Tag Archives: conflict

The Gospel of Avoiding Triangulation

Luke 10:38-42

But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” (Read the whole passage)

As we continue through the summer, we are rolling through the scenes from Jesus’ ministry. Healings, exorcisms, forgiveness, parables and more. Last week Jesus challenged the young lawyer’s views on what it means to be saved and who our neighbours are, by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan whom we found out is not someone we are supposed to be, but who God is. The one who comes to find us and rescue us from the ditch.

Today, we take a break from ministry and work. Instead, Jesus goes to dinner. Dinner with his friends, Mary and Martha. These two sisters have have become icons and symbols of hardwork, effort and busyness on the one hand and reflection, attentiveness and faithfulness on the other.

Jesus is waiting for the meal to prepared, something we have all done in the living room of someone else’s house. Presumably Martha is not just cooking for Jesus, but for his disciples, and maybe even Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother too. This is probably a big job to get the meal ready. And Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to what he has to say. Martha is annoyed that her sister is not helping cook the meal (we will just leave the fact that she isn’t mad at her brother aside). So Martha comes to Jesus and tells him to set her sister straight and send her into the kitchen. And then we get this famous line from Jesus: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Mary and Martha can become two of the ways we categorize and label each other in the church. This week, church members from congregations across the interlake gathered together in Arborg to talk about ways that we can work together in the midst of declining membership and resources. The leader of the meeting began with a short bible study on Mary and Martha. We were asked to self identify as either one or the other. Martha was understood to the be do-ers of the congregation. The ones ushering, folding bulletins, pounding in loose nails, planting flowers, making coffee, keeping things neat, tidy and clean.

But Mary… well, Mary was a little harder to define. But we assumed Mary was understood to the be the ones interested in faith, in learning, thinking, praying. The ones at bible study, looking for books on spirituality, asking questions about faith.

Once all the hands had been raised, there were a lot more self-identified Marthas than Marys.

I wonder why that is in the church?

 

There is something universal about these two women aren’t there? It is easy to see ourselves in either or even both. Yet, the way this story is told, there are two opposing approaches to hospitality, to faith, to being in community.

But two things about the story of Mary and Martha has always bothered me. 

The first is that Martha seems to get an unnecessarily bum rap from Jesus. Sure she is frantic and whining when she could take it a bit easier. But Jesus seems to have no sympathy.

The second is that despite Jesus’ emphasis on the value of Mary’s choice to slow down and listen, we tend to value Martha’s work ethic above Mary’s desire to learn and grow.

And I will confess, for a long time, I didn’t know what to do with this story… particularly, Jesus’ apparent scolding of Martha.

But then just a few weeks ago, I read something that put this story in a new light.

Jesus’ issue with Martha is not her work ethic or busyness. While he does say that Mary’s desire to learn and grow in faith is good and important and something to value. Jesus is setting a boundary with Martha. A boundary about being drawn into her conflict with her sister. When Jesus’s pushes back against Martha’s request, is not because he is judging her choice of activity. Jesus is refusing to be drawn into a conflict between two others. If Martha has a problem with her sister Mary, she should take it to Mary directly. Jesus is refusing to be triangulated. 

Usually, the good news sounds like Jesus healing, forgiving, exorcizing demons, raising to life, rescuing us from the ditch of sin and death. Yet, while it may sound odd, Jesus setting a boundary is good news too. Jesus refusing to be triangulated is good news too.

When Jesus sets a boundary refusing to be drawn into our drama, it means that God is free from the burdens our of conflict, the burdens of our sins, the burdens of our suffering. God is free to let go and forgive. God can act to take hold of us and care for us. God can respond in a way that we need, rather than the one we want.

When Jesus refuses to be triangulated, it means that God will not be distant from us, that God makes no obstacles for our salvation, that God does not operate through intermediaries. Rather God deals directly with us. God does not talk about our salvation with someone else, but deals directly with us.

When Jesus refuses to get involved with Martha and Mary’s issue today, Jesus is showing us something much more important about how God deals with us. And that is directly.

God speaks to us directly through God’s word.

God washes us directly in the waters of baptism.

God feeds us directly in the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper.

God saves us directly, not through works or laws or prayers or righteousness.

