Bullies in the Church—
Taking the Wider View
Another Church blogger, a United Methodist pastor, introduced the topic of church bullying in a recent post.
He leads off bemoaning that schools are dealing with bullying but churches barely broach the topic.
I read his post with interest as our congregation has a great deal of experience with church bullying.
Just as I feared. His examples of church bullying overlook a key problem.
What did he miss?
Every example of bullying he cites is a lay person. It is comprehensive in a sense. It spans a bullying teen to a bullying businessman, a bullying mother, a bullying staff member—even a bullying old lady. But he totally overlooked the possibility that the church bully might be the pastor—or even a shepherd of pastors.
His commenters picked up on this serious omission—shortly before comments were cut off!
Church leaders cannot effectively address church bullying until they spend time in front of a mirror.
Pastors are ideal candidates for temptation in this area.
- They typically operate in a top-down power structure.
- The structure of their power is protected by the First Amendment.
- They can exercise significant social control as they have access to every member and the ability to court support at will.
- They also have direct access to and familiarity with authorities over them.
- Their job description includes creating a following.
- They work in relative isolation. Abuses can go undetected for a long time.
- They can control most forums within the church—even voting forums.
- They have the power to manipulate for personal advantage in venues created by them and with a following that instinctively trusts them.
Pastors who seek advancement—bigger salaries, positions in larger churches, greater influence—can be tempted to use bullying—especially if things aren’t going their way. Perhaps that is why the Bible stresses humility.
Pastors are more likely to use bullying tactics when they feel threatened. Other clergy blog posts (even the comments to the referenced blog post) reveal that many pastors do feel threatened. Commenters here turn to a favorite stand-by—a one-sided documentary about “Clergy-Killers.”
Make no mistake. Church leaders can be bullies. Like all bullies, they are supported by fearful enablers who look the other way. This can include both members and colleagues.
He is right. The Church needs to address bullying. But it must take a wider view. There will be little progress until it does.