After reading Deanna M. Boudov‘s article, “The Narcissism of Preaching”, I posted the message below to my good friend and fellow EXCOMM (Yes, we’ve already started referring to Ex-Communications with initials) writer, Neil Carter. (Before I continue, let me just say that I was not, and am not, upset with Deanna. So why am I writing this article? Because, when I read the post the first time, I was offended.)
The first message-
“Neil, I liked Deanna’s post for the most part. But I must admit that many parts offended me personally. I agree with so much of what she said and it relates to a lot of ministers. But, there are a large number of ministers who don’t fit the profile. Sure, Rev. Creflo Dollar has two jets (a Gulfstream and a Lear jet) and a Rolls Royce paid for by his the congregation he continues to scam. Many others fit the bill as well. However, I wasn’t motivated by money or fame or anything like that. I truly felt the call of God, not because I wanted to fulfill a narcissistic dream, but because I loved God and wanted to serve him by serving his people. Money was never a motivator. God knows I would’ve quit long ago if I was in it for a big paycheck! Even without being motivated by power, fame, or money, I still feel guilty about the way I believed a fairy tale and motivated others to believe too. That’s the reason why I apologized to the crowd when I came out at the American Atheists Convention. I won’t deny that there was, and is, a part of me that falls prey to ‘temporary narcissism’; we all do. It’s part of being human. Did I feel a rush after a great sermon? Sure! But it’s similar to the feeling a musician feels during a great performance, a CEO feels after closing a big deal, or even a parent when their child makes the honor roll. They can’t wait to say, “That’s my boy! He gets his smarts from me.” (I’m not saying that this is wrong! It’s a good thing for a parent to take pride in their children’s success.)
Maybe I’m not communicating my feelings very well, but I wanted to mention this to you and get your feedback. I don’t know Deanna and won’t presume to judge her. What I’m trying to relay is how the article affected me. I’m pretty sure that some other pastors will be triggered in the same way. “
After spending hours thinking about the article, reading Deanna’s other articles, re-reading today’s article, and talking things out with my friends, I came to a different conclusion. Realizing that I misjudged Deanna, I sent the post below to Neil and the other EXCOMM writers:
The second message-
“Ok. So I’ve read some of Deanna’s other writing and re-read today’s article several times. Now I’m not sure that I need to write anything. What she writes in “It’s Not Me, It’s You” is really powerful stuff! Plus, today’s article is completely true regarding the type of preacher she’s describing…power hungry, greedy despots who call themselves a pastor. The Benny Hinns, Joel Osteens, Joyce Meyers, and many others like them. So I’ve wrestled with the issues, researched Deanna and her work, and considered her intention in the article. Based on these things, I don’t think I need to write anything. What she wrote is 100% true about some pastors. Did I do those things? NO. Was I guided by a system of indoctrination that perpetuated a superiority complex in its adherents? YES. Growing up in a fundamentalist home and being told that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ or that we’re miserable worms who can’t even wipe our a** unless God gives us the strength to do so warps a kid. Her statement in the article really hits home: “This makes me have compassion for them [pastors], because I understand how hard it is to break free from indoctrination; I truly, truly do. Dealing with reality can be incredibly painful when you have spent your entire life participating in the Christian Game of Life.” While my ministry was nothing like the people she wrote about, I am guilty of believing a lie and teaching others to believe it too. The reality is that even if MY motivation wasn’t to gain power or hold the ‘God’s anointed‘ title, people saw me that way! I could have exploited them for my own gain. I could have used my influence and authority to lead them any way I wanted them to go. Just because I didn’t do that doesn’t mean that I’m guilt-free. Being a pastor is, in many ways, perpetuating a narcissistic culture based on myths and lies. IMHO, I think we should let her article stand on its own. I was offended because I took what she wrote personally. It wasn’t about me, but I made it about me.“
Offended– resentful or annoyed, typically as a result of a perceived insult.
Ouch! I was annoyed and it was the result of a perceived insult! Those words, annoyed and perceived insult, mean that I did feel something toward Deanna as a person. Not hate or contempt, no it wasn’t either of those, but I did feel something because, in some way, I took her article as an attack on me! Why? Through a period of painful ‘soul-searching’, I think I’ve figured out the answer. From the time I was young through my early adult years, I was an ‘uber-christian’. An evangelical, fundamentalist, pre-millennial, creationist, ‘love the sinner-hate the sin’, Bible-believing Christian. Even though I wasn’t a pastor during those days, (Ha! I couldn’t have been! I’m a woman and that brand of Christianity doesn’t allow women in ministry) my attitude was marked by a feeling of superiority because I KNEW the truth and my job in life was to bring you to Jesus. But I didn’t stay that way. I left my fundamentalist roots, moved to a more compassionate faith, became a caring pastor, and eventually walked away from it all! I was offended because I know many preachers who are the ‘Reverend Con-artists’ she described and I never wanted to be in the same room with them, let alone practice ministry that way! While reading Deanna’s article, a pastor that I know came to mind. Arrogant, manipulating, conning people out of their hard earned money with the ‘if you give God $___ and God will give it back to you 100 fold’, and so much more. His ministry is marked by the self-indulgent, narcissistic traits in her article and I don’t ever want anyone to think I was that kind of pastor. So yeah, I was a little upset. You know, another reason may be because I didn’t want to remember my life as a fundamentalist. Realizing that in my Bible-thumpin’ days, following God’s will caused harm to others. Coming face-to-face with your own shortcomings is tough, but it’s essential for growth and maturity.
Exposing pastors who actively get off on power, greed, and control is important and I’m thrilled that she had the guts to talk about those things! It takes courage to speak out knowing that others will be critical or take your words in the wrong way. I’m glad that I was offended by Deanna’s article! No. I’m not off my rocker. Her post gave me the chance to look inside and deal with the regret of my past and it proved to me that I’m not that person anymore. This ‘me’ takes ownership of her feelings. This ‘me’ thinks, talks to trusted friends, and does her research in order to find an answer.
So, this happened today…
I was offended. I took the time to reason things out. I looked at the ugliness of my past and realized that I’ve become something completely different than the old me. I’d say that it has been a really great day!
A strict, fundamentalist childhood can, and often does, cause emotional and mental harm. Admitting that my life was scarred by this kind of upbringing has been painful but very freeing. If you’re struggling with the wounds from your religious past, I encourage you to seek out one of these great support organizations.