When God saves us, God just saves us. 

Today, we might wonder if we are Marys or Marthas, we might feel like both.

But there is no question about how Jesus deals with us. Directly.

Amen

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Why Christian? – The difficulty of having a Progressive Faith in a Conservative Tradition

I consider myself an orthodox Christian.

Not Eastern, but orthodox in the sense that I adhere to the essential core doctrines of Christianity, like the Trinity, Original Sin, two natures of Christ, the real resurrection, etc…

I also belong a Lutheran denomination (ELCIC) that allows same-sex marriage, ordains women and LGBT people, teaches its pastors historical-critical methods of biblical scholarship, and does any number of other things that many Christians consider heretical.

There is an inherent difficulty in operating in an orthodox and small “c” conservative faith tradition while adopting socially progressive ethics and post-modern scholarship. This difficulty has been churning in the back of my mind for months, and this week it is about to come to the forefront.

My wife and I are headed to the Why Christian? Conference hosted by Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans. In preparation for the conference, Rachel Held Evans asked the question on her Facebook page “why christian?

And the question was asked in light of recent events in news: The hype around Kim Davis’ stand for “Christian values” in refusing to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples contrasted by the photos of a dead three-year-old Syrian refugee washing up on a Turkish beach.

When fellow Christians are rallying behind someone trying to use the government to impose her beliefs on others in the name of religious freedom, how does one stick with this Christianity business?

When ‘Christian nations’ seem so passive about doing anything about the plight of refugees escaping violence because they are muslims, how do you continue to call yourself Christian?

By definition, Christianity is a conservative faith. No, not conservative in the political sense. Christianity is conservative in the practical sense. Christianity seeks to maintain, protect, promote and conserve the teaching, preaching and good news of God in Jesus Christ. Christianity is trying to bring the past forward – a conservative way of being. And yet, along the way Christianity has also conserved things like patriarchy, sexism, systems of power and abuse, bigotry and racism, judgementalism and close-mindedness.

Christianity has a lot of baggage to contend with, and our baggage is frequently getting in our own way. Our baggage is often the thing Christians mistakenly hold up and shout loudly to the world that this is what God – not just Christianity – is all about.

A common refrain among those who struggle with the conservative baggage has been to drop the Christian label in favour of “following Jesus.” And who can blame them? Considering the Christianity that is so frequently presented in the media and practiced so widely, or when Kim Davis or Donald Trump or Fox News is our spokesperson, we should want to say, “I am not with them.”

The Kingdom of God is Near - the Lion of St. Mark
The Kingdom of God is Near – the Lion of St. Mark

Ten days ago, I got a tattoo (insert joke – “a pastor walks into a tattoo shop…”). Getting a tattoo is a very intimate experience. For four hours I had to lay still as someone literally did artwork on my body. And yet, during those four hours I had an extremely familiar experience. My tattoo artist and I talked for hours about all the ways that Christians are judgemental, agenda-filled and often put off and offend unchurched people like her. Yet she didn’t find me that way.

My tattoo artist told me that I was not like any pastor she has ever met (well, not quite, as my wife spent an afternoon with her a couple of  weeks before me). I get told that a lot. When I meet with unchurched couples coming to get married, when unchurched families come to have a child baptized, or when unchurched families come for funerals they often tell me that I am not what they expected. Most unchurched people that I get to spend some time with tell me I don’t sound like the Christians on TV, or like their one friend who can’t stop talking about their megachurch pastor, or like their grandma who looks down on them for having tattoos, piercings, not going to church, living in sin or whatever else. I don’t sound like those other Christians because I am cool with questions, even encouraging of them, I share my doubts, and I even share my own frustrations about the judgemental behaviour of many fellow Christians.

Maybe this should make me wonder if I got Christianity wrong along the way? Is the way I practice it so uncommon?

It isn’t.

I have spent far too long studying history and theology in university and at seminary to not know that the way I practice Christianity is fairly consistent with the way it has been practiced throughout history. And most of the Christians I know approach faith the way I do.

Yet, despite the baggage that Christianity carries these days, despite the undignified death that Christendom is undergoing, despite the pop-culture caricature that Christians have become, I can’t walk away from the religion.

