Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Just because it's sometimes called a bully pulpit, I get the feeling that some pastors consider themselves entitled to indulge in bullying behavior. Especially when they've cultivated and nurtured and developed, over the years, a culture of fear of their bad temper from those around them.

I've been through this more than once in more than one church and religious organization. You'd think that would qualify me to see it coming. But I retain a sadly immature naiveté about such things in the silly hope that maybe this time will be different. This is also a classical reaction of an abuse victim, I know. I've read all the books and had the therapy. But then, this makes sense, considering my personal history of various types of abuse. I don't know why I should expect to be attracted to a healthy community of worship, and not of the pastor, if indeed there is such a thing.

Every experience I've had allows me to create a cobbled together version of this type of pastor/leader. He can also be a She.

He is always right about everything. When he does admit a mistake, it's usually because he was given wrong information/partial information/was having a bad day which everyone is entitled to.

Speaking of entitled, this is key. He is entitled to take liberties/jump to conclusions with partial information/make unilateral decisions without going through proper channels because he was "led by spirit." This includes circumventing the board, hiring and firing at will, especially if any of them become a perceived threat to him and his status. This is clinically called "user mentality."

He will triangulate relationships between members to create alliances against others. In this process, he will speak ill of anyone, including members of the congregation, when threatened by real or perceived criticism from the other so-called group or persons.  This process can also include shunting perceived enemies to the side, marginalizing them as people and currying the same response from others. This is presented as "tough love" for the flock.

He will take credit for, or assign credit to a "favorite" for anything positive, whether actually incurred or not, and find scapegoats for any so-called failures. He will never take responsibility for any mishap, misdeed or mistake. He will marginalize any other pastors employed by the church by omitting announcements regarding their illnesses or good news in the service.

He will leave a meeting or gathering angry, with no thought to any consequences of deliberately dividing the congregation or ruling body.

He will overtly flirt and use inappropriate language or touch when he is attracted to someone, in both public and private circumstances.

He will bestow special favor on one or only certain members or employees, holding them above everyone else in such a way as to denigrate the whole, rather than celebrate an actual contribution. This favor will also include work or effort done by others and not the person being favored.

He will seed the staff and board with people he knows will support him in anything he wants to do, without question. If anyone does "stand in his way" so to speak, he will do whatever necessary to remove them from the church, no matter how hurtful or dishonest, and in such a way he will never be caught.  You'll only hear about it after the fact, when the person is gone, having left spiritually destroyed and humiliated usually.

This is similar to the behavior that came under legal scrutiny in Penn State, except only this side of the law. Usually the board and leaders of the church or group are fully aware of the behavior. In some cases, they support it and add to it, because it's the pastor, after all, and we don't want to make them angry.

One way I have finally learned as a "tell" on this, is to stop right after I feel attacked, whether it was directed at me or not. Then step back and ask some questions. Was a particular outburst based on any facts? Were skewed facts used and then turned into self righteous condemnation, followed by an accusatory chaser? When all is said and done, was there anything to it? Trial attorneys learn that if you don't have the law on your side, stick to the facts and if you have neither, then yell really loud. Is this what happened here? So far, ten times out of ten, hubris and sanctimonious posturing win the day.

For a long time I was astonished at how these bullies continue to get away with it, over and over and over. It seems they are enabled and propped up with excuses and minimizing of their behavior with soothing platitudes, because the group around them are former victims themselves. Must keep the parent from spanking us, after all.

I've been through pastors breaking into tears because the stingy old congregation wouldn't fork over enough money for a huge building campaign. This happened on cue in three services. I've listened to haranguing that nobody volunteers, when everyone in the room had volunteered repeatedly over time, after not getting their way on something. I've been through pastors taking a portion of cash offerings and told to shut up about it if I knew what was good for me. I've been through leaders putting my name on a "persona non grata" list because I knew too much and called them on it.

I've had far more bad experiences from pastors and church leaders than good. It is the preponderance of my personal experience that these people are narcissistic, ego-driven demagogues who throw tantrums and actually hurt others when they don't get their own way. And they refuse to step down. They will never step down. And they will likely never be asked to step down.

There must be healthy places out there. I've heard stories of them. It's why I kept trying over the years. But until I can kick this cycle of attracting abusive and controlling people and groups, I have to pull back. Maybe forever. Who knows.

All I can say is a lot more gets done and I have more peace this way.

I cede the floor to the bullies. May they eventually find a lovely view hoisted on their own petard.

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

Was looking for Presbyterian church sponsored material to encourage a friend under the authority of a bullying pastor. Didn't find any. :(