by Ellen cross posted from her blog When Church Hurts
Donald Miller has a post at Storyline (storylineblog.com) that stunned me in its accuracy in describing my former pastor. The title of the post is How Do So Many Good People Get Away With Bad Things? As my husband and I read through the post together last night, we agreed that no other writer has so precisely captured the characteristics that surrounded our experience.
Miller first lays out the overall mindset of those who allow people to “get away with” – in my case – spiritual abuse. Essentially, it all boils down to the fact that people cannot accept that someone who does and says wonderful, positive good, is also capable of doing bad. In fact, as I said to my husband, this was me. For years, I just couldn’t believe that the senior pastor had anything at all to do with what was happening. I thought he was being misled, that other staff members were doing this behind his back and that he couldn’t understand what I was trying to communicate because he so trusted his staff that he thought I was just wacko. It really wasn’t until I went to counseling and the counselor point blank told me that the senior pastor had to be the impetus behind it all that my eyes began to open. And I was the one being abused! I have heard this over, as well, from (former) friends when we were still in the church and I shared my story with only a very select few people to just a few weeks ago when I had coffee with a friend. “I just can’t believe he would allow this to happen.” “This just doesn’t make sense!” “I just can’t imagine him not stepping in to help you!”
Here is just a sampling of the items that my husband and I discussed as we read through Miller’s list of “unsafe leaders” characteristics. Make sure you read Miller’s post to get a full description of each one.
“1. They have a track record of burned bridges.” For years, we were concerned about the number of members and staff who left the church. Sometimes we would hear rumors about why people left – both staff and lay people. Other times, they would just quietly disappear. Sometimes, several staff members would resign within a few weeks of one another. Other times, we would hear that the senior pastor had decided it was time for someone to move on to another ministry. We have often wondered, since many of those who left suspiciously were involved in delivering judgment to me (and others), if they were being eliminated because they had played the role of proxy and were realizing that they were a pawn in his abusive treatment of people.
“2. They do not admit their mistakes.” Our pastor refused to speak with me about the ostracism I was experiencing and even when I had the opportunity (after more than a decade) to speak with him face-to-face and ask him point blank what I had done to deserve being ostracized, he refused to answer. The only thing close to an apology that I received was “I’m sorry you were diminished.” When I asked him to explain how he thought I was diminished, he refused to answer. When my husband insisted that there be a deep and sincere apology, we were tossed out of the church.
“3. They want control at all costs.” It took several years, but over time, the pstor convinced the leadership and the church at large to move from a consistory (elected committee, basically) which made decisions, to an executive board of only a handfull of people which currently includes himself, his brother, the staff financial guru, and one or two others. They do not share with the congregation how money is spent – including salaries, the details of staff hiring, firing, or “moving on,” etc. Everyone is supposed to just accept whatever decisions they make and support them in every way – especially financially.
“4. When caught, they play the victim.” When speaking to woman who is a high level lay leader just after we were tossed out of the church, it became apparent that she had been convinced by the senior pastor’s brother that not matter how abusively they had treated me, that was nothing compared to the fact that I “told” (in a password protected blog that I had shared with very few) about what had been done to me. The senior pastor was the true victim because I had shared with fewer than ten people (and only three or four in the church) the decade-plus of spiritually abusive treatment I had received under his leadership.Miller ends his blog by advising people who are aware of or are victims of these leaders to just walk away unless what has been done is illegal. He has taken some heat for this advice, but as a victim I can attest that there is some merit in what he is saying. One has to gauge how well they can tolerate the abuse they will most likely endure by speaking up. Miller also closes by saying that he knows 5 leaders who “fit this characteristic.” And I am left to wonder if my pastor is one of them. Because Miller used to follow me on twitter. He even caused a blog post of mine to go viral by tweeting about it. But not long after, he un-followed me. Last I checked, my former pastor and Donald Miller follow one another on twitter and I’m sure they have met (my former pastor follows very few people and only a couple of them are pastors (last I checked, Mark Driscoll and Rick Warren) or people who are celebrity Christians, so I’m sure he saw that tweet and that post and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he contacted Miller and warned him about me.
I am grateful to Donald Miller for so succinctly addressing the characteristics of leaders who are toxic yet are allowed to get away with hurting others -and not only get away with it, but continue to be rewarded and revered. I hope those who read this will go to his blog and read the entire post. And think about those you support who may seem like heros but cause concern because of Miller’s writing.
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