I am a Christian, even if Kim Davis gets to speak for me, or Fox News or even… heaven forbid… Donald Trump. 

And I am Christian because following Jesus means being a Christian. It means hanging out with sinners and other people who struggle with the baggage. With people who want to hold on to the baggage at all costs, or people who have been trying to toss it from the bandwagon since before they can remember.

Because believing in Jesus just doesn’t work outside of community. Because taking up our cross and following means we don’t get to avoid all the crosses in the world, but instead Jesus’ ministry happens right where the crosses are. The crosses of hypocrisy, judgmentalism, abuse, control and power.

Dumping Christianity to follow Jesus doesn’t jive with the God who put our baggage on, who literally became our baggage, who used our baggage as his flesh in order to come and meet us in the incarnation.

And of course our baggage, our flesh, made things much more difficult for Jesus, but that was the only way to reach us.

As much as I shake my head this week every time I see a Kim Davis news story scroll by on Facebook. As much as I get enraged when I read that Christians are rallying behind Donald Trump, or rallying behind Stephen Harper here in Canada. As frustrating as it is that the Christianity that is represented in the media is one I neither recognize nor practice.

But I know that this is not the whole story.

I know that the church I grew up in is full of people just like Kim Davis, and they have sponsored 3 refugee families over the past 15 years. In fact, churches are some of the most frequent sponsors of refugees. I know that the grandmothers who guilt their grandkids into bringing their babies to be baptized also knit quilts for Canada’s northern communities and brought sweaters by the truck-load so that Canadian Lutheran World Relief could send 70,000 sweaters to Syrian Refugees last winter. I know that church people who struggle with how fast world is changing and who long for the golden age of Christendom are also regularly volunteering at the soup kitchen, filling the food bank, visiting people in hospitals and old folks homes and are caring for the world in their own small ways.

But most importantly, I know that Christianity is at its best when it is practiced by sinners. Even when those sinners like to tell everyone outside the church that they are the sinners. Christianity is still for sinners.

Christianity, the religion with all this baggage, is also the means by which God meets our broken world and speaks words of promise, grace, and mercy. The baggage filled traditions of Christianity are the means by which God washes and claims us as God’s own, the means by which God feeds us with God’s very Body.

Christianity is the community where God transforms us from broken and flawed people into forgiven and whole. 

And as filled with baggage as Christianity is these days, I need it. We all need it.

Because we need God

and those promises

and that washing

and that food.

I can’t believe in Jesus alone, I need all these messed up people – Christians – to do it with me.


 

Why are you still a Christian? What are your frustrations with Christianity? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Confessions of a High Church Millennial – The Church according to ‘Friends’

As a pastor, I think a lot about group dynamics. I reflect on family systems and congregational systems. I wonder a lot about why groups of people behave in certain ways, sometimes to their own detriment.

My interest in group dynamics or systems thinking might be because I am a millennial. As Baby Boomers were the generation heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement, their focus was on the concerns of the individual, the individual lost in the shuffle of the masses, the person ignored by society, the one on the bottom. However, as Baby Boomers moved into leadership and power roles in the world, this concern for the individual has shifted to those in power and those at the top. Presidents and Prime Ministers are elected for providing individual tax cuts, not for offering society things like education, healthcare and a social safety net.

Millennials grew up differently. Our experience was tremendously focused on the group. Our education was often focused on group work, we were taught to consider others, to share, to be respectful, to work as a team. We are also the social media generation. We often define ourselves by the communities we keep.

28c79aac89f44f2dcf865ab8c03a4201So with all this in mind, let’s turn to Netflix, who made all 10 seasons of Friends available to watch recently.

It only took Courtenay and I a few weeks to binge through all the episodes. Friends became a kind of houseguest, hanging out in the background as we cooked, read, interneted, played with our son, or snuggled up for the evening on the couch.

Friends was a culture defining show during its run. The quirky group of six young adults in New York, getting their footing career and relationship-wise, represented the experience of Generation X. Friends was decidedly un-Baby Boomer-like in how it portrayed its main characters and the world around them. The characters on Friends were not from the dominant generation; there was an undercurrent all along the way that despite personal and professional success, they still lived under the thumb of “The Man” (the Boomer Man).

