Sadly, there is such a thing as a church bully. He’s the guy who manipulates, pressures, blames, and coerces people to follow his ideas or agenda (for example, see what happened to Peter in Galatians 2:12). This kind of person is very similar to an abusive husband (or wife – but most of the time a husband): he plays mind games on his wife, plays the Bible trump card of submission and patriarchy, and tricks people along the way with his compulsive lies. One big question is, “How do church bullies and abusers deceive us?” The answers to this question are important. Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood have some helpful answers. I’ve listed them below and edited them for length. (Note: Crippen and Wood specifically talk about abusive people, but many of these points could also apply to church bullies.)
1) They create an atmosphere of chaos and confusion. One of the most common effects of the abuser’s tactics is the creation of a cloud of chaos and confusion around him. Victims will tell you what it’s like, though early on they can’t even articulate it. Abusers have many ways of promoting doubt, chaos, and confusion for those who are in their world. Of course, as is true of all the abuser’s tactics, the purpose of this chaos is quite calculated. Confused people are easier to manipulate.
2) They make the real victim(s) crazy. Abusers frequently work to make their victim begin to doubt their own perceptions. A person who no longer fully trusts in what their senses tell them is a person who is very easy to control. For example, many (if not most) abusers play dual roles. One moment they are charming, the next moment evil. This makes the real victim believe (or start to believe) she’s crazy.
3) They play the victim. Abusive people are often wickedly cunning in garnering pity for themselves. One of their favorite methods of choice for garnering this pity is what is called, ‘playing the victim.’ The abuser’s goal is to have people perceive him as the victim instead of the perpetrator. Then they shift the blame to the real victim.
4) They twist words. The abusive person is truly adroit in his ability to alter the victim’s words, morphing his/her statements into an altered reality that makes her look like a fool, or crazy, or even abusive herself! (As a side, when an abuser/bully twists words, it goes together with tactics 1-3 above – spl)
5) They gather allies. One of the most formidable weapons of the abuser is his ability to use tactics such as playing the victim, lying, and manipulation to with the people in the victim’s relational sphere over to his own side. He alienates them against her by convincing her relatives, children, friends, and co-workers that she is the real culprit in their marriage difficulties.
6) They minimize the situation. The goal in this is to make the abuser’s deed less serious than it really is. Red-flag identifiers of minimization are ‘just’ and ‘only.’ For example, “I didn’t mean it…no harm was done. I was only joking.” The abuser will thus neither accept responsibility for his deeds nor will he acknowledge that they are evil; he minimizes everything.
7) They are experts at maintaining a double standard. What is right for him is wrong for her. He can spend all the money he wants, but if she spends anything, he punishes her. He can speak angry, hateful, sexist words to her, but if she raises her voice she is being cruel. He can treat the children very harshly, but if she loses her temper, she is a terrible mother.
8) They change the rules. The abuser keeps his victim guessing about what he wants, how he will react, or what time something is going to happen. He acts unpredictably and inconsistently to keep the her more focused on him, dependent on him, and unable to make her own plans or have her own thoughts. He does this to maintain tyrannical control.
9) They project their thoughts onto others. This means the abuser accuses his victim and projects his mindset upon her, but does it maliciously and on purpose. Because he uses people, he thinks she does too. Because he is unfaithful to her, he thinks she is unfaithful to him. Often to unmask this you simply have to listen to his accusations against his wife: most likely they are the exact things he actually did to her.
As you can see, this is a very serious issue. If it happens in the home, it can lead to physical and mental torture, pain, and harm. If it happens in the church, it can similarly hurt Christ’s sheep and lead to schism. If you’re a layperson in the church, watch out for these people! These aren’t Christians who have a tender conscience and need your open arms and open homes. In fact, it’s best to stay away from such people. If you’re a pastor or elder in a church, these bullies and abusers are the people from whom you have to protect the flock! Be alert for people like this – don’t fall for their deceitful tactics or let them push you around. Be sure to boldly protect the real victims, which is promoting biblical justice.
On this topic I recommend this book: Crippen and Wood’s book: A Cry For Justice. The above edited quotes were taken from chapter 3.
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI, 54015