One sign of spiritual abuse, according to David Henke of Watchman Ministries, is image consciousness. (Item no. 2 on his list)
When I first saw this item on the checklist, I thought, well our group isn't image conscious. We don't advertise, we keep a low profile, we don't dress up or have new, flashy ministries.
So, at first, when I saw this item, I thought it was one of the few you couldn't check off concerning our group. Then I looked at it again and saw that Henke isn't talking about group image so much as individual image. Suddenly, the red flags popped up.
Our group, on an individual basis, was extremely image conscious. I would not want to park anywhere near a casino for fear the pastor might draw the wrong conclusion should he drive by, or anyone in the church, or anyone who knew me, for that matter.
I was afraid to buy wine vinegar at the grocery store for the same reason. It looks like a bottle of wine. (Though I didn't and don't believe alcohol was wrong, I do not drink for reasons other than religion.) How could I bring down the name of Christ by looking like a hypocrite?
I was constantly thinking, What would the pastor or his wife think of me if they saw me doing this or that? What if I had too many items in my shopping cart and I looked extravagant? What if my clothes look too expensive? Am I being Christlike by serving roast when others can only afford Mac N Cheese?
In short, image was everything. Or at least it was a much bigger deal than I realized until I was out of the group. It wasn't Christ's expectations; it was the pastor's, and the idea that since I was representing Christ to the world, I had to be perfect. Trying to avoid all appearances of evil is a full-time job.
I am pretty much free from this now. I park in front of bars and casinos if convenient. I don't detour around the liquor aisle. I don't pay attention much to what I'm wearing. I am free!
Here's what Henke has to say on the subject:
Jesus was not "image conscious." He was willing to associate with wine drinkers, cheating tax collectors and even prostitutes. He accused the legalistic Pharisees of "teaching for doctrine the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9) and likened their showy, hypocritical outward rightousness to "whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:27).
Neither was He paranoid. His ministry was conspicuously open to the public. When He was on trial (John 18) He was asked about His teachings and His reply was, "Why askest thou me?" Jesus pointed out that He always taught in public, and never in secret, so why not ask His disciples. He had nothing to hide.
Jesus did not fear to criticize the religious leaders or their faulty doctrines (e.g. Matthew 15:1-9; 23:1-39, etc.). And when confronted with criticism or with treacherous questions designed to discredit Him, His response was never to simply demand silence or only positive recognition from His accusers. Rather, He gave answers - scriptural and reasonable answers - to their objections (e.g. Luke 7:36-47; Matthew 19:3-9).