Friends brought the culture of a disaffected Generation X to the fore. Many of the Gen-Xers I know strongly identified with all things Friends. Yet, Friends was also important for Millennials. Particularly for older Millennials, Friends was a glimpse into the life we were about to live (not really, but it sure seemed like it).

I was in 6th Grade when Friends airing started in 1994. I was in my 3rd year of university degree when Friends faded to black for the last time. For Generation Xers, the cast of Friends was living life along side them. For Millennials, Ross and Rachel, Chandler and Monica, Joey and Phoebe, were like older siblings, or cool older cousins, the hip kids at the back of the bus. They were the people we wanted be when we grew up. They showed us what young adulthood looked like as we lived our teenage years and first years of adulthood.

Re-watching Friends this time around was a completely different experience. Sure, I knew what was going to happen, but I now know so much better what it is like to fall in love, get married, become a parent, look for work, get an education, straddle that time between adolescence and adulthood. I could see myself in the characters, rather than seeing that older sibling.

But as we made our way through the series, I started noticing something more about Friends, something about community and group dynamics, something about relationships and being part of a group. And, I think there is something to learn from Friends. Something that pastors, church leaders and people in the pews would do well to pay attention to.

What made Friends so special was that it was about deeply flawed people. The characters had deep personal flaws and their lives were greatly affected because of them. Sure plot elements were contrived and needed to fit within the elements of a sit-com, but every episode didn’t resolve neatly and nicely at the end. Relationships were affected in the long term. Life decisions had long term effects on the show. Characters started relationships and broke up, got married and then divorced. They lost jobs and started over. They had issues with addiction, mental health, infertility, sexism, racism, education. They had children and complicated relationships with family. They had all kinds of issues to confront – a lot like people in real life do.

The six characters on Friends are not that different from people in churches – people who come with all manner of complex life issues, people who are deeply flawed, people struggling with relationships, work and family.

And again, like a lot of church people these problems always hovered below the surface. Sometimes conversations about the weather, sports, what to eat for dinner, music, or pop-culture easily slipped into issues rising up and taking over. Old fights were always just one wrong comment from being dredged up again.

And still like church people, the characters of Friends struggled along the way. They didn’t always handle each other and their issues well. They weren’t perfect and couldn’t keep their problems from affecting their relationships and their happiness. Things didn’t always work out (as much as a sit-com could allow for that).

Watching all 10 seasons of Friends again, really hit my millennial sensibilities. All that time spent doing team-work and learning how to relate to others as a kid, all the time that I spend thinking about congregational systems and group behaviour, all of my interest in how we interact as people in relationship was piqued by Friends this time around.

The thing that hit me was how those six Friends stayed committed to each other despite each other’s flaws, despite the problems and issues, despite the conflict and hurts and pains. It is where Friends diverges from recent hits like Mad Men, Breaking Bad or The Big Bang Theory (where characters seem especially close to blinking on commitment). Their flaws didn’t consume them. Their commitment to each other was never in question.

And this is where Friends so often diverges from the Church. At least in my experience, church people won’t commit to the flaws in other people. We commit to the good stuff, the easy stuff. But when the painful stuff rises to the surface we don’t stick around. Well, at least we find it hard to stay present.

I think we could use a little more Church according to Friends. And I struggle as a Millennial – who was brow-beaten in school with how to manage group relationships – when church people (especially Boomers) are quick to abandon that commitment to each other when our flaws start to show, and especially when our flaws affect our relationships.

I imagine I am not the only Millennial who struggles with this.

And at the risk of making broad generalizations, I think there truly is a difference between Boomers and Millennials. I think Boomers were raised by a generation who suffered collective PTSD after World War 2. I think Boomers were taught to keep the flaws under the rug, to send the problems away when they come to the surface and to, above all, pretend like everything is okay. They were taught this because this is how their parents, the G.I. Generation survived The Great Depression and World War 2.

But when our group dynamic and congregational systems are focused around pretending that the problems don’t exist, that our flaws are hidden, that conflict should be avoided at all costs, it is really off-putting for Millennials who were taught to work things out. We were taught to let the problems come to the surface, to be laid out on the table.

