friends who might be able to help you?” He has none. Terribly sad to be all alone in the world.
3. “What about the Vietnam veteran—is there anyone of his family we can contact to explain what’s happened to him?” No one.
4. Finally I ask, “What church do you belong to?” If he belonged to the First Baptist Church of Arlington, Virginia, I could contact Pastor Smith who could vouch for him, and then I could help him.
But he responds, “Is that really important, Father?” implying that God isn’t concerned about what church you attend. And so I reply, “I wouldn’t care if you belonged to Atheists of America. At least you would belong. But you have no family, no friends, no community. What have you been doing for 35 years so that you have no background? I can’t help you.” And truly I can’t, because he’s not looking for help. He’s using emotional blackmail to manipulate me into giving him a free handout.
Many Christians might think it unchristian, unbiblical not to come to his aid. But what does the Bible warn about such people?
“Our orders—backed up by the Lord Jesus—are to refuse to have anything to do with those among you who are lazy and refuse to work the way we taught you. Don’t permit them to freeload on the rest. We showed you how to pull your weight when we were with you, so get on with it. We didn’t sit around on our hands expecting others to take care of us. In fact, we worked our fingers to the bone, up half the night moonlighting so you wouldn’t be burdened with taking care of us. . . .