I am a High Church Millennial. I am a Lutheran Pastor. There are a million reasons that I stay committed to the Church. And the flaws and failings, the hurts and sufferings of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are the last reasons that I would ever consider walking away from the church.

But if there was something that would push me away, it is how church systems and behaviours are built to avoid dealing with or even acknowledging those flaws and failings. It is really hard for me when otherwise intelligent, caring, compassionate individuals let unhealthy group dynamics and systems of behaviour rule. It is unbearable when we let… no, when we demand, that the status quo stomp on communities – on us.

If Friends can teach the Church anything, it is that we can get past our issues, we can love people despite their deep flaws, and most importantly, we can make the most important group dynamic be a commitment to loving each other.

I think Millennials need a church according to Friends, a church willing to commit to people, flaws and all.


Part 2 of Confessions of a High Church Millennial

Part 1 of Confessions of a High Church Millennial


Did you watch Friends? Have noticed unhealthy group dynamics in churches? Is there something we can learn? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Christians need to disagree with each other

I am always surprised by people who get uncomfortable or upset with disagreement. We have all seen those moments, we have all witnessed a disagreement change the dynamic of a conversation.

And no, I am not talking about conflict, but genuine disagreement. Imagine, three or four people having a conversation and a particular opinion or point of view is brought forward by one or two. Then someone says, “I disagree.” And the disagreement isn’t about conflict, but a difference of perspective. One opinion is put on the table, only to be followed by a contrary opinion. No fighting, no conflict, just two opposing opinions existing in the same space.

These disagreement moments make us uncomfortable. Often, we just don’t know how to move forward. Living in the tension of opposing opinions feels uncomfortable.

Many Christians suffer from being unable to live with disagreement. Many Christian groups go so far as to excommunicate those who disagree. Questions, differences of opinions, opposing views are not permitted. Towing the party line is expected.

And what this really means is a couple things. Different ideas are rejected with prejudice, or those who think or feel differently than the group are silenced.

The Lutheran body that I belong to has suffered with this inability to live with disagreement. As we considered allowing same-sex marriage in our congregations, many threatened to leave if an opinion different than their own was adopted. Individuals, pastors and congregations all threatened to sever relationships. Even though the new policies allowed for a difference of opinions by not forcing anyone to hold to views or perform marriages that they didn’t want to perform, many could not even remain in fellowship with those who disagreed with them.

The church that I grew up in, where my dad and grandparents were founding members, voted to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. They left not because they were being challenged to change their views, opinions, beliefs or practices, but because they couldn’t remain in fellowship with others who held different views, opinions, beliefs or practices.

The thing that bothers me about this refusal to abide disagreement, is that I find disagreement a beautiful thing. In fact, I cherish those who disagree with me. 

That might sound strange, so let me explain.

Throughout my childhood, one of my primary relationships was with someone who could not empathize or sympathize with others. This person was, and continues to be, unable to hear or identify the feelings, ideas, views or opinions of others. In a relationship like this, there is no room for disagreement because all thoughts, feelings, ideas or opinions are rejected if they do not match. There is no hearing of others, there is no consideration of another’s point of view, there is no attempt to take seriously that someone else might have a valid difference of opinion.

In my adult life, I have learned that this is abuse. Relationships where there is no room for the other, where there is no room for consideration of another perspective is hardly a relationship at all.

Christians often draw the line there. There is no room for disagreement, there is only agreement or rejection.

Christians are taught to either go along unthinkingly with the group or leader, to suppress questions, to stifle alternate points of views, to only allow room for one opinion/way of thinking/perspective.

And when ideas, feelings, thoughts or opinions different than the approved ones crop up, they are rejected with prejudice. Rejected before any consideration is given, rejected as dangerous, wrong or harmful.

When members of Christian groups, particularly those on the margins or those without power (ie., women, minorities, those with different gender identities, etc…) bring up new ideas, different perspectives or alternate opinions they are accused of being divisive.

Again, this is abuse.

So often Christians reject and avoid disagreement at all costs.

And yet, there is also something beautiful and wonderful about disagreement. 

Disagreement, initially makes many of us uncomfortable because we are not good at living with tension. Once we can settle our discomfort with the tension though, there is something about disagreement that we need as Christians, as human beings, to recognize.

In order to have someone disagree with you they must first hear you. Another must first take seriously your point of view. He or she must consider your opinion as possible and legitimate. As human beings we crave being heard by another. We need to know that we are not alone, and when someone truly hears us, we are not alone.

And it goes deeper than that.

When someone hears us, considers our ideas, thoughts, emotions, perspectives and opinions AND THEN takes them so seriously that they are willing to disagree… well that is someone who thinks we are incredibly important.

In fact, I think disagreement is at the heart of our relationship with God.

God is constantly disagreeing with human beings.

While we choose sinfulness, selfishness, violence, suffering and death, God disagrees and chooses life for us.

God takes us seriously enough to consider us, to hear us out, and then to disagree. God went so far as to become one of us in the incarnation, in Christ. God is serious about hearing us from our perspective.

And still, God does not agree with our choices, and nor does God reject us and cast us into the outer darkness.

God disagrees with our condition, with our predilections for death.

God disagrees with us and chooses life for us and for all creation.

This is why disagreement is beautiful. This is why Christians need to practice disagreeing with each other. Because we are transformed by our disagreement with God, and we will be transformed for the better through honest disagreement each other.

This is why Christians need to acknowledge the tension with live in. That we are justified sinners, we are the dead made alive in Christ, we are in relationship with God who disagrees.

Because when Christians demand agreement, when we threaten rejection, we are missing an inherent feature of God’s relationship with us – Living in the beautiful tension of disagreement.  

So let’s start honestly disagreeing with each other, because it will change us for the better. 


How does disagreement affect you? Will disagreement help us be better Christians? Share in the comments, on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

PS Sorry it has been a while since my lost post, I had surgery last week and I have been on the mend for the last 10 days.

12 Reasons Why it is Good to Be a Church Bully

If you have spent any amount of time attending church, it’s likely that you have encountered a church bully. It is even more likely that you have come across church bullies if you have been involved with church leadership. Of course, bullies are everywhere in the world, and are not limited to churches. Bullying is hot button issue these days, and bullying is something many people are trying to draw attention to so that it can be eliminated. Yet still, bullying can be hard to identify. It isn’t just the big kid on the playground stealing lunch money. Bullying can be psychological, emotional and physical.

Image Source - http://thebravediscussion.com
Image Source – http://thebravediscussion.com

Church bullies have a special advantage, though. Most church people have been taught to be nice and kind, to refrain from stirring the pot or rocking the boat. Church bullies know that often people will not stand up to them, and that they can get away with just about anything.

Some of you may have seen my post from a few months ago, 12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better. In that post, I linked a Louis C.K. clip where he talked about White people. He said white people are not better, but being white is clearly better. (Warning, this video contains offensive language).

Church bullying is the same. Church bullies are not good, but being a church bully is good business these days, and here’s why:

1. Being a bully is the easiest way to get what you want. Churches are groups where people usually have to work together, and work out how to live as a community. That means give and  take, compromise and collaboration. Bullying, however, means you can get anything and everything you want. You can bend people to your wills and desires without giving anything up in return. And as a bully, you don’t have to work with, consider or respect others. Bullying is the easiest way to get what you want.

2. Bullies can offer anonymous feedback. Churches are already pretty good at not requiring people to stand behind what they say. We send out surveys and feedback tools that remain anonymous. But bullies have it really great. They can send anonymous emails to leaders. They can give in-person feedback with the qualifier, “people are saying.” Bullies never have to own the criticisms, and so are free to criticize anything they want to.

3. Bullies often have gossip clubs. Bullies are often supported in a small group that likes to keep up on the latest church gossip. This kind of group can meet for coffee during the week or lunch on Sundays or any number of places. As a bully, you can find allies who are ready to support you, who will offer behind-the-scenes support to your behind-the-scenes bullying. It is always easier to bully when you can be confident you are supported by, or acting on behalf of a club.

4. People will worry that challenging bullies is unkind or unchristian. The vast majority of church members worry that their behaviour could be perceived as unkind or unchristian. You know, Jesus never stood up to anyone and never challenged bad behaviour. So as a bully you know most of the time you can be confident that other church members won’t stand up to you, lest they be thought of as creating conflict or being un-Christ like.

5. You can use your anxiety against others. Human beings don’t like anxiety, we don’t want to be worried or fearful if we can avoid it. Anxiety and fear are contagious. Use this your advantage. As a bully, if you can get others to take on your worries, your fears, your issues, your anxiety, most people (especially church people) will do almost anything to relieve you (and therefore themselves) of your fears. Use this to your advantage.

6. You can use the other’s anxiety against them. As human beings we have often been taught that we have two responses to anxiety – Fight or Flight.  Bullies know that this isn’t true. There are 3 – Fight, Flight or Freeze. The best bullies know that freeze is the most common response. If you can make others anxious, you know that their first response will be to do nothing. It is pretty easy to bully people when they don’t do anything or say anything to stop you. Make them anxious.

7. You don’t have to be open or transparent. Bullies know this tactic well. It is much easier to bully from the shadows than in the open. Write anonymous letters and emails that you can deny came from you. Ambush your victims when others aren’t around to catch you. Make life miserable for people in private, and be an angel in the open. Most people won’t even know that you are a bully. Hide in plain sight.

8. You can play the victim card when caught. So what do you do when someone actually calls you on your bullying? Why accuse them of being the bully, of course! Most people will get so worried that they are bullying you that they will forget all about the fact that you were bullying them first. You never want to defend your own actions, so make other people defend theirs – play the victim card.

9. The stakes are low for you but high for others. One of the great things about being a church bully is that the stakes are pretty low. What could happen to you? Churches will rarely kick you off the membership list. Pastors have jobs to keep, leaders have to tend to running the place. As a bully the worst that could happen is people get annoyed with you, but really that’s good for you (see point 6).

10. You don’t have to change. Change is hard. Growing up and being mature is really hard. Bullying means you can stay the same. You don’t have to accept new ideas or learn new things. You can just impose your will on others, make them do what you like, and complain if they don’t. Don’t change, be a bully instead.

11. The congregational system (read: family system) will often work to keep you in power. Great church bullies know that individuals might challenge them, but the system will work to maintain the status quo. Bullies don’t change, and therefore don’t challenge the system. Intelligent individuals will cease thinking straight in a group and will seek to silence those who oppose bullies (and therefore advocate change in the system) since is it easier to maintain the norm. Feel confident that almost all of the group behaviour in a church is there to support your bullying.

12. You don’t have to care about anyone but yourself. This is the best part of being a bully of course. You can claim you are speaking for the wronged, the victimized, the silent majority or minority, but really it is all about you. That’s the whole reason you can bully in the first place, because your issues come first. Your needs, your wants, your feelings, your ideas. You are numero uno, and thinking about others only gets in the way of taking care of you. So put yourself first and you will be a great bully.

_________

All snark aside, bullying is a major issue in society, one that often seems to paralyze those in authority. Bullying happens because most bullies know to use our anxiety, our fears, and our emotions against us. Most of us would much rather just avoid conflict altogether, and it is much easier to give in to make the bullying stop than to challenge it.

Bullying in the church makes me crazy. I have zero tolerance for it, but I have watched as colleagues and friends deal with church systems / family systems where bullies are protected. Upsetting the bully would cause so much stress on the church, that their behaviour is permitted, condoned even.

EDIT: Some commenters here and on Facebook have mentioned that Pastors can be bullies too. I want to be clear that anyone can be a church bully. Regular members, pastors, bishops, leaders, etc…

It is time for the bullying to end. But it won’t be easy. Standing up to bullies means recognizing our own anxieties and need to be liked. Standing up means risking being unpopular, it means risking the wrath of the system that protects the bullies. Standing up means knowing all the advantages that bullies have to lose (see the list above), and not underestimating how far bullies will go to retain their power and privilege. Standing up means that we all participate, even  unknowingly support bullies, when our own anxieties about change prevent us from moving and growing into healthier ways of being.

Ending bullying means change. Change is hard. Sometimes it might land you on a cross.

But God knows something about that… in fact, change is one of God’s favourite tools to work with –  crosses are God’s speciality.

Are church bullies the worst? Been bullied at church? Share in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter: @ParkerErik